If there is one business leader who has watched the tectonic shift in the IT landscape up and close, it is Nafees Ahmed, Group Head – Chief Information Officer, Indiabulls Group. An industry veteran with more than 20 years of experience, Ahmed manages the entire information technology portfolio at Indiabulls and has been pivotal for introducing a slew of digital initiatives.
Ahmed watched the world move towards mobile and digital and recognised the real value of data as an asset and the need of the hour — leveraging advanced analytics and business models to deliver real customer value and also monetising the data in real time. Under his technological leadership, he broke down the silos existing in analytics that operated separately across housing finance, consumer finance, marketing and product functions. Early on, he realised that “digital is the way forward.” Currently, his role is more focused on driving real business value from data and building a team of data scientists, analysts and managers that have the technical skill-set to push the new initiatives/products forward. From consolidating data to implementing analytics tools that offer a single view of the customer, Ahmed has helped bridge the gap between technology and business.
As one of the major BFSI players, the shift came when the fintech ecosystem in India started gaining ground with the likes of Google and Amazon offering niche financial products. “That’s when we realised that if we don’t adopt cutting-edge technology, we won’t be able to survive the competition,” he said.
As CIO at Indiabulls, Ahmed is leading the organisation’s data agenda forward – building a data-driven team, putting the infrastructure in place (an ongoing process) and at the same time launching successful data-driven products. “In the last 2-3 years, my management realised that digital is the way forward. Technology is not just for growth, it is basically a question of your survival. My first project on this digital journey was E-Home Loans. And we were the first in India to launch this product. With this product, our customers could complete the application journey completely online. Aadhaar, the whole digital platform for the government of India was instrumental in the KYC process,” he said.
IT has moved from support to business enabler function
When Ahmed joined Indiabulls around 13 years back, at that point in time, the IT department was treated as a support function. “We managed legacy systems, got the bug fixed but in the last couple of years, the role has reversed completely. The business is interacting with the technology department, for example, whenever there is a new entity coming up or a new product is being defined, tech teams comes into play to implement the product,” he shared, commenting on the changing role of the IT department at Indiabulls, one of the leading financial services groups in India.
Dhani app by Indiabulls has proven to be a gamechanger in personal loan
At a time when personal loan process was encumbered due to compliance issues, Ahmed and his team launched the Dhani app — billed as a first-of-its-kind that reduced the loan disbursal to 3 minutes. One of the first projects undertaken by Ahmed and his team, Dhani app for loan processing was introduced in 2017. The app was rolled out to all clients who wished to avail personal loans. Billed as a completely digital product and mobile only, it automated the loan processing journey with crucial elements such as e-signature, e-payments, online EMI repayment process and online customer verification.
“This was a complete online journey without any physical connection with our customers. With this app, we were able to transfer the money actually in customer account within three minutes, in real time,” he shared. So far, the company has 1.1 million customers and the app was voted as one of the topmost downloaded fintech apps on Google Playstore with 15 million downloads. This time, the company has set a more ambitious target – of achieving a customer base of 1 million per month.
Machine Learning@Dhani app
Given that this was a complete online process without any physical contact with the customer, the underwriting process was carried out by collecting a lot of data, understanding the capability to repay loans and even understand the intention of the customer to repay. “The second thing we ensured was whether the data is coming from reliable sources. For example, we get data directly from ITR and CIBIL. There is a lot of unstructured data that we get which has analysed on a real-time basis,” he said. The team built an underwriting engine based on machine learning with a team from Experian and it automated the email underwriting process.
Tool Stack at Indiabulls
Just like his counterparts in the BFSI sector, Ahmed believes that data security is paramount. As far as the core applications are concerned, the company relies on a private cloud. While performance testing is done on Azure, 90% of the cloud infrastructure is on VMware. For non-core applications, the team uses Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics 365. Meanwhile, the company also has two data centres – in Noida and Mumbai. On the front-end, the team uses Java,.NET frameworks, SQL, while in the middle layer, the team uses IBM MobileFirst platform.
To get more out of data, Ahmed is also focusing on getting certain off-the-shelf solutions from the that can help in expediting the time-to-market for products. With a team of 500, Ahmed is also building a team of 50-60 people who’ll do in-house development, advance cutting-edge products and focus on building innovative solutions. Currently, he’s shopping for RPA solutions that can automate certain backend applications and help in day-to-day operations.
In closing, he also shared his thoughts on the current talent crunch in the market. Besides the current talent gap, there is also a fear related to automation. “Whenever we talk about automation, people think their jobs will be replaced and I have to convince them the company will be doing a lot of things to improve productivity. However, the challenge lies in implementing new technologies and pushing more users to adopt them,” he said, in closing.
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Richa Bhatia is a seasoned journalist with six-years experience in reportage and news coverage and has had stints at Times of India and The Indian Express. She is an avid reader, mum to a feisty two-year-old and loves writing about the next-gen technology that is shaping our world.