Efficiency Drive: Discoms take IT initiatives to improve performance

Discoms take IT initiatives to improve performance

While the Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme (R-APDRP) is the most important IT initiative being undertaken by state-owned discoms, private sector players are also making substantial investments in advanced technology upgradations. Some of the most popular solutions are the geographic information system (GIS), enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, customer relationship management (CRM) system and SAP-based modules. Leading discoms share their perspective on the IT initiatives taken by them, the key challenges and future plans…

What are the major IT systems deployed currently? How has IT impacted the utility’s operations and business?

Satya Gupta

Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited (TPDDL) has, in a short span of 12 years, brought down its aggregate technical and commercial loss level from 53 per cent to 10.5 per cent. It has achieved major improvements in network reliability, service excellence and consumer satisfaction through the adoption of latest technology and automation systems for various processes. TPDDL was the first company to launch a comprehensive and interactive website for consumers that helps them make payments, and view their bills, consumption and payment pattern, complaint status, and expected time of restoration. A mobile version of this website is also available.

In order to automate business functions, the company deployed the SAP ERP system in the areas of finance and control, material management, plant maintenance, project system, human capital management and business warehouse. Similarly, to automate commercial processes, TPDDL implemented the SAP-Industry Solutions for Utilities (ISU), which is one of the world’s best integrated solutions. ISU has seamless integration with applications such as GIS, outage management systems (OMS), automated meter reading (AMR), hand-held devices (HHDs), spot billing and  payment gateways, as well as with other ERP modules. TPDDL has also deployed CRM and business communication manager (BCM) systems.

With the implementation of SAP-ISU and BCM, TPDDL launched a 24×7 unified call centre for both voice and interactive voice response-based systems. This initiative led to a reduction in operations and maintenance expenditure. The overall consumer satisfaction index has also increased from 67 per cent to 71 per cent.

With the integration of OMS  with CRM and SAP-ISU, call centre agents can proactively inform  consumers about power outages. Consumers can also track outages in their respective areas through the website. The online monitoring of no-supply complaints and optimal utilisation of field crew have led to a 23 per cent improvement in compliance for no-supply complaints.

AMR has been implemented for downloading meter readings automatically for high-end consumers. HHDs are being used for taking readings from the field and spot billing is used for bill generation on the spot for jhuggi-jhopri cluster consumers.

We have implemented a payment gateway along with an any time payment collection module for payment collection and integration of payments made by consumers using various channels such as websites and drop boxes. As a result, TPDDL has increased payment touch points to over 5,000. The deployment of a workflow-based ISU system and payment gateway has helped in achieving 99.3 per cent compliance of performance assurance timelines, meter installation for new connections in less than seven days and 99.8 per cent collection efficiency.

GIS and OMS are also deployed by TPDDL. GIS provides geographical details for carrying out better asset, operation and commercial management. OMS integrates various work systems and processes in order to provide end-to-end automation related to no-supply issues.

Uttam S. Mane

Under the R-APDRP Part A, Uttar Haryana Bijli Vitaran Nigam is undertaking the deployment of systems related to AMR, energy accounting, GIS, CRM as well as billing and collection. So far, of the total 36 towns, we have successfully deployed these applications in 16 towns. This will improve our operational efficiency as the data will be available in real time. This will help the management in taking decisions efficiently.

Debashis Roy

CESC is a private sector power utility, engaged in electricity generation and distribution in the city of Kolkata and its adjoining areas. It caters to around 2.9 million consumers. At CESC, IT is not just an enabler of business processes but also an integral part of the organisation’s strategy and performance objectives. IT has been identified as a key element to achieve greater operational efficiency and ensure success in a competitive environment. CESC has deployed an Oracle app-based ERP system. Currently, Oracle financials, purchase order and inventory as well as human resource management software modules have been implemented. In addition, a number of important IT applications including billing, CRM, new application processing system and treasury management system have been developed by our in-house IT team. The critical applications of the company run from CESC’s captive Corporate Data Centre. A full-fledged disaster recovery mechanism is in place to ensure business continuity in the event of any disaster.

G. Srinivas

Since 2006, Northern Power Distribution Company of Telangana Limited (TSNPDCL) has been running core business activities on SAP. In 2010, we upgraded SAP R/3 4.7 EE to SAP ECC 6. We are currently using material management, financial accounting and controlling, project system, and plant maintenance modules based on SAP. This has resulted in transparency, accountability, close monitoring and control of core business processes. We have also deployed an energy billing system (EBS) developed in-house for billing and accounting as well as GPRS-based spot billing machines (SBMs) for billing low tension consumers.

The GPRS-based SBMs facilitate instant availability of billing data for online transactions. We have also implemented GPRS-based spot collection machines for efficient revenue collection. The EBS and GPRS-based billing and collection system have helped us control energy billing and collection activities. With these systems, we are able to monitor meter performance and replace defective meters in a timely manner to avoid revenue loss. We have developed several in-house applications such as a load monitoring and scheduling system, Rythu Mithra, MeeSeva, an employee grading system and a file tracking system. The load monitoring and scheduling system enables the load despatch centre to keep track of 33 kV feeders. The Rythu Mithra application facilitates monitoring and tracking of failed distribution transformers. We have received a special jury award from the state government for this application. The MeeSeva application has enabled customers to avail of services at all MeeSeva centres across the state. We received the eINDIA 2013 Award for this application. We have implemented R-APDRP Part A in 22 towns.

What are the key lessons learnt from IT implementation and deployment? Does the company prefer in-house or outsourcing models for IT implementation?

Satya Gupta

There are a number of challenges being faced by TPDDL in implementing various technologies. These include identifying the right technology partner, communication technology especially for AMR/advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) implementation, training the large workforce in new technologies, capacity building of employees, servers and communication network management, software licence management, and software version management (SAP, Microsoft, Oracle). TPDDL prefers to use a mix of outsourcing models and in-house models. In large projects, outsourcing models are adopted for implementation but maintenance is handled by internal resources.

Uttam S. Mane

As the R-APDRP is nearing completion, there is a need to maintain the installed IT systems. It is preferable to maintain these in-house with the help of outsourced agencies.

Debashis Roy

There are a number of challenges associated with the implementation of large-scale IT projects. The success of an IT project will depend largely on how the three key resources – people, processes and technology – have been deployed. No matter how good the technology is, unless the process and people associated with the project are aligned with the overall objective, the project cannot see the light of day. This has, perhaps, been one of the key lessons learnt by us while implementing various IT projects in CESC. While it is important to choose the appropriate technology, it is equally important to have the right people executing the project in line with some of the proven best practices. Often, change management assumes great importance and has to be suitably addressed in the overall interests of project implementation.

Typically, most of the IT requirements of the company are met by CESC’s internal IT team. However, experienced implementation partners are engaged for projects that involve changes in the company’s ERP or GIS systems.

G. Srinivas

We prefer in-house models for IT implementation. In the power sector, in particular, IT is a tool to enable better monitoring and control over business processes. We believe that the IT wing should be run by departmental staff as domain knowledge is required to develop, roll out and maintain the required IT applications.

What are the major IT projects being considered for implementation? What are the expected challenges?

Satya Gupta

TPDDL has successfully implemented a smart grid pilot project with auto demand response and AMI. This is the only smart grid project being undertaken in Delhi. The project covers around 250 industrial and commercial consumers with a sanctioned load of around 300 kW. Deployment is in progress at Lawrence Road and in the Narela industrial area. AMI meters for around 150 consumers have been installed. After the successful implementation of this pilot project, TPDDL plans to implement AMI for all consumer categories in a phased manner.

Currently, TPDDL has integrated most of its IT and operational technology (OT) applications. For IT applications integration, the SAP-process integration module  is being used whereas for OT applications integration, point-to-point integration is being done. For the implementation of AMI, all consumers will require enterprise application integration using enterprise service bus (ESB).

Mobile workforce management and ESB implementation are being considered and proposals for these have been submitted to the regulator. Business analytics is another area being considered by TPDDL. Since the volume of data generated by various systems such as AMR/AMI, OMS, ISU and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) is huge, TPDDL is planning to implement business analytics using in-memory computing devices to enable the management to take timely and informed decisions.

Uttam S. Mane

Two major IT projects – ERP and the smart grid pilot project – are being considered for implementation.

Debashis Roy

At present, the company is focusing on customer centricity. Most IT projects in future will revolve around customer-centric systems and processes. Accordingly, CESC is revamping its existing corporate website and will be shortly launching a new website with a number of value-added e-services. Also, a number of mobile applications are being developed for facilitating transactions related to billing, payments and supply outage information, etc. All these new initiatives are being directed towards enhancing customer delight.

Moreover, a number of applications are being developed on smart devices such as tablets and smartphones for improving the overall operational efficiency in CESC’s key business processes. The company is in the process of deploying a suitable business intelligence and analytics tool to facilitate the decision-making process at various levels. The company has recently made its presence felt on the social media network by launching its Facebook and Twitter accounts.

G. Srinivas

SCADA and demand management systems are being deployed in Warangal town.

What is the planned expenditure for IT projects over the next two to three years? What was the expenditure incurred in 2013-14?

Satya Gupta

TPDDL’s planned IT capex is about Rs 250 million, which covers business analytics, the distribution transformer surveillance system and its integration with OMS. However, our focus areas will be the smart grid project with AMI and field force automation/mobile workforce management, which require additional capex.