Indian Power market has fast changed and further evolving post unbundling reforms. There is rapid emergence of various private/PPP models across Power Distribution. There is high attractiveness of the end B2C Power Distribution business, as it brings cash for all other businesses in the value chain. The recent surgence of Franchisee models in Distribution has raised the end-service delivery & price value expectations of the end-customers, which is putting more and more pressure on utilities to bring efficiencies and streamline their operations and overall IT.
pManifold team recently spoke to Mr. Ananth Chandramouli, Head – Energy & Utilities, Infosys to understand about their IT solutions Utility-in-a-box (UIB), an innovative cloud-based platform for Utilities. The below shared are author’s personal views and not to be associated with any of their company’s association.
Q1) Please elaborate Infosys’s Utility-in-Box (UIB) IT solution? (phase wise Modules implemented, current deployment stage (whether LIVE), key features, hardware requirements, team size for setup and regular running, business engagement model (Capex vs. Opex based), next planned add-ons, etc.)
- Infosys UIB is a cloud based solution suitable for Utilities and Distribution Franchisees (DFs). The complete platform including hardware, software, data centre etc. is hosted and managed by Infosys and available on “pay as you go” (opex) model to the Utilities/DFs. Only network connectivity at site and office infrastructure (PCs, printers etc.) has to be procured by the Utility/DF. Infosys has already done capital investment in the state of the art centralized IT infrastructure, which can be shared by multiple DFs/Utilities. This helps DFs in two ways.
- First, the CAPEX cost for IT is converted into recurring OPEX cost; this not only provides cash outflow predictability but also reduces the debt/equity investment by DFs.
- Second, this common infrastructure is designed to be used by multiple DFs hence the cost of hardware, software and services cost are apportioned amongst multiple users. This allows DFs to use this infrastructure at the fraction of the cost that they would have to shell out if they buy such systems at their own.
- UIB has pre-configured, field tested and optimized processes complying with Indian regulatory requirements so it is fast to implement and can be made up and running in about 3 months either in a big bang or phased manner depending on the readiness of the Utility/DF. This allows DFs to save substantial cost and time. It covers all key utility processes such as Connection Management (New Connection, Change of Name, Meter Shifting, Reconnection, Load Enhancement), Meter to Cash (Meter Reading, Tariff Administration, Billing, Collection), Revenue Assurance and Recovery (Disconnection and Dismantling, Vigilance), Meter Data Acquisition and Energy Audit (Meter Data Acquisition, Meter Data Management, Validation, Estimation and Energy Audit), Customer Care, Work Asset Management and Maintenance Management.
- UIB is Smart Grid ready and the next avatar of UIB will have even more features to help Utilities/DFs realize the vision of Smart Grid without making huge investments in IT. Few of these features are – AMI based centralized prepayment, Remote connect/disconnect, Demand Response etc.
Q2) What specific challenges, if any, you see that DF client faces, which impact the IT solution framework, its implementation approach and business engagement model?What further change or clarity that you believe the DF industry should bring for reducing gestation and expediting operations?
- By implementing modern IT systems such as UIB, DFs can add immense value to the whole ecosystem by providing cost effective services to consumers e.g. through innovative pricing structure and modern ways of monitoring system performance e.g. remote theft detection and disconnection.
- UIB can identify loss making areas and even suspicious cases by correlating metering, billing and collection data with system meter data and consumer smart meter data (if available). UIB can also help in remote connect/disconnect if this feature is supported by the meters in field. But all this would need involvement of licensee and regulator.
- Regulators have to allow DFs to offer different tariff structure in their area of operation, which would need support and approval from licensee. So there is need to evolve simple, clear and equitable regulatory regime for DFs. This will help expedite decision making by DFs and help in creating win-win situation for all stakeholders (Consumer, Utility and DF).
Q3) Share your specific experiences and challenges in rolling out first billing from new IT system.
- Rolling out first bill from any new IT system is challenging and needs very detailed planning and meticulous execution. There are several aspects that one should consider while planning such transition.
- Firstly, getting accurate data dump (consumer and billing) from legacy system could be challenging and should not be underestimated. Even after getting this data, sanitization, cleansing and back-filling missing data can take substantial time and effort. This may even require field level validation in some cases and use of customer indexing data (if available).
- Secondly, there could be difference between bills generated from the new and the legacy system due to interpretation of some rules and regulations. Here a highly skilled team from DF and SI should verify the logic of both the systems and then decide between the right and wrong instead of trying to match the output of the new system with the legacy system.
- Most importantly, the new system could create confusion and anxiety amongst consumers so change management for consumers should also be part of the plan. Consumers should be informed about the timing of this change through direct communications and through other channels, special crack teams should be deployed at all customer care offices to handle rush of customers and backup plan should be always ready. Thankfully, we have predefined templates and standard operating procedures (SOP) as part of UIB to manage this transition.
Q4) What customer side best services difference the new IT system will start bringing to DF? Any first results from UIB implementation already benchmarked with previous performance?
- The most significant benefits for customers are enhanced convenience and transparency. Due to automation of business processes, service time for customer requests can be substantially reduced e.g. new connection can be released in 2-3 days in normal cases, payment updates happen in real-time avoiding any wrong billing or disconnections etc.
- Customers can get update on their requests/complaints anytime anywhere through call centre, web self-service portal or DF offices. Since UIB is a centralized system, customers get same information at all the touch points adding to the transparency and also helping build trust.
- UIB allows customers to manage all their interactions with DF such as bill payment, enquiries, applying for any services etc. through online self-service portal available on web and mobile devices thereby improving convenience.
Q5) How do you see pricing evolving for managed IT services within utilities and specially DF? (Many a times an IT Partner takes too many things on plate, while DF first needs only a good Billing and CRM solution. Does right incremental pricing will allow DF to harness best practices over time cost effectively, including adding GIS, SCADA, AMI, smart metering, etc?)
- This is a very important point. DFs should choose IT solutions and do a phased adoption based on the expected business outcomes. As you rightly said, Billing, CRM and associated process should be targeted first, followed by asset management system. GIS, SCADA etc. can come later. However it’s important for DFs to prepare a clear roadmap for all these technologies along with the selected IT partner. This roadmap should consider several aspects e.g. Growth – Growth in number of customers either within DF or through acquisition of new DFs can alter the choice of technology.
- Diversification – The choice of promoters to enter into multiple utility services (electricity, water, gas) can have huge impact on the solution choice. Demographics and local situation – Local issues and other requirements of local people can also impact technology choice.
- A roadmap based on these blocks will allow DFs to absorb change in an incremental manner and also allow incremental pricing with the additional of new features and functionalities.
Q6) No one in India is offering GIS on cloud as Managed services, and it remains one critical component to rightly archive ‘Data’ and base Capex and O&M planning. What is your take?
- No doubt GIS can help improve operational efficiency and planning but right now most of the DFs and Utilities are in a state where they have to set their house in order with basic IT systems such as CRM, billing, asset management etc.
- Once they are able to improve their performance by targeting “low hanging fruits” then they can move to GIS and other advanced systems for efficiency gains. However we do appreciate that DFs conduct customer indexing and asset mapping exercise before takeover and this data could be very helpful for a GIS implementation later on.
- DFs should initially maintain this data in asset management system and add GPS coordinates and other attributes to it whenever they plan to implement GIS. There would definitely be players in the market to offer such solutions on cloud when the market achieves this maturity.
Q7) Infosys earlier has supported in defining road-map for smarter Indian power distribution utilities. How much are we track on that, and where you see major divergence or lack?
- We recommended a three step road-map over a period of 15 years for Indian power distribution sector to move to smart grid.
- The realization of first step is happening through implementation of RAPDRP. Though the program is running a bit slow and there are some challenges in achieving complete benefits of R-APDRP but it’s a positive move in the right direction and will bear fruits in time to come.
- We are also witnessing action on second step through 12 smart grid pilot projects supported by Ministry of Power. These pilot projects will definitely dovetail into larger smart grid projects over time.
- Third step, which is about achieving a system that could support seamless and bidirectional flow of energy and data, will take some time to evolve. Overall things appear to be on track vis-à-vis the roadmap.