Digital Journey: IOCL’s initiatives to ensure better customer interface

IOCL’s initiatives to ensure better customer interface

Many public sector units are increasingly leveraging IT to automate their business processes across various functions such as engineering, manufacturing, site operations, project management, and production. Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL) presents a good case in point as the company has been proactively adopting new technologies to digitalise its huge scale of operations with the aim of bringing about efficiency and transparency in its systems. The company started with the implementation of the enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution, MANTHAN, in 1999 (executed through SAP software), which has enabled it to achieve a fair degree of integration and standardisation of its business processes.

An overview of some recent initiatives of IOCL in the digital space…

Recent initiatives in the digital space

IOCL markets liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) products, mostly in the form of gas cylinders, under the brand name Indane, through 9,000 customer touchpoints. To keep track of the various outlets, it has developed an in-house software solution to digitalise transaction processing on the dealer side.

Another key initiative of the company is the building of a framework for the identification of entitled government subsidy under the direct benefit transfer (DBT) scheme (PAHAL) of LPG and the direct transfer of the subsidy to the customer’s bank account. Subsidies for almost 250 million customers are sent to their bank accounts through an Aadhaar-based payment system. IOCL was able to leverage most of the existing Indsoft software platform, which was developed in-house, while retaining the “batch” plus “real-time” processing with the same code base.

IOCL also gave more than 205 million connections under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana. Providing connections under this new scheme was a major challenge because most of the connections were in rural areas where data is not available. All the data had to be collected at the ground level. Subsequently, it had to be de-duplicated and cleaned, a task that would not have been possible without digital initiatives.

On the LPG distributor network side, the architecture synchronises the distributor end with the central server and the exchange data with the consumers on a near-real-time basis. The transactions are based on the web service request/response mechanism. To ensure transparency, all the data is now available in the public domain. Features such as LPG usage, LPG booking status, LPG refill history, request for surrender of connection, subsidy availed and transferred, rating of the distributor on the basis of cylinder delivery time,  customer feedback, and Aadhaar linking status have been provided for the benefit of consumers.

Under the e-SV (Sahaj) facility, IOCL is able to issue an electronic subscription voucher which is emailed to the customer upon the release of the LPG connection online. The subscription voucher indicates the number of cylinders and pressure regulators loaned to the customer against the security deposit. The facility enables customers to register and to make payment online for availing of the LPG connection at their doorstep without visiting the LPG distributorship.

CRM initiative at IOCL

IOCL has recently embarked on a project for implementing a dealer management and customer relationship management (CRM) system aimed at building customer loyalty and driving higher customer satisfaction. This CRM project, called e-PIC (an e-platform for customers), is being implemented across all the business units of the company. It is designed to cater to CRM functions such as integrating and customising marketing efforts across product lines, ensuring a swifter response to customer service requests, including grievances, and presenting a unified customer experience across various access devices such as mobile phones, tablets and desktops.

The CRM system has a 360-degree grievance redressal system with proper social media integration. The customer today demands more than an interactive voice response system (IVRS) facility and hence social media has become an essential part of the entire value chain. In addition, IOCL has recently launched the Indian Oil One mobile application.

Key issues and challenges

The company faces a number of challenges in the implementation of the various technologies and solutions. IOCL has been dealing with a huge customer base and employee database, and an active infrastructure base. Thus, measuring the scale of operations and the volume of processes that IOCL has to configure is a major challenge.

In addition, there are a number of external challenges as well, the most important being the threat of cyberattack. Given that IOCL has highly sensitive data which is of national importance, it must proactively ensure the security of such data. Another challenge is dealing with competition from other refiners. Thus, IOCL has to continuously develop a service-oriented platform where any outsider or insider can connect with the company, get the desired service in a secure manner, and leave the platform. Further, ensuring change management when there was significant resistance from both internal and external people was also a challenge for IOCL during its digital transformation journey.

Availability of the right technology solution from vendors has also been a key area of concern. For instance, a gas detection system can be installed in homes where an internet of things (IoT)-based system would detect any leakage so that a fast-action team could be rushed to the spot. However, this requires two or three vendors that specialise in different aspects such as leak detection technology to come together to develop an integrated solution. IOCL’s experience has been that while vendors do have individual solutions, the need of the hour is a one-stop integrated solution.

The integration of information technology (IT) operational technology (OT) has also been a challenge for the company. Within IOCL, all the individual divisions have laid out their infrastructure where their systems are in place. A common platform across divisions for IT-OT integration has not yet been implemented as there is no single technology solution available that will accept the multiple complexities across divisions such as marketing, refining, and pipelines. However, there is a fair bit of integration within specific divisions, especially in pipelines and refining.

The way forward

Going ahead, IOCL is considering a number of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, IoT and chatbots. The company is also looking at virtual reality (VR), which can be an excellent tool for educating and training less educated workers, who otherwise face challenges in a classroom training environment. Additionally, robotic process automation has been deployed to check incidents of licence violation.

IOCL is also resorting to cloud service wherever required. For instance, its dealer management system and CRM are also being hosted on private cloud. However, in the area of cybersecurity, even though the cloud is becoming an important delivery platform, IOCL does not foresee a very rapid transition to a pure cloud offering because a large part of the company’s critical applications continue to physically reside on the premises. Additionally, a new data centre is being set up in Gurugram, which is expected to generate many employment opportunities.