Technology Uptake

Rapid digital transformation of the CGD sector

The city gas distribution (CGD) sector is undergoing digital transformation at a ra­pid pace. It is considered critical to me­­et the future demand, solve current operational issues, preserve revenue efficiencies and pro­vide consumers with uninterrupted service. Digital transformation will help in making better and faster business decisions backed by data at hand, automate business processes, increase operational efficiency, effectively manage existing assets, reduce downtimes and enhance customer experience.

Technology potential

With the advent of building information modelling and digital twin technologies, the construction industry has evolved tremendously. Com­pa­nies are exploring new technologies and are able to improve and enhance productivity and efficiency in the construction space. Although construction is one of the least digitalised industries, it is also reaping benefits from adopting emerging te­ch­nologies. Similarly, utilities can start adopting such technologies.

The issue with construction for utilities is not a problem of digitalisation of utilities but is indicative of a lack of digitalisation in the construction space itself. There is no single platform that ma­nages utility projects from beginning to end. Fur­ther, industry collaboration is not present. The­re are various information gaps, arising from poor quality of data. Data quality is not good be­cause it is collected manually or by using a semi-digital process. As a result, data gets lost in the manual thread of collection. This creates different types of risks such as compliance and safety issues, and inaccurate data making its way into the system of records. There are also back-office bottlenecks. Thus, reviewing, approving in real time, exporting or collecting data from different field sources and then generating reports become daunting tasks for utilities.

Some utilities are using digital technologies but most of them do not provide good user experience and have disconnected tools, which contain data in silos. This system is very costly to ma­na­ge and maintain. Besides, one cannot leve­rage that data to automate processes such as data validation. Moreover, there is limited material traceability and reconciliation because of manual processes.

The construction process can be divided into three phases – pre-field, on-field and post-field. The pre-field phase typically starts with work or­der generation, which covers manual forms, Excel-based templates, permits, checklists, etc. These disjointed tools then have to go to the field phase. On-field activity involves validation of manual drawings and updating data, among others. There are also third-party surveyors, who use their own systems to collect and survey data. All of these will then have to go to a system of records. Geographic information system (GIS) technicians have a lot of tasks including collecting data from different sources, then uploading on different systems, enterprise resource planning system, GIS system, etc.

Such a cumbersome process ultimately results in spending a lot of time on collecting and up­dating data. When there is no regular or real-time mo­nitoring of projects, there is no way to generate an interim report with the click of a button. Thus, there is a need for an efficient system to streamline all these processes, using a single digital platform.

To this end, a Digital Construction Management platform has been made for utilities. The platform has been developed by and for the industry. Tech­no­logy helps scale utility capital projects by bridging the gap between the design and the system of record. The platform tracks and traces all materials, and adds a high-accuracy global positioning system and digital forms to create high fidelity as-builts to update GIS. Further, the platform adds role-based workflows to manage the entire construction process from planning to clo­se out, creating a work as-built including assets and job changes, not simply a GIS as-built. Fin­ally, the platform ensures the safety of the system and operations at the point of asset installation.

This will help in creating a digital twin for the en­tire infrastructure network, to get real-time aw­a­reness of the construction process and activities. Thus, it results in reducing project cycle time, real-time material validations, automated reconciliation, automated report generation and automated system of record integration. The prime focus remains providing ease-of-use to the construction crew.

The capex efficiency can be improved by completing and closing out projects faster with auto­mation and monitoring work-in-progress with real-time project tracking. The cost can be decreased by reducing the time and labour re­quired to close out projects with automated validations and automating close-out tasks. Risks can be reduced by im­proving data quality with sensors and validatio­ns, documenting changes with traceability, improving workmanship and material quality with validations, ensuring regulatory compliance for data quality and asset re­calls, and enhancing future-locating with higher accuracy maps and situational awareness of construction work with real-time viewer.

Digital project management

Project management is one of the key factors for pipeline laying. In the past two to three years, the CGD industry has witnessed the growth of a new networks to cater to the needs of growing de­ma­nd, thus increasing the customer base.

The traditional method of managing and designing projects posed many challenges. The project de­­­signing was done on paper and contractors sub­mitted reports and documents only after a certain amount of work got completed. Any issue brought with it a possibility of operational hazards because projects were not monitored continuously and accurately.

Project management becomes critical when ex­panding pipeline network on a large scale. This is because safety and quality are essential components of project management. The prime mo­tive for project management is to optimise the business process, which can result in saving cost, time and effort. There is a need to ensure that information is easily available to all conce­rned individuals in an organisation.

Digital twin is basically replicating an on-field asset exactly on a digital platform to understand its behaviour. Similarly, before the asset is actually placed on the field or digging and laying works start for pipeline construction, it becomes critical to get a replica of the field process on the back-office system.

A digital solution is required for a system to have less operational hassles, as it ensures that the process and guidelines are being followed. Ac­curate reports are made on time. All departments of the organisation are linked. Project-related pro­per quality checks and approvals are done at regular intervals. The overall performance is measu­red, monitored and reported regularly. Thus, a di­gital platform helps manage progress in the minimum work plan, and provides visibility to the planned as well as the actual work in terms of real visualisation on a map.

Mobility solutions can bring a project live and help in remote inspection. For instance, the Covid-19 pandemic imposed restrictions on the number of people that could work on field. The possibility of mobile solutions made the job easier to monitor projects, visualise them and avoid writing long detailed reports. Additionally, the project management process gives possible insights, predicts delays and provides live visibility of the project, document information and re­ports, among others. The management starts with project planning, and identifying routes to co­n­nect customers in the network. Once a route is identified, then the plan is handed over to the contractor, who then starts the construction process.

A platform that can simulate the work that is happening on the field and provide first-hand information to the organisation should be built. In case of any delay because of a roadblock or any other factor, then everyone will be informed. The quality of the system remains important and it needs to be measured continuously to maintain the good health of the system. A digital platform will help CGD companies better plan and execute pipeline construction management. All stakeholders will also get better insights regarding the system.

Based on inputs from Matiur Rahaman, Vice-President,  Locusview, and Karthik Sagar, Growth Leader, R&D, Magikminds, at a recent India Infrastructure conference