Enterprise Mobility - An Offline Solution

Srikanth Appana, SVP & Technology Officer, SKS Microfinance

Microfinance is a major contributor to financial inclusion in the country, assisting poor to work their way out of poverty. Given that around 70% of the Indian population lives in villages and majority of them reel under poverty, microfinance operations revolve in and around villages. In order to lift the underprivileged, it is imperative that microfinance loan officers spend more time in the field catering to their needs. However, the need to capture data and infrastructure challenges in India are curtailing the movement of loan officers. A lot of valuable time is lost in doing paperwork, data entry and other administrative tasks.

In order to relieve them from these cumbersome and error-prone tasks, most of the firms are turning towards information technology and empowering loan officers digitally. However, as the loan officers travel extensively in remote villages they encounter huge technical challenges in the form of poor or no internet connectivity and power shortage. By examining the existing business process and the challenges, one can understand how the solution works effectively. Loan officer arrives at the branch quite early in the morning, print cash disbursement sheet, collects loan disbursement amount from the manager, leaves to the field, attends four to five center meetings (Each center may contain 15 to 50 members), takes attendance, disburse loans, collects amount and get new loan applications. He captures all the information on the papers he carries along with him. After spending a day in the field, he returns to the branch and enters the data into the desktop which is connected to the central server.

Challenges with the existing business process:
a) As branches have one desktop and three to five loan officers are assigned to each branch loan officers will have to wait for their turn to get hold of the desktop so as to enter data. Given that branches are located in and around the villages where power outages are quite obvious, loan officers have to wait hours together to get their mundane tasks done. Providing a generator or an inverter may not be a feasible idea as it is difficult to run the offices on an alternative power on a daily basis (a lot of cost factors are involved).

b) Each branch has three to five loan officers wherein each loan officer serves around hundreds of members by visiting four to five centers a day. On a daily basis, each loan officer carries a bunch of papers and spends a lot of time entering data manually on these papers. This gives an idea of how much stationery is being used and a number of man hours wasted in entering and re-entering data.

c) Given that loan officers visit around five centers a day and a lot of paperwork is involved in the field, they carry folders in their kit and manoeuvre from one center to another. This along with the persisting infrastructure and the climatic conditions leads to exhaustion and deter their movement.

How the solution works:
As per the prevailing infrastructure in the villages, net connectivity is disabled from the tabs. The mobile solution framework (MSF) works offline and all the policies enforcement, application installation/uninstallation and updates are shared via gateway machine. The server contacts the gateway machine for the distribution of applications and updates. Gateway machine applies those updates to the devices whenever they are connected through USB. The enterprise mobility tablet is designed to be quite secure using cutting-edge -MSF software and utilities. All the applications deployed on the tab are secured and encrypted with international standards, and for both applications and MSF software which run on the tabs, the login credentials are designed to be single sign-on to avoid multiple usernames/passwords. Single sign-on (SSO) process allows the user to enter one name and password in order to access multiple applications. It protects against unauthorized access to the applications. Moreover, single sign-on operates at branch level in an offline mode compared to traditional online process.

a) As a result of this solution, loan officers will be able to get their administrative tasks swiftly and spend much needed time in the field, visiting more households and uplifting their lives.
b) With tab replacing papers, stationery cost can be significantly reduced.
c) Moreover, as it takes few minutes to transfer data, UPS with half an hour backup is enough to upload and transfer the data from the branches.

Given that most of the operations are in and around villages where net connectivity is a far cry and power outages are a common scenario, this offline model augurs well for the microfinance industry.