CRIF Highmark has had a phenomenal growth curve from humble beginnings in 2008 to becoming India’s top Credit Information Bureau in less than a decade of existence. CTO Pinkesh Ambavat opens up on how technology has been integral and indispensible to CRIF’s growth, the challenges faced, role of technology partner CtrlS Datacenters in helping maintain credit information for over a billion people.
How has been your journey bringing CRIF Highmark to where it is today?
So, the way we had started our journey was by applying for license with RBI for starting a Credit Bureau in India. Initially there was only one Credit Bureau called CIBIL which is now TransUnion before we came into the market. When we got our license back in 2008, CRIF was a startup – a ten people company backed by the RBI. Till the time we hadn’t received the license, we started developing applications and solutions which were India oriented. At that time, most of the incumbent technologies around were brought from the US or Europe and there was nothing customized for Indian languages. For a Credit Bureau, identifying a person from a database is the main task while forming the report. That was specifically a challenge in India with the number of languages and scripts which make for different names, pronunciations and spellings in different regions. With postal addresses too, there isn’t a single or fixed pattern to write addresses in India and the banking databases were of very less help. Keeping these challenges as priority, we focused on simplifying this issue with readability of Indian names and addresses and wrote a marking algorithm as per the varied Indian nomenclature available.
“Managing such a huge infrastructure can be very difficult as banks need it running at peak efficiency to manage their loans and continue their business.”
Once we got the licenses, we started with a Microfinance Bureau filling a huge gap as we were the first to found a Microfinance Bureau in India. The data quality for Microfinance in India was very poor compared to that of Consumer Bureaus where the players were already established. So with our initial offerings, we got a good traction with customers and most of them are still working with the Microfinance Bureau. There are only two players in the segment right now: CRIF and Equifax. Later on, we started with the commercial bureau and the consumer bureau as well becoming the only bureau which is in all the three segments: Microfinance, Commercial and Consumer.
How big has technology been a part of the growth story?
A Bureau is known to be operations and technology driven. The success of the products you bring in the market depends on how they can make life easy for a risk manager or an underwriter. For example, we can show clearly the credit an individual takes from Microfinance Institution and credit from Bank in a single report so that the underwriter gets a single view.
We are the only Bureau which is providing these products in the market right now that focus on simplifying tasks for the Risk Manager or the underwriter. Technology is the main driver behind how you design your products that makes things simple for the risk manager or underwriter. Now the infrastructure has grown big time. Initially we started with two servers and the volume was very less when we started in 2010. We were getting inquiries in numbers of about 40 to 50 thousand per day which has now increased to 0.5 Million per day. The growth has been phenomenal and this has been synonymous with infrastructure growth, better SLAs and uptime all thanks to technology.
What challenges did you face with the amount of Data and the services you offer?
To give you a background, currently we have more than a billion data points and we have a single database of more than 50 TB now. Managing such a huge infrastructure can be very difficult as banks need it running at peak efficiency to manage their loans and continue their business. For us and also for our customers, uptime is very important. At the same time, with banks and microfinance institutions submitting data to us, security is as important. We cannot compromise on data security, uptime and response time as well because when you take a microloan from major players like Bajaj Capital, the loan is incomplete till we verify it, and we have to respond as quickly as possible to let them know if they can provide those loans or not. So for us response time is critical. And now there are online loan players as well. So the market runs very fast and we have to keep up with it. As more digital properties come up, improving our response time, uptime and data security will get even more critical.
What has been the role of your CtrlS as a technology partner in supporting your business growth?
With the growing scale of operations we were always looking for a partner who could provide us with a single source for everything from data security and high availability to uptime. In 2014, we migrated our entire data into CtrlS’s Datacenters. We were looking for a single partner instead of many partners and found that CtrlS being Tier 4 Datacenters were able to meet all our requirements be it SLA or uptime. Also, they provided a one stop shop for managed services so I did not have to stress about increasing my internal IT Team. Thus, we identified a good partner and the involvement has evolved gradually and now they are also responsible for managing our security as well. With this partnership, security and uptime are covered where they are giving us 99.995% uptime and the SLA response time is also met.
“We were looking for a single partner instead of many partners and found that CtrlS being Tier 4 Datacenters were able to meet all our requirements be it SLA or uptime.”
What are your future technology plans at CRIF for 2018?
CRIF has always embraced the latest technologies and with the kind of data as I mentioned, in future, we will majorly focus on improving customer experience and further improving response time from less than 3 seconds to less than 1 second. We also have a new product which is an Anit-Fraud solution wherein we are going to invest more next year. Also, we are working on Big Data technologies, and we are going to bring it into customer experiences by mid next year. Using Big Data, we are going to create a lot of analytical products and also explore how Big Data can improve any particular area of our business, products and services.
What are your expectations from your technology partner in your future endeavors?
Two things – Big Data technologies are relatively new and everybody is working around it but not many are successful. We’re going to need help from CtrlS as our partner on how a profitable planning can be done around Big Data which serves the purposes and interested of CRIF as well as our customers. Then comes in the backup strategy which will need to be redefined; and how the Disaster Recovery Plan should be in place for the plans around Big Data technologies in future. We already have an efficient DR strategy with CtrlS but with Big Data we will need to reform it with their help.
What is your advice to fellow CIOs and the Industry?
My only advice is going to be consolidation. Today most enterprises have multiple infrastructures and multiple vendors. Because of this, they end up creating a lot of internal IT and have to spend a lot in supporting the multiple investments in infrastructure. Consolidation is the right way to go, with either Cloud or Private Cloud, and with managed services outsourced to a single vendor.