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Urja is the voice of BPCL to interact with customers

Urja is the voice of BPCL to interact with customers

Public sector oil and gas company Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd. (BPCL), has multiple business units including LPG cylinders, CNG stations, petrol pumps, lubricants and an aviation business. Like most of its peers in the oil ang gas sector, BPCL had to embark on a digital transformation journey to optimise operations and also give its customers a single view of all of the services available with the company. At the backend, BPCL has engaged in multiple technology implementations to track its fleet of 25,000 lorries and 15,000 retail outlets. On the frontend, it is deploying tools such as the chatbot Urja, and other applications, for a seamless customer experience.

In an interview, Rahul Tandon, Head of Digital Transformation at BPCL, elaborated on this digital journey and the challenges of marrying legacy applications with new-age ones. Edited excerpts:    

How are you going about the task of digital transformation?

We have a sturdy enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution, which acts as a source of truth where all the transactions happen. But when it comes to delivering business models, we have more than 130 applications and systems in place. They served their purpose but were not integrated and were not scalable as a whole. We had to redesign the digital spine of BPCL to accommodate new ways of functioning. While we have adopted technology solutions from different vendors, we have made the integration pieces remain within BPCL.

Currently, we have a standard product from Salesforce for our CRM, for the customer engagement platform we utilise SAP Hybris, for rewards management we have Capillary and the chatbot of choice is through Yellow.ai. These four solutions are common across all businesses. We had to rewrite our business philosophy, recraft business to leverage out of the box features of these solutions.

How is the customer experience being enhanced with the digital transformation drive?

We deal with a product that is a necessary evil — it is not seen or felt by anybody but customers can’t survive without it. When the visibility of the product is less and the whole service is commoditized, the only differentiator that we can provide is the experience that we give to the customer. The customer gets in touch with us through multiple touchpoints, such as an LPG distributors, retail outlets, could engage in a B2B interaction or it could be an aviation customer; the goal is to make the interactions with the customers seamless and efficient. BPCL has six marketing units which worked separately as specific strategic business units, this meant that the experience was different from different units. We were not able to get a unified view of our customer, and at the same time we were not able to give a single view of BPCL to them, this has become the singular objective for us. To provide the user with a uniform and consistent customer experience across all touchpoints.

How is the chatbot Urja helping your operations?

Our customers mostly talk to us through channel partners, delivery men, driveway salesmen, dealers, but we have never interacted with customers on a direct basis. Urja is the voice of BPCL to interact with customers at their convenience. We carried out extensive surveys, including ethnographic surveys, interacted with customers with different persona and geographies to create Urja. Urja can currently communicate with customers in 13 languages. You will be surprised to note that 40% of interactions stem from the rural part of India, while 40-45% of interactions are in languages others than Hindi and English. We have already had 20 crore interactions with customers on Urja, and about 5 million unique customers interact with Urja frequently for the past few months. The average time of interaction with the chatbot is more than three minutes, which means it is intelligent enough to keep the customer engaged in conversation for more than three minutes. We have currently trained Urja for over 600 use cases.  

What challenges did BPCL face when marrying legacy applications with new-age ones?

Integrations with some of the applications were very smooth and comfortable. However, such was not the case with all legacy systems. Integrations of new-age applications with legacy applications with good quality, updated documentation and a knowledgable support team did not face any major hurdles, whereas integrations with legacy systems, which do not have the above, are very time and effort consuming. 

A lack of in-depth knowledge on the nitty-gritty, data models, database relations, and changes made over a period of time gives rise to tremendous challenges. While we have been fortunate enough in BPCL to face these challenges in only a few cases, this experience re-emphasizes the criticality of detailed and up-to-date documentation, the focus towards which many a times is lost in the pressure to meet timelines. Also, limitations on scalability, flexibility and replicability of legacy systems poses a lot of problems thereby resulting in us deciding to sunset most of them and go in for greenfield solutions.

How much of your on-premise data has been moved to the cloud?

We have deployed a mix of Platform as a Service and Software (PaaS) and cloud solutions such as SAP Hybris. But solutions such as IRIS and Urja are hosted on our own private cloud from Microsoft. Going forward, an important thing we are working on is our non-fuel ventures. We are working closely with our non-fuel team to come up with the technology landscape and functioning. Our fueling solution SmartDrive is going to be up and hosted in the next couple of months, and a new B2B platform will be live in a month from now.

How is BPCL using the Internet of Things (IoT) in its supply chain to help its business?

The use of IoT has enabled BPCL to integrate more than 16000 retail outlets, 76 retail terminals, 53 LPG plants and over 25000 tankers onto a single platform to provide an integrated view of the entire operating value chain. With the above integration, IRIS, the Digital Nerve Centre of BPCL, is capable of accepting more than 3 million inputs per second from Local Automated systems, cameras and IoT devices deployed at key locations like retail terminals and LPG plants along with the associated tank trucks for product delivery and also across our entire Lubes manufacturing to marketing value chain.

Some of the key examples of the use of IoT technology in BPCL are for fore-court controllers at retail outlets, vehicle tracking systems, electromagnetic locking systems for monitoring of violations, visual analytics based monitoring through edge devices, quality checks during bottling of cylinders, and ensuring the firefighting systems are at optimal performance in LPG plants.

Is IoT being implemented in your lubrication business unit as well?

For lubricants, we have around 800 Stock Keeping Units (SKUs), which are distributed through a complex supply chain network consisting of manufacturing plants, distributor and retail outlets and customers. Currently, we have no visibility of the products across the supply chain. To address this we have enabled IoT and QR Codes in our products at multiple levels, which helps us track our products across various nodes of the supply chain. 

The entire solution communicates on a real time basis with our ERP System, as well as our customer engagement platform. This helps us in not only identifying the consumption points of our products but also give us the flexibility to control the sales of these products by customizing schemes.

Can you provide an overview of how your IT team is structured?  

Our technology partner is Deloitte who carry out the integration of all these applications in BPCL. The user stories, running sprints on development, integration and others are carried out by a team of 200 developers working from the Deloitte team. The dedicated team working under project Anubhav has 20 members, including an IRIS team, a cloud expert and technology architects. We have digital SPOCs (single point of contact) from each business unit, there are roughly a team of 400 people within BPCL who are aligned to work together on this project.