[Techie Tuesday] Electronics, ATMs, and fintech solutions: the journey of AGS Transact Technologies' Mahesh Patel
Mahesh Patel may have a fancy designation now – he’s Group CTO of end-to-end cash and digital payment solutions and automation technology provider AGS Transact Technologies. But, he strongly believes his method and way of working remains exactly the way it was when he started his tech journey nearly two decades back.
“I may not be coding every day today, but I retain the enthusiasm, zeal, ownership, and eagerness to learn new things as when I started my career in the 90s,” Mahesh says.
Hailing from a small town in Maharashtra, Mahesh comes from a wealthy family of farmers. It was expected that he would one day take over the family’s farms and agricultural setup.
“My elder brother was a doctor and there was no way he was coming back. It was understood that I would be running the farmlands, but I also wanted to explore. I came to Mumbai in 1995 and there was no looking back,” he says.
Mahesh was interested in science and technology since he was in Class 8. He took a technical education class where he learnt the making of mechanical objects and the basics of electrical concepts.
Beginning with electronics
“I liked to tinker with things to understand how they worked. The fascination of opening up things and exploring them stayed with me, and I opted for electronics as my elective in Class 12. I went on to do a three-year diploma in electronics engineering and went to Mumbai in 1995,” Mahesh recalls.
In 1996, he landed a job at Kores Engineering, a manufacturing company that built components for photocopying machines. Here, he worked on building varied electronic components. Soon after, the manufacturing was shifted to Indore. Mahesh helped with the shifting and setting up of the new facility, but later didn’t have much to do in Mumbai.
However, the company was also running a deep electronics project for India Telecommunications, with several senior colleagues working on it.
“There was a glitch that needed to be resolved. Working on the project meant a relocation to Allahabad, and none of the senior colleagues were willing to relocate with their families. My senior manager asked me to go, and I did. I would shuttle between Mumbai and Allahabad for several months. While I wasn’t exactly needed to build much, I worked closely on understanding telecommunication systems and even resolved the glitch,” he says.
The telecommunications project was an Kingtel Corporation operations project and they asked Mahesh to transfer and work on a few projects for sometime, which he did for the next three years.
Riding the IT wave
By 2000, Mahesh was getting restless. He had been with Kores Engineering for close to four years and was looking to do something different. It was also the year when the IT wave was picking up in India. In 2001, he joined a software engineering course at CDAC.
“Software was always a mystery to me…I enjoyed learning about data structures, databases, and how they are formed. We used to spend 14 hours a day at the institute and at that time most of the top IT firms would hire from CDAC. I hoped to get placed soon, but the dotcom bust happened and then 9/11 completely changed the world,” he says.
Mahesh decided to revisit Kores and see if he could continue working on electronics. “But my boss said there was a software position open for the ATM business, and I could join for that.”
Building ATM systems
The techie got down to work, building ATM systems, databases, and architecting the solution. Mahesh says one of the things he likes about software is architecting solutions, building databases from scratch, and understanding the big picture.
"I could create the vision, how the databases structures looked, and where everything would fit. I learnt the nuances of the ATM - how the operation of transaction happens, the software encryption, and hardware. The company sent me to Germany for training, and this helped me better understand ATM configuration,” he says.
Mahesh was building controllers for the ATM systems, but the business didn’t take off. To learn more and do more with ATM solutions, in 2003 he decided to join AGS Transact Technologies, a leading end-to-end cash and digital payment solutions and automation technology provider.
Happenstance led him to meet Ravi Goyal, Chairman and Managing Director at AGS, at a time when the company was looking to get into the ATM business. At Mahesh began to build all systems associated with ATMs at the company.
“ATMs soon became extremely important for banks. However, as an ATM supplier, we knew we needed a certification for every switch; for that we had to go the switch provider. I was now keen to learn about switches,” says Mahesh.
Understanding switches and controls
An EFT switch is an software that drives the ATM, POS etc and also authorises card transactions.This is a large system that can process millions of transactions per day in online mode and is mission critical system for banks.
By then, Mahesh wanted to join TCS, but he got an offer from Euronet, which was building switches as well. In August 2005, he joined Euronet, as they “were OEMs and setting up shop for ATM switches in India”. He felt this was a better opportunity than TCS.
“Euronet was smaller than TCS at that point in time, but the opportunity to learn was bigger,” he says.
Mahesh joined as a project manager and stayed on at Euronet for the next 10 years, reaching the position of executive director. He worked on project management, integration management, and operations management.
“I learned the ATM switch inside out and built the tech for the Asia-Pacific region. I even started transaction process business for banks at Euronet. In 10 years there was lot of learning that happened in Euronet specially when we worked on NPCI projects. The ATM business was going great, but there was a lot to explore on the PoS side as well and those opportunities were limited at Euronet,” he says
Second stint at AGS
In August 2015, Mahesh, along with a few colleagues, left Euronet and started working on ideas to build PoS systems. At the same time, his boss from AGS, Ravi Goyal approached him again and offered him a job at AGS Transact Technologies.
“He said whatever you want to build and do, please do it here. He gave me a free hand to execute,” Mahesh says.
Since then, he has built the transactional processing business at AGS. He says they got a few banks on the platform and the team offers them card management services, authorisation services, transaction processes, and reconciliation services.
The core systems he made next were for the 0.75 percent cashback on cards and making digital payments easier for banks. The industry was struggling on how to operationalise this after demonetisation.
“The solution we built lets one swipe the card; the discount is calculated then and there and the discounted amount is processed. The customer had an instant gratification and operating processes for the bank dropped. Soon, the philosophy of integration of payment systems with business verticals was taken up by private players. This led to transparency,” Mahesh says.
The team is now working on building 'QR cash', which lets a customer scan the code at an ATM and get money without a card. It is working with five to six banks for this project.
Comparing his past with his present, Mahesh says: “My designations have changed, but my mindset remains the same. I work in the same manner, have the same philosophy. I believe in taking complete ownership and look for people with a hunger for learning and acquiring knowledge, and using that to build things.”
Edited by Teja Lele Desai