The adoption of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) solutions has been a trend in the city gas distribution (CGD) sector for the past few years. The increasing deployment of advanced IT-OT convergence solutions such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), terminal automation systems, smart metering, customer relationship management, geographic information systems (GIS) and satellite surveillance solutions is helping companies monitor their assets with greater precision and in real time. Further, the Covid-19 pandemic, which calls for remote working, has strengthened the case for the uptake of such technologies and increased the digitalisation of the “office”. Gujarat Gas Limited (GGL) has been at the forefront of the CGD sector when it comes to implementing innovative technologies that enhance the customer experience while making its operations more efficient.
Customer satisfaction is the future
The company has launched a slew of digital measures to promote ease of doing business and increase customer satisfaction. These measures include online bill payment for domestic connections as well as through eGram centres for rural customers (there are more than 500 eGram centres across Gujarat), initiated online meter reading submission on a trial basis, online complaint submission and a speedy disposal mechanism, and real-time on-the-spot meter reading and bill generation.
In order to continually improve customer satisfaction and services, GGL developed a mobile app and a web-based portal, which aims to transform billing and customer support for natural gas users in its expanded geographical area. This feature-rich mobile application includes the following functionalities:
Benefits for piped natural gas (PNG) customers:
- The app caters to all customer segments, including domestic, industrial, commercial and non-commercial.
- Multiple accounts can be added/linked to a single user id.
- It has multiple language options.
- Customers can place new PNG gas connection requests.
- It provides service request submission with online payment (geyser point, extra kitchen point, and temporary disconnection) and status tracking.
- It allows checking of gas bills, which can be saved locally on the phones as PDFs.
- Gas bills can be paid at any time, with a “Quick Pay” option that does not require a login.
- It shows the gas bills and payment history for the current and previous financial years.
- It allows submission and tracking of customer complaints.
- It supports meter reading submissions.
- For immediate dialling, details of location-wise emergency numbers can be found on every page of the app.
- Information on current gas prices and various other charges is also available.
- App users can invite guests to access their accounts.
Benefits for compressed natural gas (CNG) customers:
- The station locator helps in locating GGL’s CNG stations through Google maps, and provides information such as a list of CNG stations, CNG stations close to the user’s current location, and CNG stations between a given source and destination using the “enroute” option.
- The saving calculator helps users compute their total savings on switching to CNG from petrol/diesel.
- It allows submission and tracking of CNG-related complaints.
GIS technology has become an important part of CGD business processes, ranging from network planning, engineering, and operations and maintenance, to complete management of network assets. It is used to obtain information regarding the area of a pipeline network, the depth at which the pipe is buried, the gas pressure, the diameter of the pipe, leaks and maintenance, etc., collected through surveys and mapping. GIS adds value to the CGD business by facilitating integration with other business applications. Integrating GIS with mainstream CGD operations leads to improved analysis, visualisation and network planning, and informed decision-making.
As GIS applications provide data specifications through an intuitive map interface, GGL deployed a web-based GIS system (the ArcGIS application maintained by Esri India) to manage assets, distribute natural gas in different customer locations, and make better decisions for emergency resource planning and incident management. The application enabled GGL to perform geo-spatial queries and create reports based on them. It also helped GGL to rapidly deliver essential workflows and improve data sharing capabilities using a centralised database. GGL’s decision-makers were able to process network-enabled GIS and non-GIS data for asset management and instant problem solving. They followed the best web-GIS practices for accurate decision-making. This provided GGL with a ready-to-deploy mapping application that offered it map-based insights.
The GIS system enabled GGL to undertake network planning, compliance and maintenance of the natural gas pipeline network. ArcGIS also enabled GGL to improve gas transmission and distribution using powerful tools, use intuitive digital maps, display all internet data on a single interface, identify affected people and areas during a gas pipeline explosion or other emergencies, perform instant customer tracking, rapidly mobilise and respond to emergencies, access high resolution imagery for periodic site surveys, maintain a better pipeline route plan, track valuable assets, and generate detailed reports for better asset management.
The implementation of such an enterprise GIS was a first for a company in the Indian gas utility segment. The ArcGIS system was integrated with the ERP solution provided by SAP for better business planning and outage management. It also supported field force requirements and prepared the organisation for the next level – mobile GIS.
Another innovative solution is the SCADA system, which provides a large volume of data that helps pipeline controllers and operators monitor and control CGD networks and ensure safety, reliability and cost-effectiveness. In GGL, the SCADA system has been integrated with GIS technology, which helps in continuously monitoring the network and increasing productivity.
Due to the successful adoption of digitalisation practices in its critical processes, GGL was able to adapt to the massive disruption caused by the Covid-19-induced lockdown and managed to provide satisfactory services to its customers.
Going forward, GGL aims at leveraging its endeavours for further digitalisation and to set a benchmark in the CGD industry for setting up a complete e-office, which will benefit all stakeholders – consumers, vendors, suppliers and employees.