The city gas distribution (CGD) industry has adopted automation and advanced technologies to bring down costs and im­prove efficiency. In line with this, Indraprastha Gas Limited (IGL) has implemented the latest information technology (IT)-related services for its customers and stakeholders with the aim of enhancing the overall user experience.

IGL’s CGD network has undergone significant ex­pansion since 1999, when it took over Delhi’s CGD operations from GAIL (India) Limited. IGL star­ted its operations in the National Capital Terri­tory of Delhi in 1999 with nine compressed natural gas (CNG) stations and 1,000 piped natural gas (PNG) consumers. Currently, the company has over 750 CNG stations in eight geographical areas with over 2 million domestic PNG customers and more than 8,000 commercial and industrial customers. It is increasingly focusing on the automation and digitalisation of operations to optimise internal business processes.

Key initiatives by IGL

The role of IT is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the company’s operations, add value to the business, and keep it competitive in an ever-changing technological and environmental landscape. This involves implementing technology at the appropriate time and place, and fostering a culture of collaboration and team­work. IGL has taken various digital initiatives and adopted IT-based solutions to upgrade its services in the PNG and CNG segments.

IGL was among the pioneers in the CGD business to launch a loyalty card. The company has effectively leveraged this card to manage queues at its CNG stations. For instance, the loyalty card offers additional discounts to customers who get refills at IGL stations during non-peak hours.

IGL recently commissioned a liquefied storage and regasification plant in Ajmer as its pipeline infrastructure was facing delays for various reasons. Besides, IGL has commissioned integrated CNG compressing and dispensing units, es­pe­cially in small cities where land is scarce, or in oil marketing companies where petrol pumps are situated in tight spaces. Thus, small compressors are used for vehicles with lower capacity.

In 2021, IGL launched a mobile CNG station, the first of its kind in India, with a view to decongest gas stations with long queues of vehicles and bring clean fuel to customers’ doorsteps. An­other initiative by IGL was introducing buses fitted with Type IV cylinders. The company has pa­rt­nered with the Uttarakhand government to promote the use of CNG for long distance bus­es. Similarly, IGL is undertaking a pilot project with the Rajasthan government while also ex­ploring tie-ups with other state governments.

Another initiative by IGL is a four-arm dispenser, designed to fill autorickshaws more quickly and reduce queues. Typically, the compressor capacity is greater than the dispensing capacity. So, IGL has implemented small interventions to increase its dispensing capacity and address queue management challenges. Besides, IGL has augmented its dispensing capacity by placing CNG compressors over canopies. This is an old concept that is being used in the Delhi-National Capital Region.

IGL has also entered the electric vehicle (EV) space by launching battery swapping stations. The facility will replace discharged batteries of two- and three-wheeler EVs with a fully charged one. Under the battery swapping concept, EVs can be sold without lithium-ion batteries and owners can procure batteries on a pay-per-use basis, that is, by paying a small amount for battery as a fuel. With this, the cost of an EV can be almost halved and brought not just at par with, but below the price of cars or two-wheelers with internal combustion engines.

IGLCONNECT is the official mobile app of IGL that offers several features to both PNG and CNG users. For instance, it enables customers to acc­ess their accounts at any time and from anywhere. PNG customers can view their billing history and payment history, lodge a complaint, view the complaint status, share feedback, up­da­te their mobile and phone number, submit meter readings, make online payments, etc. Mean­while, CNG customers can view nearby CNG stations on the map and search for CNG stations in a particular area.

Currently, gas prices are higher, which have de­creased the conversion rate. However, there was a time when many people were converting to CNG vehicles. IGL established a 4 tonne hydrogen-enriched compressed natural gas (H-CNG) plant in partnership with Indian Oil Corporation Limited, the Delhi Transport Corporation and Del­hi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System in De­l­hi. Approximately 18 per cent hydrogen was injected into CNG to run buses. However, the project faced various challenges. Now, IGL has shifted its focus towards renewable energy and discussions are under way for using pure hydrogen instead of H-CNG.

Verticals of operations

Innovation is one of the key operational verticals, which includes exploring new technologies, experimenting with new solutions and finding ways to improve existing system and processes. Digitalisation involves implementing tools for automation; managing digital data with a focus on accuracy, security, accessibility and data analysis; and increasing transparency.

The workforce management system is a necessary vertical to improve productivity, manpower management, time and attendance management; and track the performance of employees.

Data centre management involves the management of physical security, the network and storage system and the data recovery site. Internet of things, and supervisory control and data acquisition are used to manage and control various physical devices and systems that are vulnerable to cyberattacks, unsecured devices and insufficient software security.

IGL has also deployed the geographic information system (GIS) for mapping CGD pipelines and infrastructure. As part of GIS, software and hardware components are used to capture, store, analyse and present spatial data on pipelines.

Need for IT security

A large amount of sensitive information is stored and processed electronically, making it vulnerable to cyberattacks. If compromised, it can lead to identity theft, financial loss, loss of a competi­tive edge and damage to reputation. Besides, the increasing number of connected devices and the growing use of cloud computing have opened up more opportunities.

Data breach cases are being registered globally. Several countries are raising awareness about it. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Te­ch­nology has prepared the draft Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022. The draft bill highlights the rights and duties of citizens and the obligations of the data fiduciary to use the collected data lawfully. The principles of the data protection bill concern the guidelines and regulations that govern the collection, storage, use and dissemination of personal data. The principles include transparency, purpose limitation, data minimisation, data accuracy, data security and data retention.

The way ahead

IT has become the backbone of the CGD business due to the increased adoption of new and advan­c­ed technologies. Going forward, there is a need to further strengthen customer relationship management. Virtual remote assistance is needed for faster field incident response, while CCTV analytics at CNG stations is necessary for queue management. Further, artificial intelligence/ma­chine learning should be used in the automation proce­ss. n

Based on remarks by Praveen Pandey, Senior Vice President (ERP & IT), IGL, at a recent India Infrastructure conference