Personal Digital Assistants (PDA)
As part of the CGAP IT Innovations Series, this technical note introduces Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) as a possible answer to Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) that need to cut down on paper usage and increase their reach into rural areas. PDAs are small, handheld digital computers that can run specialised programmes to manage MFI and client data and perform financial calculations.
MFIs may want to employ PDAs to standardise their credit methodology and operating policies, improve loan officer efficiency, and increase data accuracy and access in the field. This technology becomes very attractive for institutions working in rural areas because of the mobility it allows to loan officers. Virtually all client data and client visit records are stored electronically and are immediately available in a device small enough to fit in a shirt pocket.
The cost-benefit analysis and numerous case studies prepared by the author are valuable, as the cases vary on method of implementation, duration of use and results. The author concludes that despite its potential to increase efficiency, PDAs are not a solution for fundamental operational problems, nor are they a substitute for staff training. PDA tends to make a good institution run better. The following are lessons for implementation compiled from the author’s case studies:
- Leverage the use of PDAs as much as possible
- Start with a stable MIS
- Have relatively stable, proven loan products
- Ensure strong support from top management
- Have high-speed access to MIS data
- Have capable MIS support
- Think through implementation issues carefully
- Define success up-front