“Financial inclusiveness, and by extension digital inclusiveness, is not just about giving poor people or the unlettered equitable access to informational and communication technologies for a better social and economic life. It is also about reaching out and bringing into the fold people who are differently-abled.”

Noble thoughts, indeed. But this is the kind of banal statement that we would normally expect a top-ranking bureaucrat or a neta to make, and therefore, not pay much attention to. But wait! What if the statement is from a man who is not just walking the talk but who is also perhaps one of the finest examples of industriousness, perseverance and innovation trumping over physical disability.   

B Ramkumar

B Ramkumar | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement 

Meet B Ramkumar, who is a Manager at SBI’s Digitial and Transaction Banking unit in Chennai. The 38-year-old Ramkumar, who became visually impaired due to a “freak accident” when he was about 11, has successfully developed an app called Digi Toolkit that has revolutionised the way employees of the public sector banking behemoth collect, report and act upon data that relate to customers’ inquiries relating to various products.

Ramkumar’s team collates all the reports that each of the nearly 1,500 offices under their jurisdiction (the Chennai Circle of SBI that Ramkumar works for includes Tamil Nadu and Puducherry) and sends them to the sales team for follow-up. “While we could collect all this information from various sources, there was no centralised location to store and follow up on them. I wanted us to do more at a local level, so we could track these better,” says R Radhakrishna, Chief General Manager of SBI’s Chennai local head office.

Ramkumar took this up as a personal challenge. “I thought, why not convert the excel sheet we send out into an app that would be user-friendly — not just for the people in the branches, but also for the back offices that were monitoring the data? Which is how we came up with the idea of the Digi Toolkit app,” he says.

And, Ramkumar found a more-than-willing ally in Microsoft Power Apps, the low-code app development platform that he used to build Digi Toolkit from ground up. On the one hand, the app-enabled employees to input the data directly and automated the collation process. At the backend, it also delivered far more accurate results since users had access only to the data they had input (versus an entire shared sheet). This helped avoid intentional or unintentional tampering and left behind an audit trail for every piece of data that had been entered into the app. This data was then relayed back to the branch managers, who now had a singular view of all the products their customers are interested in. Earlier, each team would pursue that customer lead independently.

Sounds impressive, right! But how did Ramkumar, who has no background in computer science or programming, become part of SBI’s digital team in the first place. “After finishing my CA Inter, I was forced to look for a job given my family circumstances. I was writing competitive exams and got a few offers. And, may be SBI could see that I was crazy about computers and mobiles, and so here I am,” says Ramkumar.

True learning experience

It was an enriching learning experience not only for Ramkumar, but also for Praveen Kumar, a colleague who is familiar with the Power Automate function of Power App and who helped Ramkumar. “I had no clue as to how the ‘screen reader’ function that visually impaired people use worked. As I worked with Ram, I realised that many things that we take for granted like “drag and drop”, could be problematic for visually impaired. So we had to find a workaround. Similarly, thanks to Ram, I realised how important it is to name every graphic and other components.”

Says Ram: “In my mind, I was very clear. Yes, I was trying to make our daily routine much easier. But I was also trying to design an app that anybody with a disability could use without any kind of tutorial just like someone uses WhatsApp. In this regard, I am thankful to Microsoft which has been very sensitive when it comes to ensuring accessibility to all.”

So, what next? “The app, which has been rolled out in the Chennai Circle, is used by about 1,250 branches and gets about 500-600 hits daily. It is so good that we have already added 3-4 modules to it and it is growing as we speak. Going forward, the idea is to make the app a one-stop-shop for all our internal needs,” says Ram.

Looks like SBI can safely bank on Ramkumar and his colleagues for a truly rewarding digital journey.