As city gas distribution (CGD) operators focus on managing large-scale distribution areas, the adoption of information technology (IT) services to improve service delivery and minimise service disruptions in gas flows assumes importance. An increasing number of CGD operators have been adopting new technologies to ensure safe, convenient and reliable natural gas supply to customers in the domestic and commercial sectors. Central UP Gas Limited (CUGL) is one such company, which has been taking various IT and IT-related initiatives to enhance its operational efficiency and ensure the provision of quality services.
Formed in 2005 as a joint venture (JV) between Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited, CUGL is emerging as a major player in the CGD business. The firm has CGD operations in Kanpur and Bareilly. As of March 2015, it had a network of 14 compressed natural gas (CNG) stations in Kanpur and two in Bareilly. In addition, it has been reported to provide PNG connections to 8,345 domestic, 119 commercial and 39 industrial consumers.
As of March 2015, CUGL had laid a network of 402 km of medium density polyethylene (MDPE) pipeline and 88 km of steel pipeline, specifically to cater to its vehicular, industrial, commercial and domestic customers in Kanpur and Bareilly. The firm has plans to make substantial investments in its CGD infrastructure to expand its steel and MDPE pipeline over the next five years, thereby making it imperative for it to deploy technology in its CGD operations.
Implementation of IT technologies
Prevention of service disruptions is crucial for the smooth and efficient functioning of CGD systems. With the expansion of the CGD market, the implementation of IT solutions will become critical to ensure high asset utilisation, mitigation of operational risks and uncertainties, and the provision of efficient consumer services.
To begin with, CUGL successfully implemented the SAP B1 ERP (enterprise resource planning) solution in its operations, along with a unique customised billing process for its vast customer base. SAP B1 is expected to ensure improved processes and functionalities. The company plans to gradually migrate to higher SAP versions, such as SAP R3 ECC 6.0, in order to ensure proper control and monitoring of all activities.
The need for deploying a customer relationship management (CRM) system to establish, develop, maintain and optimise a long-term relationship between the customers and the organisation is especially necessary for the CGD segment. This is because CGD is a customer-oriented business, wherein ensuring customer satisfaction through efficient service delivery is crucial. CRM, which is a customer-focused business tool, is aimed at understanding, anticipating and managing the needs of an organisation’s existing as well as potential customers. Gas utilities such as CUGL are increasingly adopting CRM systems to enhance customer satisfaction and reduce the costs of client servicing.
As a part of its CRM strategy, CUGL has set up an internet protocol branch exchange and an interactive voice response system as an extended facility for customer support and cor-respondence. CUGL has a CRM cell for receiving and monitoring complaints, providing timely feedback to customers, updating customer records and exchanging information. The com-pany has a dedicated customer care number and an email address where consumers can register their queries and complaints. The number is available on the firm’s website, bills, registration forms, etc. CUGL has also established a complaint entry system for registering each complaint against a unique number. Departments are allotted a complaint number and these are periodically reviewed by the management to ensure timely resolution of issues. The customer is informed about the action taken by telephone or mail. CUGL also maintains an annual customer satisfaction index through an independent third-party agency.
For ease of payment by its customers, CUGL has introduced an online payment gateway in association with HDFC Bank.
Smart metering has emerged as an important tool for cost savings for both gas suppliers and consumers. Smart metering solutions help in accurate billing as they do away with the need for physical meters. These meters also provide detailed information about energy use for both current and multiple time periods. For suppliers, this eliminates the need for visiting sites, along with reducing back-office and call centre costs.
CUGL has also employed advanced metering solutions to manage the procurement of gas from the Fazalganj and Chakeri gas stations in Kanpur, and the Bareilly Rohella station after reducing the gas pressure to 19 bar. To this end, CUGL uses ultrasonic flow meters, process gas chromatographs and a computerised workstation to check the gas flow and quality. The ultrasonic flow meter helps in the accurate estimation of gas flows, while the process gas chromatograph helps in gas composition and calculates its heating value.
Once CUGL procures gas from GAIL, it reduces the gas pressure to different levels as per the pressure reduction system used by different customers. Each system comprises at least two trains of pressure reduction, of which one acts as a standby. CUGL uses an advanced metering system to keep track of the amount of gas sold. In this regard, GSM-based metering technology has been installed by the firm for its industrial users. This helps in ensuring efficiency without a time lag. However, CUGL uses mechanical meter reading facilities for its domestic and commercial segments. Also, the firm monitors its CNG sales via Coriolis flow meters. As per CUGL, the use of these meters results in low operational costs and high measurement accuracy.
CUGL has opted for diaphragm and rotary positive displacement (RPD) flow meters for its commercial, domestic and industrial segments. The firm has also installed RPD volumetric flow meters with electronic volume correctors, which measure the quantity of gas sold to consumers. For flow measurement, international standards such as AGA 7 and AGA 8 are used.
CUGL needs these mechanisms as gas is sold to consumers at different pressure levels and flow rates.
The company reported a turnover of Rs 1,868 million in 2014-15, a decline of 4.24 per cent over the corresponding period in the previous year. Its net profit was reported to be about Rs 275 million in 2014-15, an increase of 9.75 per cent over the previous year.
Going forward, CUGL plans to implement a supervisory control and data acquisition system to ensure improved connectivity and data acquisition at the company’s CNG stations. CGD systems involve complex pipeline networks, which are prone to disruptions and damage, as large sections of pipelines lie in remote areas where assigning significant manpower for monitoring purposes is not feasible. CUGL plans to adopt additional IT-enabled systems to ensure asset safety and uninterrupted gas supply. Steps need to be taken to keep pace with the growing competition in the CGD business.