Interview with Arunabha Basu: “TPDDL’s planned IT capex for 2014-15 stands at about Rs 290 million”

“TPDDL’s planned IT capex for 2014-15 stands at about Rs 290 million”

Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited (TPDDL), one of the leading discoms in the field of IT adoption, has made significant investments over the years in business and commercial process automation. The company now intends to focus on the emerging areas of mobile workforce management, business analytics, automated metering and demand response as well as smart grid deployment. In an interview with Smart Utilities, Arunabha Basu, Chief, Technology and Systems, TPDDL, spoke about the company’s key initiatives and its future plans in the field of IT implementation and automation…

What are some of the key IT  initiatives undertaken by TPDDL?

TPDDL was the first company to launch a comprehensive and interactive website, which offers consumers the facility to view latest bill, consumption and payment pattern; make payments; register complaints/ requests and view its current status; and check power outage details and the expected time of restoration, amongst other features. The website’s mobile version is also available to enable easy access.

To automate business functions, the company implemented the SAP enterprise resource planning (ERP) system in the areas of financial accounting, material management, plant maintenance, project system, human capital management, procurement management and employee self-service. The SAP Business Warehouse has also been implemented for management information systems (MIS).

Similarly to automate commercial processes, TPDDL implemented SAP Industry Solutions for Utilities (ISU), which has seamless integration with applications like geographical information system (GIS), outage management system (OMS), automatic meter reading (AMR), hand held devices (HHD), spot billing, payment gate- way and with other ERP modules. Along with SAP-ISU, TPDDL also implemented customer relationship management (CRM) and business communication manager (BCM) platforms for unified call centres for “no supply” and commercial complaints as well as for the common interactive voice response (IVR) system.

AMR enables automatic download of meter readings for high end consumers and HHDs are used for taking readings on the field for other consumer categories. Also, spot billing is used for taking reading and bill generation on the spot for special consumer group focusing on JJ cluster consumers.

TPDDL has also deployed   GIS and OMS systems.  GIS is a repository of data containing sub- transmission, primary and secondary distribution, and consumers which are mapped on the geographical landbases. This software application is used for carrying out better asset, operational and commercial management.  OMS is a work flow-based  system which ensures  integration of various work systems and processes  in order to provide end-to- end automation related to the resolution of “no power” supply issues.

TPDDL has also implemented payment gateway for integration of payments made by consumers using various channels like the company’s website, automated teller payment machines (ATPM) and drop boxes with SAP-ISU. SMS-based services are being used for sending intimation to consumers on request status, demand note generation, bill amount and payment, bill due date, scheduled power outages, etc.

How would you quantify the benefits derived from  IT investments?

All the above mentioned initiatives along with the automation of business processes have helped TPDDL in consistently overachieving its performance targets. Over a short span of 12 years, the company brought down its aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) loss levels from over 53 per cent to 10.5 per cent. It also brought about major improvements in network reliability, service excellence and the consumer satisfaction index.

After implementation of SAP-ISU and BCM, TPDDL could launch 24×7 unified call centre with both agent interaction and IVR-based systems. This has helped in reducing O&M expenditure due to manpower and process optimisation and in improvement of overall consumer satisfaction index. With the implementation of OMS integrated with CRM and SAP-ISU, call centre agents proactively inform consumers about outages through the CRM system. With online monitoring and optimised utilisation of field crew, the compliance percentage for “no supply” complaints has improved by 23 per cent. Also, with the implementation of payment gateway, TPDDL has increased payment touch points for consumers to more than 5,000 including ATPM, Jeevan counters of the Delhi government and the electronic clearing system.

Several performance parameters have improved with the implementation of workflow-based ISU systems. Compliance to performance assurance time lines is now 99.3 per cent while meter installation in case of new connections takes less than seven days. Also, provisional billing rate is only 1.85 per cent, and both billing efficiency and collection efficiency have improved significantly.

What is the company’s IT expenditure bud- get for the current fiscal? What are the key focus areas?

TPDDL’s planned IT capex for 2014-15 stands at approximately Rs 290 million. Main focus areas will be field force automation/mobile workforce management, business analytics, and the distribution transformer surveillance system and its integration with OMS.

How is TPDDL currently utilising the collected meter data to improve operational efficiency? Has the company deployed business analytics?

Meter reading is collected by field staff for consumers having sanctioned load of less than 10 kW using HHDs. The collected consumption data gets downloaded directly into the company’s billing system and is passed through stringent quality checks before the bill is raised. For high-end consumers, distribution transformers and feeders, AMR systems are being used. Under this, meters are remotely read as per the meter reading schedule and the readings get downloaded into the company’s AMR server automatically. Data analysis is done on load survey data using the software developed by TPDDL to identify probable meter and equipment tampering with more than 90 percent accuracy. This has not only increased meter reading accuracy, but has also improved billing and energy auditing.

What are the company’s plans with respect to the adoption of automated metering infra- structure (AMI)?

TPDDL has successfully implemented a smart grid pilot project with auto-demand response (ADR) and AMI. This is the first and only smart grid project being undertaken. The project, which has been approved by the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC), covers 250 industrial and commercial consumers with a sanctioned load of 300 kW and above. It is being implemented in partnership with prominent technology providers. AMI meters for around 200 consumers, who have opted for ADR, have been installed. Deployment is currently in progress at Lawrence Road and in the Narela Industrial areas. After successful implementation of the pilot project, TPDDL plans to implement AMI for all consumer categories in a phased manner.

What are TPDDL’s IT plans with respect to the deployment of enterprise application integration, mobile work force management and smart grid deployment?

At present, TPDDL has integrated most of its IT and operational technology (OT) applications. SAP Process Integration-Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) is being used for integrating IT applications, while point-to-point integration is being done for OT applications. For the implementation of AMI as well as mobile work force management, all consumers will require enterprise application integration using ESB, for which proposals have been submitted to the regulator. As for smart grid deployment, TPDDL appointed US-based consultancy firm Quanta Technology to develop the company’s Technology and Smart Grid Roadmap using a grant from the United States Trade and Development Agency. The road map has been prepared and the projects are being discussed with the DERC for approvals.

What are some of the emerging IT requirements in the power distribution segment?

The use of OT and converging it with IT is one of the most important requirements to reduce losses and improve services, governance and consumer satisfaction. For OT, implementation of supervisory control and data acquisition, GIS and OMS remains crucial. Also, in order to reap maximum benefits, discoms need to integrate these technologies with the implemented CRM and revenue cycle management solutions.

What are the key challenges being faced in IT implementation?

TPDDL faces a number of challenges while implementing various technologies. These are related to identification of the right technology partner and communication technology, especially for AMR/AMI implementation; capacity building of employees and training the large workforce on the new technology being adopted; servers and communication network management; and software licences and software version management.

In case of public sector discoms, lack of ground level support remains a key challenge. Other challenges include lack of qualified IT professionals for IT infrastructure and applications maintenance as well as lack of computer literacy and keenness to adopt of technology. While pockets of excellence do exist, cross functional knowledge, clarity and coordination between various functions/departments for better implementation is also needed.