Mobility solutions, an area that has been opened up by the smartphone revolution, provides new opportunities to improve customer knowledge, drive sales, personalise the consumer experience, improve internal operations, and enhance employee productivity. Power distribution utilities across the world are also increasingly deploying mobility solutions through best-in-class information systems. The areas of operation of distribution utilities span vast geographic expanses served by a dispersed field operation workforce, equipped with inconsistent and sometimes manual work processes and tools. Often, therefore, the availability, quality and timelines of field data are compromised. Mobility solutions can fundamentally alter the process of workflow from the job site to the back office. An effective mobile solution can create an integrated flow of data, thereby allowing for dynamic job dispatch and routing, automated location analysis, electronic transmission of work packages and forms, live remote mapping, and real-time access to asset and worker information.
The emergence of new digital technologies and the increased reach of mobile connectivity are playing a major role in transforming the manner in which utilities interact with their customers. Utilities need to rethink their customer strategies, transform their business models, redesign and streamline their business processes, and build a more flexible and integrated application infrastructure. It is,therefore, crucial for these companies to invest in mobility solutions to achieve the goals of business operation improvement, customer service improvement and professional growth of employees. According to industry experts, utilities that have successfully deployed mobility solutions have achieved productivity improvements of 20-30 per cent.
A case in point is Noida Power Company Limited (NPCL), which has adopted information technology (IT) as one of the major differentiators for implementing its growth strategies. The com-pany is one of the early adopters of enterprise resource planning (ERP). It adopted Oracle E-Business Suite in 2000. In addition to this, NPCL implemented GIS (GE Smallworld) and super-visory control and data acquisition (SCADA) in early 2000. During 2005, the company made significant improvements in systems, applications, products (SAP) technologies, and migrated its ERP Oracle applications to SAP software like document access, customer relationship management (CRM), business information warehouse, human capital management (HCM), business capital management and supplier relationship management.
Strategy for mobility
NPCL has essentially focused on products with a defined long-term roadmap. It adopted applications with native integration, which offered advantages over custom-developed interfaces, as the latter require higher maintenance. This has been the major reason for the company’s migration from Oracle to SAP. Another contributor to mobility is the company’s initiative to develop in-house competencies, which can be integrated with the external technology partners as and when they are involved. The in-house team partners with such technology providers to get training, as well as get involved in the implementation process to support end-users in an efficient way. The company also motivates its in-house IT team to constantly look for opportunities to enhance these software applications.
One of the company’s major strategies with respect to mobility solutions is shifting the back-office interface to the site where the action is taking place, which reduces the cycle time of capturing the actual data. This helps the utility to schedule, despatch and allocate tasks from remote locations, thereby optimising maintenance processes. The company is also banking on real-time updates, which help in updating its back-office team about the status of works being carried out as well as the locational information for better monitoring. Another major advantage of mobile applications is that they allow the company to take its workforce through a guided workflow and standard operational procedures on site, which allows executives to access background information, schematics, testing history, meter history, etc., adding significant value to the quality of work. Thus, these mobile strategies help in gradually building a rich information database, which facilitates better analysis and can be mined for both preventive and predictive purposes.
NPCL is currently working on the SAP-based Syclo Smart Mobile Suite, which is a set of custom-built mobile applications for workforce automation. It allows the workforce to efficiently carry out asset installation, condition monitoring, preventive maintenance, refurbishment and calibration. The application can also be integrated with SAP IS-U to carry out processes like meter installation, meter removal, periodic reading, meter seal management and meter testing. The company is likely to launch the application by October 2015. It is expecting to gain significant advantages, not only in terms of managing on-site processes but also in reducing process variances and accessing better quality of data, which can be used to improve maintenance strategies once the application goes live.
Another application that the company has implemented is the MapFrame FieldSmart from General Electric, which is used in GIS data collection before the network is energised, as well as for site inspection for audit sheet measurement and network design verification. The main advantage of this application is that it helps in creating an authentic asset accounting database.
The company has also developed an in-house mobile app to enable customers to view and download PDF copies of bills, make online payments, log service requests, and track responses. The application, though custom based, is developed with SAP Utilities and SAP CR) interfaces through a multi-channel foundation for utilities, which exposes the back-end applications of CRM in the form of data. Further, NPCL has developed an app for meter readers, which helps in downloading and sequencing meter reading orders, as well as carrying out meter reading validations, attaching meter reading photographs, and tracking pending readings. Along with this, the company has developed a payment collection app, which helps in downloading data updates from SAP IS-U and receiving payment receipts through mobile printers, and provides quick reconciliation of the payment facility.
The way forward
By the end of next year, the company will make further progress towards integrating GIS with mobile applications in order to help users take advantage of GIS facilities. In addition, the company is working on Oracle’s outage management system app to extend it to its mobile workforce, so as to assist in the better restoration of power.
NPCL has also taken up the implementation of SAP’s Business Objects software to create dashboards for its executives, which can be accessed by them on mobiles while they are working on site. In the coming years, the company’s major focus will be on capturing actual on-site transactions through mobile apps and then integrating them with back-office interfaces.
Based on a presentation by Arijit Mitra, General Manager, IT, Noida Power Company Limited