Thrissur-based Manappuram Comptech and Consultants Ltd. (MACOM) is an IT product and services company backed by the Manappuram Group. It handles and supports the IT infrastructure and services of the majority of Manappuram Group firms.
Saiprasad Sivadasan, Senior Vice President at MACOM believes in the rapid, practical application of digital technologies to resolve present and emerging needs. In this interview, he shares his views on cloud, data ethics, risk management, and his take on innovation. Prior to his current role, Sivadasan was accountable for all the IT requirements (software and infrastructure) across 12 of the Manappuram Group firms. Excerpts:
Q. CIOs want to do more and do better with cloud. You embarked on the journey to consolidate your IT infrastructure across group companies and move to a single modern, secure cloud. How has been the improvement in performance and what kind of cost savings do you look to achieve? Also, how is it helping business to innovate rapidly?
The cloud is a new journey for us and we are consolidating our group firms onto the same cloud platform. It is possibly the first time in the world that we have two large firms migrating completely from on-prem to the same cloud.
Stabilization is a key factor for us and that is exactly what is happening. We are currently in the stabilization phase which includes defining the roles and accountabilities with more clarity across the vendors and Manappuram itself.
As we speak many resources from MACOM, Asirvad Microfinance, Manappuram Finance, Sify and Oracle are jointly working to support our cloud. In time we would have pristine clarity on the resources that would be needed to take this one-of-a-kind accomplishment to even greater heights.
Our two largest firms Manappuram Finance and Asirvad Microfinance have successfully migrated to the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI). There are smaller firms in the pipeline and we are making plans as to when they would also get migrated in a phased manner. The performance we see post-deployment on OCI in Finance is literally 8x.
The cloud is like a treasure trove having many technological goodies ready to be deployed. The adoption of the cloud doesn’t mean we are content with what we have currently. We will start adopting some of these goodies. Moreover, new regulatory requirements and our own business growth would have future cost bearing on us. However, taking into account the current state and considering a span of five years we would have a cost optimization of 35% by leveraging OCI.
Q. How are you looking at using automation/robotics and IoT? Any examples that you want to share?
These areas have already been addressed by us in some form or the other. Some are already in the running phase while others are in the R&D phase. But rest assured we have our eyes firmly set on them but I do not want to divulge too much information on them.
Q. You operate in a sector, which at its core, is about risk management. How do you foster an innovative culture, which is defined by a certain level of risk-taking?
Risk is a part and parcel of any business. No business can claim they are risk-free. Anything from government policies to changes in customer preference or sentiments, macro and microeconomic parameters, situations like covid and even wars as we see them now can influence the course of how the business progresses. This being the case risk mitigation is a norm for any business and the nature of risk depends purely on the nature of the business.
Innovative technology driving the operational process is the only sustainable future for any company. Innovation and adoption of new and improved technology are very much a necessity if a company still wants to compete aggressively in the market. If you analyze a lot of companies, one would observe that CEOs are predominantly from the sales, marketing, or finance background. However, as we move into the future, CEOs will need to be well versed with technology. This is how important technology has become and how fast technology is progressing.
Q. Financial institutions (FIs) have been aggressive in delivering on the convenience that consumers demand. Customer data is an incredible tool, allowing FIs to cater to all consumers wherever they fall on the financial spectrum. How can financial companies balance the pursuit of profit against ethical data usage?
In India, all banks and NBFCs are under the preview of the central reserve bank. A multitude of stringent regulatory requirements are to comply and these are audited by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) periodically. Having such a process in place, I do not think there is any room for the unethical usage of customer data. That being said there are rules that define what is ethical and unethical.
Tomorrow if regulatory bodies come with new rules that transform a user data process employed by a company into an “unethical bucket”, then that company has to comply and bring in the needed technology or process to address the issue. For example, in the health sector, there was a time when patient data was not shared. One, it was not allowed, and secondly, it was against medical practices. Today, the same patient data is getting shared for the greater good in many parts of the world.
Q. The purity of the gold assets is naturally a very important factor for the healthy functioning of the gold loan business. While the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been made to improve mining operations/finding gold etc. How is automation or AI helping in finding the purity/anomaly of gold? Do you have a solution that uses sensors etc. in place or are you looking at one?
AI might be used now to find gold taking into account the various processing parameters trained into the system. However, I do not believe there is any model for ascertaining the purity of gold currently. We have experimented with many other methods but nothing beats validating the purity manually and this is what is currently followed. We cannot take any kind of risk in this area as it is the very lifeline of our business. That being said if a suitable technical solution does present itself, we will be very much keen to try it out.
Q. You have led the digital transformation of all group companies. However, deploying modern technology alone is not enough. There is a difference between being up to date and being innovative. How are you looking at innovation and what are the challenges?
I consider myself an innovator and in one way or the other, have always innovated either by creating new technology or process enhancements that drive new revenue generation or improving the efficiency of operations, reduction of costs, etc.
My ideology is to keep things simple and real. New technology emerges every day and I am very well aware of the same but adopting it would be done only post thorough scrutiny. If things can be done in a simple way using the most cost-effective and basic of technologies, I would go with that and refrain from complicating an already complex technology architecture landscape.
Technology innovation is needed but the implementation of the same always will have a cost associated with it and if you really deep dive you can see these costs are on the rise.
For example, we now have more processing capabilities that are far more powerful and comparatively cheaper than what we used five years back. However, the same processing capabilities are catering to more complex products and software that in turn would require additional underlying hardware processing power. And this means extra costs. In addition, you need skilled resources to manage the new technology and they don’t come cheap either. Does all this added cost bring the needed improvements business-wise or some other parameter is the question.
Taking into account all of this when I try to bring in new innovations, the primary focus is on ROI followed by the technological complexity that would get introduced. However, if there is no scope for doing things simple then adoption of the complex route has to be taken.