Geographic information systems (GIS) enable real-time and big data processing and analysis capabilities, allowing users to ingest, visu­alise and analyse spatial real-time and big data to gain new insights and take action.  Given that GIS is hosted entirely in the cloud, it enables oil and gas companies to stream internet of things (IoT) data on maps and dashboards, identify temporal patterns, and extract lo­cation-based intelligence. In an interview with CGD India, Agendra Kumar, managing director, Esri India, spoke about the emerging trends in the deployment of smart technologies, its challenges, digitalisation and Esri India’s future plans in the gas sector. Excerpts…

What are the new and emerging trends in the deployment of smart technologies for the gas sector?

The gas distribution system is currently undergoing significant changes. With information te­ch­nology (IT) and operational technology coming together to provide a shared awareness of real-time networking, network modernisation is taking place. Many more technologies such as IoT are joining the network that connects with the scalar system, and all of the data collected by IoT can be immediately visualised on maps as well as integrated with other IT systems, en­ab­ling better decision-making. Smart devices; IoT; and integration of sensors, enterprise reso­ur­ce planning (ERP) and other control systems are coming together, leading to significant development. Furthermore, because practically all na­tio­ns, including India, are spending heavily in the oil and gas sector, the roll-out of such technologies is becoming increasingly customary. Besi­des, drones are assisting in pipeline mapping for gas transportation from one location to another. The majority of networks at the distribution level are underground networks; hence, mapping be­comes necessary for asset management.

How does GIS help in increasing efficient coordination between field and office staff?

On a field operation, the pipeline network is acc­essible via mobile phones, and various other applications have been provided for asset management. In case of any modifications, information is captured immediately on the network, which helps in better management. Further, new processes are being introduced to give personnel fast access to network data on mobile phon­es, and modifications can be made after going through the chain of approval. This improves data accuracy, minimising downtime, which in turn saves money. Besides, location accuracy is improving and status monitoring is now available in real time, which improves the coordination between field and office employees.

What are the key technologies/solutions deployed by Esri?

Esri enables real-time and big data processing with analytics capabilities using IoT and other sensors. Alongside network modernisation, a key development is asset management, which leverages spatial data to gain real-time visibility into day-to-day operations, and makes efficient decisions based on increased situational awareness and analysis of different geographical regi­ons. Furthermore, Esri improves the he­alth and safety of people and assets via sensors and fast management. GIS also improves customer en­ga­gement, as the customer and asset databases are regularly updated for efficient functioning of GIS and all the services are monitored closely, providing customers with all the solutions. A cu­stomer relationship manageme­nt system is in use to provide customers with engagement solutions. A pipeline integrating management sys­tem has also been in­stalled to help land ma­na­gement and monitoring through drones. Me­an­while, data processing systems called “Site scan for GIS” have been launched in India, which are highly useful for cross-country pipelines. Further, the time taken for processing of drone-captured images has been significantly reduced.

What is the potential for digitalisation in com­pressed natural gas (CNG) and piped natural gas (PNG) stations?

With the rapidly developing gas distribution network, the CNG and PNG segments have a lot of potential for digitalisation. To solve the over­crow­ding and long queues at CNG stations, a new system can be installed under which all CNG stations can be mapped. This can enable customers to schedule slots, check the availability and rush at each station, and examine real-time video and sensor data through imagery and remote sensing with real-time visualisation and analysis, before arriving at a station for gas filling. The use of GIS in mapping and availability of information can be beneficial. Various digital solutions are being offered for the PNG segment such as smart metering, integration with ERP and billing systems. Mobile applications can play an important role as well in monitoring the PNG segment.

What are the key challenges Esri faces in deploying smart technologies in the gas sector?

As far as challenges are concerned, implementation of technologies is not a big task, as the va­rious gas distribution networks are built by technologically sound companies such as Indrapra­s­tha Gas Limited, Adani Group or Gujarat Gas Li­mited. The implementation of a city gas network from Esri’s end is not a problem. However, infrastructure and obtaining a licence are major ta­s­ks, for which the collaboration of the local gover­n­ment and city administration is required. Managing the pipeline network with GIS is quite easy. Meanwhile, the time and investment requir­ed to get an entire network on GIS depends largely on the availability and quality of data. If the network is existing, mapping it with GIS is notably easy. However, if data is unavailable, the first step is to prepare data. Skilled and trained personnel are imperative to put a network on GIS.

What are the future outlook and post-Covid requirements?

Dependence on digital technologies is increasing remarkably. A greater emphasis on mapping, field operation, automation, and 3D visualisation and analysis is the need of the hour. With the incorporation of 3D models, managing a network becomes easier and the information available to the field staff is of better quality. The adoption of cloud technology and establishment of GIS infrastructure are going to aid the integration of diverse systems. Introducing innovative automation systems and software to provide a wider range of field applications will be an essential requirement in the future.