Atlanta Spotlight: Sandip Mohapatra
Sandip Mohapatra has been at the forefront of the technology business for more than 20 years and has been hailed as the magician who can make technology pay. “There are a lot of great technology ideas out there today, just as there were two decades ago,” said Sandip, “but the real question is always ‘can we scale, make money, and grow the business.’” In his career, Sandip has been intimately involved in two important areas of the technology business – telecommunications and payments – two areas now merging with the growth of digital payments.
Sandip was born in Sambalpur, India in 1965 in the state of Orissa. Educated there, he graduated from the Gangadhear Meher College with a BS in Statistics and later received an MS in Statistics from Utkal University. Utkal is known as one of the top university providing candidates for the central/state civil service and bank officers in India, but Sandip wanted something new and different. “In the late ‘80’s, information technology was becoming more mainstream, more accessible,” he said, “and I wanted to be part of that.” Sandip came to the US in 1988 and entered the New Jersey Institute of Technology, graduating with an MS in Computer Science in 1990. He then worked as a developer on assignment at various locations across the US, allowing him to travel, see the country, and meet different people from many walks of life.
In 1994, Sandip settled into Atlanta to work on a very large project for BellSouth Mobility. The relatively new business was struggling with a legacy billing system and hired six consultants to provide an interim solution while also building a new platform for billing by making use of a team of 100+ developers from IBM and Price Waterhouse. Sandip led the development of the airtime pricing module that did calculations on how much each call would cost. “This was a little tricky because the marketing people were always coming up with new rate plans,” said Sandip. “It was more complicated for us, but it did excite customers.”
Sandip’s team was able to move the majority of BellSouth Mobility’s client base to the most critical part of the new platform in six months. Platform work continued for another 18 months and eventually supported 24 million customers. “It was all exciting,” said Sandip. “I was in the fastest growing business of the mid ‘90’s – cell phones - and learned a lot about the business of technology – it has to scale and be profitable, or else what’s the point?” His team was given an award by the company’s CFO for reducing the cost of bills by 33%. With millions of customers, that translated to savings of hundreds of millions of dollars per year. “Saving money is just as good as making money,” say Sandip, “but it isn’t really magic – it was a lot of hard work.”
Wanting to learn more about general business and not solely focus on technology, Sandip entered the program at the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University where he received his MBA in 2000. “I wanted to be a businessman who knows a lot about technology,” said Sandip, “as opposed to a technology person who knows something about business.” His belief then, and now, is that as technology becomes more ubiquitous in the business world future leaders will need to have a solid grounding in both disciplines.
Growth of InComm
After continuing to work as a consultant for five more years, Sandip accepted an offer to head up information technology at a small company in Atlanta called InComm, in 2001. The tiny prepaid card company was primarily in the “prepaid phone card” business and had decided to move into the “prepaid for everything” business. This would require a lot of effort. At the time, InComm had only 10 people working in IT and a payments transaction volume of only $24 million per year. Under Sandip, it would become the major distributor and processor of a variety of retail card products for major companies like Apple, WalMart, Kroger, 7-11, Microsoft and American Express (gift cards) and many other convenience store companies. Sandip’s major change, which allowed this growth to happen, was to drastically reengineer the legacy platform called “FastCard.” As the name implies, this scalable system was designed to grow and activate cards fast. Presently the system processes over 10 million transactions per day. . As much as he did to help grow InComm, Sandip still believes that most of the credit should go to InComm’s CEO, Brooks Smith. “Brooks Smith was a sales genius,” says Sandip. “Once he brought in WalMart, everybody else (large customers) fell into place.” But the company still had to compete to win the business. With Sandip’s leadership, InComm could implement services for merchants in six to eight weeks while rivals needed six months or more, creating a strong competitive advantage for the business. They almost always went with InComm. During his tenure Sandip also launched InComm’s prepaid debit card issuing platform under the brand “Green Card” with a budget of $500,000 and 8 months far faster than similar launches.
When Sandip left InComm after 4 years, the company had become the dominant player in the prepaid business with transaction volume of over $800 million per year and growing. They are still the number one company in the prepaid segment today. “It was very satisfying,” says Sandip, “but InComm wasn’t magic, either, unless you consider serendipity magic – one of those times when all the elements came together.”
Sandip went back to consulting in 2005, this time providing expertise to a number of payment processing companies in the US and around the world. He would continue with this work until 2010 when he was asked to join a management team trying to turn around an electronic bill payment company based in Reston, Virginia now known as Official Payments.
Being part of the management team of a publicly traded company was appealing to Sandip, but he knew that there would be challenges. Official Payments facilitates payments to the IRS, many states, cities and counties in the US. It also provides payment services to higher education institutions and local utilities. The company was formed out of a merger combination of four different companies; EPOS, ChoicePay, MyLocalGov and Official Payments, which meant Sandip was inheriting four separate legacy platforms and four data centers across the country. On the other hand, the online bill payments market for “Official Payments” is still in its adolescence, if not infancy. Not nearly as many people pay bills electronically as will five to ten years from now.
So, Sandip joined Official Payments and is glad he did. He works closely with CEO Alex Hart and is busy delivering results. By the end of next year, Sandip is working towards consolidating data centers with full Disaster Recovery and consolidating payment processing platforms. This will not only reduce operating costs; it will allow the company to provide better service level agreements to customers. And Official Payments is now focusing on the end consumer as much as the billers – providing more ways to pay, and enhanced products.
Official Payments moved to Atlanta in September of 2011. “We wanted to be in the payments capital of the world,” said Sandip. He enjoys his role, reporting to the CEO, making strategic presentations to the board of directors and helping manage the complex growth of the company. With five US offices, the team is spread out, “but I make sure to reach out,” he said.
“We have accomplished a lot at Official Payments,” says Sandip, “but good things are bound to happen when you work hard. Our CEO, Alex Hart, provides the vision and leadership, we execute it. Select the goal and make it happen – that’s the only way I know to make magic - practical magic.”
Sandip and his wife Dipti have two sons, ages 17 and 14, and live in Roswell, Georgia.
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