The Way for Oil & Gas Industry to Go Digital

Janifha Evangeline | Friday, 01 April 2022, 16:59 IST

Peethambaran Thankappan, Executive Director (IS & Digital Business), Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd, in an interaction with Sudhakar Singh, Editor, CIOTechOutlook, shares his thoughts on how the Oil & Gas industry is evolving in India with regard to technology adoption, the importance of data management, challenges in digital transformation and how to address them, adoption of cloud and more.

The oil and gas industry is adopting new technologies to achieve increased productivity, safer operations, and cost savings. How do you see the current evolution of the industry in this regard?

The oil & gas industry is embracing digital to transform its operations and drive value. All industries work in a PPT format. PPT here refers to People, Process, and Technology. This is because these three together will take any company to higher levels. However, to achieve this, we require digital technology.   

Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited has almost 20,000 retail outlets with 8.9 Crore customers and many other customers in different business segments. Therefore, to connect with all our customers, we are adopting digital technology, as it not only helps in connecting with customers but also gives a unified view to them. This is because Bharath petroleum has different business units in marketing alone, like retail, LPG, aviation, lubes, etc. and the customer segments are different. Therefore, not only BPCL but the entire oil & gas industry has a lot to do with digital technology in order to understand the customers.

How is BPCL enabling this unified view?  

In September 2019, we came up with a project called “Project Anubhav”. Anubhav means ‘experience’. We wanted to provide a unique and unparalleled experience to our customers and hence we commenced this project. The first phase was business-based engagement, where we created an idea of what is best for the customer, and what his business unit wants to provide to the customers in the best possible way. Hence, after capturing, screening, and finalizing those aspirations, we wanted to implement the best world-class technology available to help us.  Therefore, we partnered with Deloitte and launched BPCL’s common app called 'Hello BPCL' to get a unified view. This app is working well and there are more than 25,000 transactions that are taking place every day.

We have implemented our chatbot called URJA, which is capable of communicating with users in 13 languages. The traction is very high; around 50000-60000 LPG bookings are done using URJA alone. So, in our entire Digital Initiative, we aim to take away the pain of the customer, develop trust and give them the best possible convenience, and also know them well.

When it comes to streamlining production, data management has proven to be very crucial in reducing downtimes. How can asset data be monitored and leveraged efficiently?

We have developed a digital nerve centre powered by the internet of things and artificial intelligence technologies to monitor the journey of our products called IRIS. This digital nerve centre is connected to all our operating locations, retail installations, and LPG plants. Therefore, all operations are handled, monitored, and registered.

IRIS is helping us in improving internal efficiency, enhancing operational safety, and not only helping us to understand the kind of asset utilization that is happening but also the kind of predictive maintenance that is required.

In the recent Chennai floods, the floodwater got into the tanks and some of it got into the cars as well. Therefore, to avoid this, today, we have a technology that is monitored by IRIS. If the water level inside the underground tank is a little higher than the predetermined level, the pump will not work, and the system will automatically shut down. This is monitored by IRIS - our nerve center and there is no human intervention.

Another instance is where retail customers think if they are getting the correct quantity and quality of petrol or diesel. This issue is handled by us. The quality part is monitored exactly for all our installations and is 100 percent automated. The installation lorries are locked inside using the geo-fencing and there is a digital lock that can be unlocked only at the retail outlet in the geofencing. So, the journey of the lorry between the installations and the retail outlet is tracked through the meters and is completely monitored by our IRIS Digital nerve centre. In case the lorry is diverting from the route, an immediate alert is raised. So, this means only the predetermined approved product comes into a retail outlet. Therefore, this is another way of ensuring that customers' requirements are met through our digital technology.

Where do you see the oil industry in the near future in terms of new technology adoption, and what is the future roadmap for BPCL?

Today, any service industry or marketing organization that has a customer interface has to move to digital technology, as it is not an option anymore but a mandate. BPCL ensures that the customers get the best service and their requirements are met by using digital technology.

For instance, we have recently launched an initiative called UFill. It is a digital customer experience that delivers on BCPL’s promise of ensuring that its customers have complete control over time, technology, and transparency as part of their fuelling experience. Customers can transact just through the mobile app, make advance payment for fuel using any UPI app and get an instant SMS with QR Link and voucher code and show it to any BPCL station for automated fuelling.

Therefore, there is 100% transparency and we are looking forward to bringing in more and more advanced technology solutions to cater to the needs of the customers of BPCL in the near future. We are working on different kinds of initiatives and will be launching new initiatives soon.