Paul Merchants Limited is the flagship company of Paul Group of Companies, a financial services conglomerate, having business interests in various areas including International Money Transfer, FOREX, Tours & Travels, Prepaid Instruments, Domestic Money Transfer, Gold Loans and Entertainment Industry (Satellite TV).
In conversation with DynamicCIO, Shweta Srivastava, CTO, Paul Merchants elaborates how the adoption of digital technologies has helped the company keep floating in crisis times. She also explains how within a span of two days they developed a portal, with alert notification – a key for disaster recovery plan.
The portal was developed keeping in mind the customers who weren’t be able to visit the branches due to lockdown, thus enabling them to operate the loan accounts and swift transfers either for collection or payments. Having a robust IT and digital policy in place has helped the company turn the COVID-19 tide. “The real fun is to turn the uncertainties into opportunities and help navigate obstacles with our continuous efforts,” says Shweta Srivastava.
DCIO: Tell us about the robust IT policy and how it has come handy in the midst of WFH. What were the key steps taken to ensure that the organisation strictly follows cyber security protocols as well IT policy?
Shweta Srivastava (SS): Being in the financial services domain, thrust on data security has always been there. Being governed by regulatory bodies like RBI, SEBI etc., there are set of advisories as well as statutory compliances that we have to follow in order to safeguard critical customer data as well as financial transaction data. Considering all this, we anyways had a well-documented BCP-DR plan and we have been performing regular DR drills to be ready for all odds. Our real challenge was not much about enabling WFH or security of company’s technology assets. We are extensively working towards exploring the automation tools to empower our customers as well as our own workforce for seamless operations.
DCIO: How did the DR and BCP plans came for the rescue after the sudden lockdown was announced?
SS: Staying ahead of the curve is the game we are in. the management always encourages us to stay on top of both visible and invisible situations. We had a board-approved IT and BCP-DR policy, which is reviewed religiously and periodically. At Paul Merchants, we believe that it is wise to invest in robust technology than to have unreliable infrastructure. Being futuristic always helps in uncertain and unplanned situations like the one we are facing today. And we are glad we could sail through.
Apart from the policies and guidelines, we keep sharing advisories with our internal team as well as customers and run awareness programmes to educate them regarding probable cyber threats and how to stay safe while using any digital platform
DCIO: How are the technology teams collaborating? Were there any gaps that you identified? What steps did you take, as a CTO, to ensure all documentation falls in place?
SS: We have our entire workloads on the cloud. Our cloud journey started two years back and we moved completely to the cloud. We have business applications, which are completely cloud-native with all necessary procedures in place for access of data. Access to application is designed based on the user roles and their relevant work areas. Proper authentication mechanisms are in place to ensure that we provide access to only authorised personnel for their set of data and apps.
For collaboration in times such as these, we are extensively using online tools like Google Hangouts, Cisco WebEx and Zoom etc. WhatsApp also comes handy for quick exchange of information. These apps have emerged as Digital Saviours in times of complete physical isolation.
DCIO: Since lockdown was imposed, customers couldn’t visit any of the office branches. How you are managing by easing the payment route and technology adopted in this regard?
SS: We have a robust digital footprints in terms of online platforms for offering some of our services like Forex, Travel etc. However, for our lending business we were still operating out of our branches till the lockdown was clamped. We soon realized that it’s going to take some time for our branches to open and we can’t have our customers struggle to operate their loan accounts. Within a span of two days, we developed a portal equipped with alert notifications and payment gateway through which communication channel was established with all our existing customers.
The planning and execution, with close coordination of business and technology teams, was done immaculately and was much appreciated by our customers who were otherwise clueless how to connect with us.
DCIO: What is that one technology that has helped the organisation to improve overall functioning during this crisis?
SS: Paul Merchants is an extremely progressive organisation and our constant effort is to adopt cutting edge technology to stay relevant in the ever-changing, dynamic market. As I mentioned earlier, we have migrated all our workloads on cloud few years back. We are extensively exploring digital platforms for offering our products to our customers across all geographies.
We have invested a lot in mobile technology. Organization, as a whole, is on a Digital Transformation journey, which began a few years back. A lot of things have evolved with the adoption of useful technology, specially in the financial sector. It is worth noting that there has been a tremendous amount of evolution in Digital payment industry in recent years. We have been able to successfully adopt most of them.
So either we work from office or from home, nothing much changes. In fact, this phase helped us in testing our infrastructure and policies in a real-world scenario. I believe that cloud became the game changer for us to enable a pervasive mobility and remote working.