IT and OT implementation has picked up pace in the past few years and distribution utilities are deriving visible benefits from it, including increased operational efficiencies, data availability and enhanced customer experience. However, challenges such as the non-availability of benchmarks, integration of existing systems with new infrastructure and applications and lack of skilled human resources still exist. Leading discoms share their views and experience on the IT initiatives taken by them…
What have been some of the new IT and OT technologies implemented by your organisation in the past few years? How did these help improve the company’s overall performance?
Between 2002 and 2015, we had implemented a comprehensive enterprise resource planning (ERP), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system, outage management system (OMS), geographic information system (GIS), network analysis tools, distribution automation, automatic meter reading (AMR) and intelligent call centre. All of these are integrated with minimal manual interface. Most of our 300-plus processes are IT/OT enabled. Currently, we are implementing a robust communication canopy to support large-scale deployment of smart meters. Our AMI will go live mid-2018. Energy purchase is our most significant expenditure and we are implementing an application to accurately forecast demand, manage purchase and sale of electricity, and comprehensively monitor the energy landscape of the country. Concurrently, OT applications like SCADA, GIS and OMS, which have reached the end of their lives, are currently being upgraded to the latest available technology. All of the above would generate huge amounts of data. We are therefore implementing powerful business analytics tools to harness the knowledge that the data is likely to yield.
IT initiatives in power utilities have picked up substantial momentum in the recent past, bringing more customer conveniences as well as better operational efficiencies and organisational effectiveness. Overall, IT and OT are bringing more visibility and transparency to the utility business as a whole. The government has facilitated this process through focused and result-oriented interventions, including IT and SCADA-enabling of discom functions. Most discoms and utilities have benefited from the Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme (R-APDRP) (currently subsumed under the Integrated Power Development Scheme) Part A and Part B, wherein the objective was system strengthening and loss reduction and setting up an IT framework for monitoring the same. Funds to the tune of Rs 500 billion have been pumped into the energy sector for achieving the objectives, and utilities had the benefit of availing of such schemes to build state-of-the-art IT infrastructure and implement OT systems like SCADA.
Kerala has also availed of funds under the said schemes for creating a state-of-the-art digital infrastructure and a bundle of applications, enabling digitisation of core activities in metering, billing, cash collection, service connection, grievance redressal, energy audit and AT&C loss reduction. We could build up a Tier 3 category data centre and data recovery centre, along with a 56-seater centralised customer care (CCC) centre under a toll-free 1912 short code. Our application suites have a mix of in-house developed legacy applications and those brought under the R-APDRP project, both operating in an integrated and centralised mode covering most functional areas.
There have been several benefits to customers and organisations. Customers had the major tangible benefit of paying money online anywhere 24×7. Though we have miles to go before having a considerable share of online collections, we could reach 9 per cent in a span of one year. We target to make it at least 25-30 per cent in the next 12 months by introducing a variety of e-payment platforms like direct integrated banking, digital wallets and National Automated Clearing House. We are also planning Bharat Interface for Mobile Money, Unified Payment Interface and Bharat Bill Payment System and other government service delivery portal integrations in the forthcoming months. In addition, the service connection process has gone online, and low tension customers have the option of availing of electricity connections online, without actually coming to the office physically. We are planning to facilitate the same in all categories of customers soon.
Through CCC, customers have the provision of registering their complaints and knowing the status of rectification. Also, our OMS, Oorja Doothu, has enabled the utility to send SMS alerts to customers on outages and the expected restoration time, which has been a significant step in customer satisfaction by proactively addressing their needs. Customers also get bill alerts and due date alerts through our bill alert system, Oorja Sowhrida, which was possible through IT enablement. Kerala’s urban feeders are already communicating with the National Power Portal through communicable modems and the implementation of online rural feeder monitoring will soon be realised. The framework also enables the utility to maintain the system, with better efficiency and reliability. We are in a position to assess losses at each transformer level and managers have the challenge of improving the quality of distribution activities performed at the grassroots level. This is measured and monitored through key performance indicators like customer complaint redressal, release of new connections, e-payment, safety-zero fatality and quality of power (System Average Interruption Duration Index [SAIDI] and System Average Interruption Frequency Index [SAIFI]), which are computed based on the data available in source systems and displayed on dashboards.
We have also implemented a safety monitoring and reporting software (SMART), enabling efficient administration of safety systems and installation testing and permit work systems to reduce workplace accidents. All the IT and OT initiatives have been possible only through IT enablement of the operational process. Also, we have a dedicated team of nearly 200 IT professionals, involved in designing, developing, managing and securing the IT systems.
Recently, in connection with the Knowledge Summit hosted by the Department of Information Technology, Kerala government, and IT mission IT Initiatives in Kerala, Kerala State Electricity Board Limited (KSEBL) won an award, from among the various projects nominated by organisations from all states, in the category of Best Digital India Initiative, in recognition of our efforts to create massive IT outreach to common people by envisaging several IT initiatives, which have enhanced the efficiency and quality of services. KSEBL also won the e-governance award of the Kerala government for its Customer Friendly IT Initiatives in the category of e-Citizen Service Delivery, based on the many e-citizen services delivered by it.
A few months back, we reached a significant milestone by re-engineering a number of mission-critical processes involving interfaces with customers as well as with the distribution network, so that the entire lifecycle of information relating to these processes is linked to spatial information maintained in the GIS, namely, GE Electric Office. This implementation provides unprecedented granularity of information and ensures that spatial information remains at the heart of every business process having an impact on the distribution network. The project had been a very ambitious exercise to integrate the land base, network, and customer-related information in GIS with the back-office processes implemented on SAP, thereby allowing the company to harness the power of geospatial information in designing networks, managing assets and mapping customers. The business processes were selected while taking into consideration the need for real-time GIS data updates and included critical processes such as new service connection, asset creation, asset dismantling, replacement and network reconfiguration. We have also successfully implemented a large number of distribution management system (DMS) applications during the year and work is in progress for the remaining applications. The same GIS database is being utilised in compiling data for SCADA, DMS and OMS. Thus, geospatial information has become the fulcrum around which many mission-critical information systems of the company are now operating.
We have an Oracle-based ERP technology in place. We have also launched a mobile application, developed in-house, for all the four discoms under Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam Limited (GUVNL), covering their entire billing system. The application provides information regarding outages, billing, payments, peak hours, etc. Earlier, consumers had to browse the discom’s website for billing and payment-related information. In addition, we regularly update our SCADA systems. We are also planning to implement smart grid projects, using SCADA. At the state level, we have recently implemented a dashboard for the chief minister’s office. It provides information on daily power generation, transmission network, new connections, power purchases from other states, etc. This has helped us take immediate action in case of any deviation from the desired performance levels. Thus, through proactive maintenance, we have been able to reduce downtime and minimise maintenance costs.
There are several initiatives, of which the key ones include:
- Bijli Digi Seva Kendras – They provide a complete digital experience to customers. At these kendras, a customer can book an appointment through the website, or the mobile app (like passport services) for different services such as new service connection and load/name change, and get all the formalities done electronically. Customer authentication is done through the Aadhaar card. The initiative has brought down the service time to three days.
- IoT mobile SIM cards – We are implementing IoT-enabled SIM cards for our meters and other data communication. These SIM cards provide solid SIM card manageability, with visibility through a back-end portal and high speed 4G data connectivity. This will be a trend-setter in our IoT journey.
- Power outage detection IoT devices – A pilot to detect power outages at some critical installations and to notify the operations and maintenance staff has been implemented. The device detects the outage and restoration as an event and immediately sends SMSs to designated mobile numbers. The pilot is running successfully and we have identified about 50 critical installations for further implementation. The outage detection is also being integrated with OMS and a mobile messaging application.
What are some of the business areas proposed to be covered through IT-OT integration? Which IT-OT technologies hold the most relevance going forward?
In the context of a distribution utility, most of the IT-OT technologies that would qualify as “SMART technologies,” have been implemented at TPDDL. The details are as mentioned above. We are at around 3.5 in the Smart Grid Maturity Model. The remaining SMART technology of smart meters is currently being implemented. We reckon that we will move to 4+ in the Smart Grid Maturity Model after the implementation of AMI with smart meters. Going forward, business analytics and the associated big data management would be the most crucial technologies to improve efficiencies.
Under the R-APDRP, we are also implementing OT systems like SCADA in our distribution network and in priority substations. The Rs 550 million SCADA distribution project is nearing completion in three major cities of Kerala. The SCADA system enables us to operate the sub-transmission and distribution networks more efficiently by automating the control supervision through centralised control centres. We are implementing the required data acquisition system (DAS) for the same. The system is also integrated with IT applications in billing, CCC and GIS for leveraging the benefits of both, for added customer advantages and system efficiencies.
With the implementation of SCADA and DMS systems on an integrated platform already behind us, the push for smarter management of our grid will get a further fillip as we integrate our GIS and OMS from Oracle with our SCADA and DMS platform. This will enable our control centre and despatch centre teams to have end-to-end visibility regarding the network status and works in progress as well as ensure safe and efficient operations on the network with optimum oversight and maximum support from smart technologies. This will also usher in efficiency in operations, thus allowing us to restore supply to our consumers much faster and in a more scientific manner. The outage management will be integrated with IVR and customer relationship management systems so that customers can be proactively informed about network outages and the work being carried out to rectify the same. Mobile technologies having a thorough integration of IT-OT technologies will be leveraged to maximise the exchange of real-time updates. There are multiple areas which the company has identified, such as visibility of field operations on a real-time basis, optimal utilisation of field resources, mobilisation of the appropriate resource based on the specific skill set required, etc. The initial level of design preparation, planning and architecture preparation has commenced.
With the implementation of OMS, we will be amongst the very few electrical utilities where, through standardisation and integration, the complete lifecycle of data management amongst GIS, DMS and OMS applications takes place in an automated manner. This advanced DMS platform will make available a wealth of information that will be mined to improve asset management and network management practices further. In this area, as well as in the area of demand forecasting, machine-learning-based predictive analytics is expected to play a big role in the years to come. With the inexorable growth of industrial internet of things (IoT), deployment of sensors across the network including deployment of smart metering systems will drive this movement further. The company will implement smart grid technologies like renewable energy integration, microgrid and distribution transformer online monitoring system implementation in the near future. The company would also like to implement drone technologies, if permitted as per statutes, which could help in asset monitoring, asset data capture from site, land base update, preventive maintenance and vegetation management.
We are currently focusing on strengthening our cybersecurity since we have successfully implemented ISMS (information security management system) previously to safeguard crucial details and IT assets of the company. We are also working on integration between ERP, SCADA and smart grid systems with the help of IT-OT technology. Apart from having our internal consumer redressal system, we are also working on new mobile applications for addressing consumer complaints. We plan to implement IT-OT technology to provide key plant information to the senior management for improved risk assessment.
Some of the key focus areas are smart meters, radio frequency canopies for smart meters, field force automation platforms, mobility platforms, IoT platforms, data centre upgrades, and analytics.
What have been some of the biggest barriers to IT-OT integration for your organisation? How are these being addressed?
The biggest challenge is the non-availability of benchmarks in the country and skilled human resources. At TPDDL, we had to virtually teach ourselves and learn from utilities operating elsewhere in a somewhat similar business environment.
The major challenge is integrating the existing legacy systems with newly built infrastructure and applications. There is also the challenge of standardisation of processes and management, including security analysis and audits. OT and IT systems demand different levels of network and system data security implementation. In the context of increased cyberattacks and related vulnerabilities, we need to put in place a responsible person as the chief information security officer and create appropriate systems and processes including periodic audits and analysis for ensuring the security of the entire IT and OT system.
In Kerala, we are a bundled utility with all the major functions like generation, transmission, system operation and distribution coming under one umbrella. This needs more systematic approaches for ensuring coordination and integration, utilising the maximum benefit of IT and OT systems. There are also challenges in building and retaining the best and trained talent to manage such systems. Also, we need to keep up with emerging technologies in IT, OT and communications to ensure relevance and agility of technology adoption. The utility needs to explore the possibility and leveraged benefits of implementing enterprise computing through seamless integration across multiple functional units. We have appointed KPMG as the consultant to prepare a detailed project report for ERP. Technology like data analytics has great potential in analysing customer trends, customer engagements, system planning, demand side management and renewable energy integration. We are set to achieve these goals.
One of the significant disadvantages of adopting technologies in the IT-OT integration space is the fact that while there may be many successful implementations across the globe, the number of case studies available in our country is inadequate, because of which many of the partners have a limited pool of talent to leverage. The absence of mature practices often results in a learn-on-the-go approach, which entails time and cost overruns. This predicament will only be rectified over time as the level of smart technology adoption in this area increases.
Change management is also an important factor in the adoption of smart metering and smart grid technologies and practices, as these have a game-changing impact on both customers and utility workforces. A collaborative approach in which the concerns of critical stakeholders are taken into account while designing the project specifications and vigorous communication across the board during the project lifecycle to incorporate feedback are time-tested strategies that are relied upon to address the issues.
Since we have already deployed a number of IT-OT technologies, the biggest challenge that we face currently is the timely upgradation of systems. As per government guidelines, technology should be upgraded every five years. Therefore, we are trying to constantly upgrade entire systems, both hardware and software, for maintaining a better management information system.
Smart meters and IoT devices will be the next big thing. The biggest challenge we envisage is integrating the diverse smart devices communicating through various modes and deriving business value from the data. BSES will address the challenges through a thought-through integration strategy. The adoption will take place in two stages – technology evaluation, followed by roll-out in priority areas. The roll-out will be backed by solid analytics on a SAP platform.