Smart Systems: Discoms deploy enhanced communication solutions

Discoms deploy enhanced communication solutions

Distribution utilities across the country are transforming their business processes by increasing the use of advanced IT systems. The aim is to reduce operational losses, build responsive delivery networks and improve consumer interaction. These are positive developments for a segment that is considered the weakest link in the power value chain. Leading discoms talk about the IT initiatives taken by them…

What have been the new IT initiatives implemented by your utility in the past year? What has been the impact of these initiatives on the organisation’s performance?

Arup Ghosh

Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited (TPDDL) has implemented most of the smart grid technologies over the past 10 years. During the past one year, we have accelerated the implementation of the outage management system (OMS) and the demand response system, as well as implemented business analytics solutions using systems applications products (SAP) HANA. We also started augmenting our communications infrastructure last year.

We believe that the deployment of IT and operational technology (OT) applications has been a significant contributor to our performance improvements. For instance, our aggregate technical and commercial losses have come down from 53 per cent in July 2002 to less than 10 per cent in 2015. Further, our system average interruption duration index and system average interruption frequency index have reduced from over 1,000 hours and 600 numbers to less than 35 hours and 40 numbers annually.

Arijit Mitra

The primary objective of the IT initiatives in the past year has been to strengthen processes for managing relationships with suppliers and

customers; and leveraging emerging mobility technologies to re-architect the boundaries of information systems in Noida Power Company Limited (NPCL). In the process, the company has completed the implementation of the SAP supplier relationship management software, thereby providing a self-service portal as well as a platform to our suppliers to carry out e-procurement and reverse auctions. The impact is evident through the improved efficiency of the procurement process as well as major savings made through competitive bidding providing payback in less than a year from the time of implementation.

To take advantage of mobility to extend the reach of our customer services, a mobile application has been developed so that customers can view and download bills, make online payments and log as well as review service requests. The application is directly integrated with our SAP customer relationship management (CRM) application so that service requests can be auto-assigned for action and auto-escalated, if necessary, to ensure service level agreement compliance. The CRM application is thus our one-stop repository for all customer interactions, whether originating from the application or the interactive voice response system (SAP business communication management) or the customer portal, apart from the usual front desk interface. Allied with the SAP business information warehouse to provide management information system, the CRM application boosts the efficiency of  business processes.

To further leverage mobility, a meter reading application for Windows-based tablets is being enhanced for on-site payment collection. The implementation of on-site billing can significantly reduce the meter-to-cash cycle time and improve the cash flow.

Debashis Roy

IT plays a major role in enhancing the oper-ational efficiency of CESC Limited’s key business processes. We have recently implemented an innovative solution to significantly improve the existing meter-to-cash business process cycle of the company. The meter-to-cash cycle is perhaps one of the most important and critical business processes of the company and entails the reading of 2.9 million meters every month by nearly 600 meter inspectors. In the earlier system, the meter inspector used to carry a bulky meter reading book to the consumer’s premises and manually transcribe the reading on the meter page of the book. At the end of the day, the meter reading book with the readings duly transcribed was returned to the regional office by the meter inspector. These readings were then keyed in by a set of clerks on a separate computer system located at the regional office. The billing data was then transmitted from the regional computer system to a central computer located at the corporate data centre via CESC’s captive high speed optical fibre network.

Based on the data received, 2.9 million bills were computed, processed, printed and despatched to consumers for payment every month. The consumers used to pay their electricity bills by visiting the company’s cash counters set up for the purpose of receiving payments. The payment information was subsequently transmitted to the billing server for payment matching.

The new innovative solution replaces the manual meter reading books with smart devices that are capable of capturing the meter data through voice and optical ports (there is also a provision for keying in the data) and transmitting it instantaneously over a wireless network to the billing server located at the corporate data centre. The bills generated are electronically despatched to the consumer’s email address. Further, consumers have the option to pay the bill electronically through CESC’s corporate website from the comfort of their homes.

The new meter-to-cash cycle has brought about considerable improvements in the overall operational efficiency of the business process and has enhanced customer satisfaction. With the help of appropriate cloud-based mobile data management software, more than 600 smart devices are being monitored from a centralised location.

The manual system was prone to errors. In the new technology-based system, there is no manual keying in of data at any stage, thereby making the system nearly error-free. Apart from this, the efficiency of the overall meter-to-cash cycle has significantly improved in terms of both speed and productivity.

There have been a number of intangible benefits as well, which have resulted in significant customer satisfaction. Meter inspectors now have a sense of pride while carrying these smart devices instead of the bulky meter reading books. Since the mobile applications for meter reading have been developed by the in-house IT team, the motivation and satisfaction levels of the team have gone up and there is a feel-good factor.

What are the key challenges faced by your utility with respect to IT adoption? How is the organisation dealing with these issues?

Arup Ghosh

No major challenges were faced as we have strong in-house capabilities for the deployment of IT and OT solutions.

Arijit Mitra

We have strategically focused on building in-house competencies so that information systems, once implemented, can be supported and enhanced by our own resources. The strategy was in line with the stated mission of creating an exciting workplace where a learning environment fuels innovation and growth.

The inherent challenge in implementing such a strategy lies in fighting the global “war on talent”, which is starkly apparent in the IT space. As we face an unequal battle because of constraints of managing costs within the regulations of the industry, there is an emphasis on building a secure environment where employees are empowered with training on leading-edge technologies delivered by Tier I partners. The benefits of this approach are seen when employees increasingly take over roles that would have otherwise required external consultants.

What are the IT initiatives planned for the next two to three years?

Arup Ghosh

We are planning to deploy business analytics. We also intend to upgrade our existing super-visory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system, geographic information system (GIS), OMS, distribution management system (DMS) and associated network along with the deployment of other smart grid technologies such as advanced metering infrastructure and distributed generation. The budget is confidential and is subject to the commission’s approval. However, the entire capex has a total payback period of less than five to six years, from either the improvement of efficiency or additional revenue generation.

Arijit Mitra

A major initiative for integrating GIS with back-office processes implemented on SAP is in the making, whereby all critical processes, including customer-facing ones, will be re-engineered to derive the advantage of spatial information and provide linkage between network-related information in GIS and asset management and accounting processes implemented in SAP. The scope of integration taken up in this project would be unprecedented and, on completion, would bring in a paradigm change in the way processes are managed and customer services are delivered. In addition, GIS will provide a foundation for the implementation of the advanced DMS, which will integrate SCADA, DMS and OMS.

Going forward, mobility and business intelligence will continue to be the key focus areas. The frontier for many information systems, including enterprise asset management, will move from the back office to the site with the help of mobile technologies such as Syclo Work Manager from SAP and MapFrame FieldSmart from General Electric. Together with the advanced DMS, this will result in an explosion in real-time information, which will be harnessed with the help of business analytics as well as predictive tools for improving demand forecasting, power portfolio management and customer service processes.