Today, technology is changing the face of social work in India. Internet, mobile technology, and globalization are potent tools to alleviate poverty through microfinance loans. There is one company \u2013SKS Microfinance\u2014that pushed the envelope and leveraged technology to reduce poverty and spread economic opportunity by giving people access to financial services, such as credit and insurance.It is a non-banking finance company (NBFC), headquartered in Hyderabad, Telangana regulated by the\u00a0Reserve Bank of India.\u00a0With 1268 branches across India,\u00a0SKS distributes small loans to poor women so they can start, build and expand simple businesses and increase their incomes. While the steps taken by the company were noble and worthwhile, it faced a few hurdles.Let\u2019s explore its game changing journey.ENTANGLED IN A COB WEB Every morning, a field officer arrives at the branch by 6 AM, prints a cash disbursement sheet\u2014stating how much cash needs to be disbursed and collected in a particular day, and collects loan disbursement amount from the manager. Then he leaves for the field, attends four to five centre meetings, takes attendance of his prospective who could be anywhere between 15 to 50 people, and carries on with the transactions.Then, he captures all the information on the papers and carries it along with him. After spending a day in the field, he returns to the branch and enters the data into a desktop connected to the central server.All the branches have one desktop and three to five field officers are assigned to each branch. Consequently, officers had to wait for their turn to get hold of the desktop to enter data. \u201cThis is where we lost a lot of time, as every loan officer takes 25 \u2013 30 minutes to enter the details,\u201d says Srikanth Appana, CTO & Senior Vice President, SKS Microfinance.Also, as the branches are located in and around villages, power outages are very frequent, which results in \u00a0field officers waiting for hours together to get their mundane tasks done.At a branch level, it took around 125 and 100 minutes to enter collection and disbursement details respectively. Loan entry around 125 minutes; TD & KYC entry took 300 minutes and an hour to count cash.In addition their administrative costs were escalating. Stationery, printer and power bills \u00a0were also a bit of concern.With all the problems at hand, Appana and his IT team invested a considerable amount of time to address this issue. They evaluated various options like BYOD, but it didn\u2019t cut ice--due to security reasons and smart phones losing longevity as the field officers would have to operate them in extreme\u00a0weather conditions.After sometime, a golden idea struck them: What if the time spent in performing administrative tasks is minimized and loan officers are allowed to concentrate on their core competency? This led them to opt for a MDM solution that worked offline.\u201cWe purchased tablets, installed MDM and handed it over to the employees .\u00a0With MDM policies, tablets have a shelf life of 3 years, "\u00a0says Appana.HOW DOES THE TECHNOLOGY WORK?Once they deployed MDM, all the field officers were given tablets, without SIM. Early, in the morning, the field officers would synchronize the tablet with the desktop in the branch and carry it along and collect \u00a0all the relevant data in the field.They would then return to the branch and sync the tablet with the desktop again to transfer the data, says Appana. \u201cInterestingly, it takes just five minutes to transfer the data,\u201d says Appana.The MDM solution works offline and all the policies enforcement, application installation and uninstallation updates are shared via gateway machine. The server contacts the gateway machine for the distribution of applications and updates.\u201cAll the applications deployed on the tab are secured and encrypted to international standards, and for both applications and MDM software which run on the tabs, the login credentials are designed to be single sign-on to avoid multiple usernames or password,\u201d says\u00a0Srinivas Peddada, CIO, SKS Microfinance\u00a0Talking on security, \u00a0Peddada\u00a0says," The Single sign-on\u00a0(SSO) process allows user to enter one name and password in order to access multiple applications. It protects against unauthorized access to the applications."Also, on the tablet the company optimized the route from the branch to the villages to make sure a field officer takes the same route. \u201cOnce he comes back, we run the analytics to check if the loan officer travelled in the prescribed route,\u201d says Appana.\u00a0SO, WHO ALL WERE INVOLVED IN THE PROJECT? The CIO and CTO of SKS Microfinance championed this project right from conceptualizing the tablet solution, and to build and implement the solution across the branches, pan India. Also, they played a vital role in choosing a team, selecting vendors and ensured that there was always a cordial understanding between the internal and external team.At the same time, Appana frequently monitored the progress of the project, worked along with the team and encouraged them to achieve the desired result.The IT team played a crucial role both in development and deployment of the project. \u201cWe were able to complete the project on time largely due to the invaluable efforts put in by the IT team. The IT team not only had to work under tight deadlines to complete the project, but had to work restlessly to implement it across 18 states in India,\u201d says Appana.However, the project presented them with a few hurdles. Given that the company has a presence across 18 states, they needed a helpdesk that could offer support in various Indian languages. Take for example, field officers might need assistance right from using the tablet to syncing it with the branch computer. That said, a multilingual help desk was established, in order to facilitate them.Also view:\u00a0How Ujjivan is Using a Mobile App to Help the UnderprivilegedAlso, data synchronization and pushing policies in an offline mode were a challenge. Moreover, the scale of operation and poor internet connectivity in villages only compounded the problem. However, they were able to address the issue by defining a three layer architecture (Head Office, Policy gateway and Tablet) where they could stage the data sync.Having said that, the IT team was up to the task and worked in tandem with the field officers and ensured that the project was implemented successfully.MOMENTS OF TRIUMPH!SKS microfinance reaped benefits after the completion of the project. Peddada \u00a0says the time taken to enter collection and disbursement details in all their branches have reduced by a big margin. Take for example, Loan application entry has come down to 25 minutes from 125 minutes.Interestingly, the cash counting has also come down from an hour to 10 minutes. With branches being able to save a lot time, field officers are able to spend more time in the field. \u00a0\u00a0\u201cIn addition, SKS has brought down its administrative costs (stationery, printing consumables and maintenance). The benefits are being passed on to the clients in the form of low-interest rate,\u201d says Peddada.