Visually challenged employee of SBI develops app that automates daily banking tasks without coding skills
“For a differently-abled person, the challenges can be enormous. Even a simple thing can be magnified out of proportion.” And perhaps that’s what prompted B Ramkumar, who lost his sight to congenital glaucoma by the time he was in the fifth grade, to automate daily data collection at State Bank of India (SBI) using an app, that too for nothing. knowledge of coding.
The 38-year-old Digi Toolkit now allows all SBI employees to enter data, which is later automatically sorted. As the digital and transaction banking manager at SBI, Chennai Circle, Ramkumar understood the need to collect massive amounts of data from around 1,500 branches spread across Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.
“We were asked to prepare a daily report for each branch on a specific activity. The challenge here was that all the teams were using Excel spreadsheets shared via OneDrive with staff who were expected to update the status based on their account code and name,” says Ramkumar. But so many people editing the same Excel sheet at the same time led to the problem of data redundancy. “Sometimes the Excel worksheet was saved or updated incorrectly.”
Around this time, a chance meeting with Praveen Kumar from the home loan sales department led to the creation of the Digi Toolkit. Praveen, who also faces similar challenges, told Ramkumar about the Microsoft Power Apps platform. “We both have a similar mindset and we are thinking of creating an app that helps us collect large amounts of data for daily reports. And that’s how it all started,” recalls Ramkumar. After a colleague volunteered to conduct a user acceptance test, they created a prototype and submitted it to DGM Shailendra Dixit, who was impressed by the app’s effectiveness. Dixit later authorized the group to create the app.
“When Ramkumar asked me to develop the Digi Tool Kit app, he was very specific about accessibility and wanted to make sure the app was accessible to everyone, regardless of ability or disability,” says Praveen Kumar, adding that Microsoft platform provides an environment where accessibility options are already built in.
Inclusivity at the center
The app is currently available to all employees and Ramkumar is proud to have developed an app with inclusivity in mind. The versatile Digi Toolkit has simplified campaign tracking and lead tracking and has “a variety of tools in your arsenal.” According to Ramkumar, the Digi Toolkit application offers 100 percent automation in daily reporting tasks.
“I used to have to go through over 700 accounts as part of the activity and see if they sent their report in Excel. If not, I have to call them. But now it’s fully automated.” Ramkumar’s app sends an email if an account doesn’t respond. Upon prompting, data is entered, which is later combined into a single report. They receive a detailed report in Excel that they can mail immediately. “We also plan to automate emails. With all these activities, the app has taken human effort out of the equation.”
You don’t know how to code
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Ramkumar’s initiative is that he created an entire application without the slightest knowledge of coding or programming thanks to Microsoft’s Power Apps platform, which uses low-code tools to help innovate. “From buttons to screens, coding is essential in all aspects of app development. With platforms like Power Apps, you just type in what you want in plain language and the platform takes care of the rest,” explains Ramkumar, who says coding is the biggest fear for those with ideas.
“They can at least create a prototype that can be presented as a proof of concept,” says Ramkumar, who is confident that AI will only make things easier. He believes that platforms like Microsoft Power Apps are a game-changer for micro, small and medium-sized businesses that lack the funding to hire a team of experienced IT professionals to create apps to promote their business.
“Office 365 provides a powerful platform for residential developers to create innovative solutions that can benefit people in all walks of life. During the development process, I overcame many challenges to deliver a user-friendly and efficient app,” adds Praveen Kumar.
Technology and accessibility
Ramkumar wanted to learn computers from class 6, but his family could not buy him a desktop computer. “Being from a middle-class family, we couldn’t afford to buy a computer when I was in school. Even though my parents managed to get a used computer, no one taught me how to use it. Also, screen readers and the software to write them into were very expensive,” he says.
Finally, after completing his 12th in 2004, he got introduced to computers. “The information was so poor in India at that time that no one could find their way around. But somehow I found out that there is something called a screen reader that I can use computers with. He helped me complete both my graduation and chartered accountancy and also helped me get a job at SBI.”
In his days as a chartered accountant, he carried a scanner with him to scan a book and then edit it on a computer to finally read it. “Every phone now has a camera, and every camera has optical character recognition (OCR) technology built into it. Simply by focusing the camera on a document, you can read the text. I feel like whenever a product is designed with accessibility in mind, maybe for a small target audience, it will eventually go mainstream.”
Ramkumar knows that technology has enabled him to complete his studies and get a job. According to him, accessible technology plays a vital role in ensuring the social and financial security of differently-abled individuals. The banker uses an iPhone as his primary smartphone and also has an Android device. “I’m curious to learn about everything happening in the tech world, so I want to experience both the iOS and Android platforms,” he explains. Apart from his laptop and desktop computer, Ramkumar also uses an Apple Watch.
For Ramkumar, Microsoft’s Seeing AI iOS app helps him perform daily activities such as reading, scanning documents, or even reading handwritten notes. According to Ramkumar, accessibility-focused apps on iOS or default apps on the iPhone help differently-abled individuals feel a sense of freedom.
Ramkumar advises others facing similar challenges to “not lose hope and stay strong.” “No matter what the situation is, be strong and believe in yourself.”