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Home / Companies / News /  Mahindra is ploughing its own furrow in super-app strategy

NEW DELHI : Farm to-finance conglomerate Mahindra Group is bringing its diverse products and services under one overarching digital roof, calling it not a super app but the Farmer App.

The group run by billionaire Anand Mahindra will bring agriculture, finance, auto, and even used cars and tractors under the app.

Mohit Kapoor, group chief technology officer of Mahindra Group, said Mahindra’s products “should not be force-fitted into a container and offered to a customer".

“Since we have a rural and semi-urban focus because of tractors and finance, it makes a lot of sense for us to go deeper into those communities. You may want to call it a super app—I am just calling it a Farmer App to stay away from the Super App connotation," he said in a recent interaction.

The super app phenomenon began in East Asia with Chinese company Tencent’s popular mobile instant messaging app WeChat evolving into a ‘platform of apps’. Closer home, large conglomerates such as Reliance Industries, Tatas and Adani group are pulling out all stops to build super apps as part of a larger digital transformation story.

Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Retail initiated a revamp of its My Jio app in August 2021 to convert it into a super app by integrating various consumer offerings, following its acquisition of the local search engine Just Dial. The My Jio app bundles over 20 consumer applications.

Tata Sons plans to invest at least $2 billion in its super app, TataNeu, and later raise an additional $5 billion from external investors by selling minority stakes in the digital venture. The launch of this app is expected in the first half of this year.

Ahmedabad-based Adani group has set up a new division, Adani Digital Labs, to build its super app. In keeping with this strategy, the group announced the acquisition of a minority stake in online travel aggregator Cleartrip from Flipkart Marketplace on 29 October.

The Mahindra Group, however, is working differently.

Kapoor said that “a super app will not work for" the group. One reason, according to Kapoor, is “we don’t have a large B2C (business-to-consumer) play".

“I will not call it a super app because it is cliched. Purpose-focus apps surely have room. To me, farm and finance, which is about my tractor, field, family, insurance, house, television, education, medical...that makes sense. We have to think about the farmer as the customer. That’s where we are going."

The idea of Farmer App, still evolving, is to build an app for “the rural-farmer ecosystem", according to Kapoor. “It can have weather; it can have mandi rates, incentives offered by the government, cold storage, input suppliers of fertilizers and seeds... (and) things we don’t make. We don’t make cold storage, but my farmer, who has a Mahindra tractor, has a potato farm. Can I offer him cold storage (facility)? So, a rural-focused digital offering is surely in the works," he added.

Kapoor said the Mahindra Group is working on a five-step strategy to speed up its digital transformation.

To begin with, over the last 12-15 months, the group has sharpened its focus on enhancing customer experience (CX) in each of its verticals. “Customer journeys are very important for individual businesses," Kapoor said.

“A CX for holidays is different, CX for a used car is different, for auto, tractor, finance—all are different. Equally important is the employee journey. That employee is now also sitting (working) at home. So, we are focusing on collaboration and communication tools just like all other companies. The fact that we have 20–25 million customers across the group is good enough if we keep the CX/ UI (user interface)/ UX (user experience) high. Hence collaboration is the first principle that Dr. Shah (Mahindra Group managing director and chief executive, Anish Shah) has put on the table," Kapoor said.

For instance, Mahindra Group is already working with startups such as “Karza, Perfios and Signzy on the finance side... to use their technology. Rather than coding all those pieces, we just plug all that in. That’s our approach," Kapoor said. In farming, “we are collaborating with a company called Carnot Technologies which is building a ‘farming as a service’ offering".

He added that the second focus is on data and artificial intelligence (AI). “Data and AI are being used to launch new products; to price them; to decide where to launch; how to predict bad loans in Mahindra Finance; whom to give a loan, and whom to reject."

Mahindra is working with three startups in the 5G space, according to Kapoor. For instance, it uses the services of a startup called Yello Skye that uses drones to do inventory management. “In Chakan, we have a 40-50 acre plant where 1,000s of vehicles are parked in the open lot. We don’t know the location of each car. So, when you have to send 100 Thars (a Mahindra SUV)—all of them in red colour—to Guwahati, how are we going to figure out where they are? If you do two flights a day by drone, we divide the plant into grids and then can automatically use AI to know exactly where the red Thars are. Take your trailer there, load them and off you go to Guwahati."

The third area is to “modernize the IT (information technology) stack...which involves cloud and ‘APIfication", he added. “The idea is to publish 100s of APIs (application programming interfaces) per company externally, and also internally do some plumbing for APIfication of the company," Kapoor said.

The Mahindra Group is planning to launch an “API-based service called India Blue Book. If you want to do the reference check of what the real value of my car should be, then that will become the bible for anybody to go and assess," Kapoor said.

The fourth area is around “cyber security and data privacy", while the fifth is around “talent and culture". he added.

The Mahindra Group also uses cutting-edge technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). “We are currently using AR and VR to train all our engineers on the XUV 700, which we have just begun delivering," Kapoor said.

As for blockchain, the technology that powers cryptocurrencies, Kapoor said the Mahindra Group is “ahead of our times". “Two or three years ago, we launched blockchain with IBM. In the new avatar, we want to do it from a trade finance point of view -- input trade finance for SMEs. Again, in the farming space, if you want to buy seeds, we should be the financer behind the blockchain. So, it will still be a farm-to-fork blockchain but with SME finance as our motive behind it," Kapoor said.

“The second area of blockchain is in the automobile space --that from a brand-new car coming out of a factory to its disposal as scrap, which we also do actually," Kapoor pointed out. CERO, a joint venture between Mahindra Accelo and MSTC (a government enterprise under the Ministry of Steel) helps users scrap old vehicles that leads to recovery of many metals, including steel which makes up 65-70% of a vehicle.

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