Making innovation the top priority

Making innovation the top priority

Kapil Mehrotra, CTO, National Collateral Management Services Limited (NCML), on how he is driving innovation.

National Collateral Management Services Limited (NCML) has been at the forefront of providing services to one of the most essential sectors in India—the agriculture sector.

NCML offers a bouquet of commodity-based services to a number of stakeholders, right from farmers to traders to government agencies. Improving efficiencies and providing the most relevant services to farmers and the rest of the agriculture value chain has been a key mission for Kapil Mehrotra, CTO of NCML.

He has been extensively leveraging AI/ML, 3D scanning and a host of new-age technologies to drive results for the unique space that his company has been operating.

In an exclusive interview with CIO Dialogues, Kapil talks in detail about how he is capitalizing on technology innovation to achieve all of these.

As a CTO, you have been known for your innovative approach to technology. What are some of the new uses cases you are now exploring at National Collateral Management Services Limited?

We are working on a unique project on AI-based intrusion detector, which helps us in the tracking intrusion in our warehouses. This promises to bring significant advantages on the physical security front. With its built-in AI intelligence, the system scans and alerts of any anomalies within the premises.

And in one of our verticals, we have implemented a weather & price intelligence system. We have already installed more then 4500+ sensors across India to capture weather parameters such as temperature, relative humidity, wind direction, wind speed, solar radiation, soil moisture etc. on an hourly basis. Our idea is to help government agencies, millers, and farmers by providing innovative solutions by integrating weather, Remote sensing technologies, IOT, machine learning & AI for monitoring crop health and impact of weather on yield and production of crops.

With our price intelligence network across commodity markets and in-house expertise of fundamental and technical analysis, we provide insights in price movement of different agri commodities. This benefits various stakeholders. Farmers, food processors and channel partners can make decision of purchase and stocking through our weather and price advisory. Government can make policy decisions during drought, flood other natural calamity and market price movements based on demand and supply.

At NCML, you have spearheaded the development of a next-generation digital lending solution. How is this helping you improve efficiency and overall customer experience?

FinnOne is the core application of our finance vertical--NCML Finance Private Ltd. (NFIN). Though we are an NBFC, we are not a typical financial NBFC in that sense as we are dealing with agriculture commodities, which is a different business altogether. So, we have built a digital loan platform where we extend a loan to farmers, warehouses, cold storage owners, and agriculture chain facilitators in rural areas.

The platform provides an end-to-end digital experience to our target customers. It also allows us to eliminate a lot of process redundancies, bring in efficiency and even open up opportunities to cross-sell. It also considerably improves the customer experience.

We are part of the complete agriculture supply chain, where we have the data of a farmer, and all the KYC compliances, processes and due diligence are done in the system itself. For example, if a farmer brings the crop and is looking for a loan, we can easily fund as we already have his pledge available with us. Financial automation becomes more critical because everything is intact and nothing is working in silos.

We have already seen 60% increase in productivity of our ground staff with the paperwork getting reduced. Most importantly, our loan processing time has reduced greatly and we are now able to sanction loans in a couple of hours using the application.  There was an increase in compliances as well because this is the most regulated system across lending industry.

 In your view, what are the biggest consumer trends shaping up the agri-loan space? And what would it mean for Technology Leaders like you?

The agri-loan space has some unique challenges. For example, language is often the biggest barrier and most of our customers are not exactly tech-savvy. Technology innovations—especially on mobile platform—allow us to overcome these barriers. We have been always mindful of this factor while designing and developing any app. Most of our applications support easy workflow which ensures user adaptability.

Firms in our sector often tend to focus on point solutions or applications which cater to specific set of users. As a CTO, I would like to facilitate the shift to more ‘enterprise-wide’, integrated applications so that people across the value chain can benefit out of a single platform.

With almost all services now happening through digital channels and shift to remote working, how are you relooking at data and security?

I feel it is a kind of learning and implementation methodology. In our sense of implementation, people who are working from home, handling critical information across all the entities, must be monitored fully and the data must be classified with stringent policies in place.

For instance, if a CRM team is working from home, they work on critical customer data. We must implement a new tool, which can monitor the entire activity of a person and in case of any suspicious activity, they must be smart enough to decode that. With people working from home, we are rigorously changing our security, work from home, and IT policies.

How are you aligning your innovation roadmap to deliver on business growth? Could you talk about some specific examples?

We are in an evaluation phase of the LiDAR camera, a new technology with a high-resolution camera that tells you which area is empty in our warehouse. We have a specific case study where we want to identify which part of our warehouses are filled, and how much space is empty. When you install these LiDAR cameras on the top, they will take the 3D image of the space and let you know the availability of space. Accordingly, you can take orders for whatever crops farmers bring in and direct that crop to that particular space. Presently, it is being done manually, which is not only time consuming but we also lose, at times, on the customers without proper information on hand about the space available.

We are building a unique AI-based food quality inspection application. Looking at the commodity, it identifies the type of the commodity, the moisture level and quality. It works like a bar code scanner for crops. It is developed based on an AI engine. It’s a very unique platform we are trying to build and would be implemented soon.