With the Indian government keen on achieving the 100 GW solar power target set as part of the JNNSM mission, solar projects are being implemented at a blistering pace. As the scale and number of small and large MW-scale projects being undertaken increases, the complexities associated with the implementation of these also increase.
As with any infrastructure projects, there are multiple organizations that come together to execute the project. Information flow across these organizations is often slow and chaotic. The project management team’s objective is to keep the project’s execution within budget and on time. They typically use multiple reports to get visibility into the progress and hence keep the project under control in terms of cost and time. However, this has proved to be a reactive approach wherein people try to “fix” problems rather than predict and prevent them before they occur.
Nadhi Information Technologies is trying to bring in a predictive approach to managing these projects through nPulse– a cloud based application that helps in constructing solar projects effectively.
What problem is nPulse solving?
In a solar project, the various stakeholders involved include the owner, designer, contractor, consultant, sub-contractor, supplier, etc. Maintaining a simplified and transparent communication channel between them is necessary to avoid delays and smooth execution of the project.
In fact, communication and information distribution can amount to 5% of the project value.
The image below provides an understanding of the different stakeholders involved in a solar project.
To understand a typical problem scenario, consider the following example. Every day, numerous emails are sent and received by different stakeholders. Suppose the developer wishes to have a look at the panel layout drawing from the design team. How does he obtain this existing information from his email inbox? How does he know which is the latest drawing? More often than not, there is no structured data management and the information is lost.
How does nPulse solve the problem?
nPulse creates a collaborative platform where the information and updates regarding various stages of construction of a solar plant is communicated to the above mentioned stakeholders both through web based applications that can be accessed from anywhere or through mobile app notifications and/or SMSes. Depending on the predefined requirements, the latest updates are communicated to the respective stakeholder at the required frequency.
Design documents need to be made available on time. Contracts need to be signed and work orders issued on time. Delay in any of these could have cascading impact on the execution of the project. nPulse establishes the link between the required documents and the schedule milestones, so that a delay/re-prioritization in one will show the impact on the other.
Through effective version management and automated alerting mechanisms, every relevant stakeholder in the team is alerted through mobile and emails, whenever a newer version of the document is made available, thus ensuring everyone is aware of and is working on the latest version of the document.
The entire team collaborates on the nPulse platform to record and prioritize the issues that the execution team faces while they try to adhere to the plan. In effect, nPulse acts as a centralized platform that helps address issues/risks at a solar power plant in a transparent manner. This feature can go a long way in preventing avoidable project delays.
One of the important aspects of effective project management is to ensure the project is executed within budget. During weekly/fortnightly management reviews, the physical progress given by the site team and the financial progress (bills generated based on work done) do not always match up.
nPulse has a mechanism to link the physical activities in the project plan to the BOQ items in the budget. The site engineer using his mobile can provide both physical and quantity based progress, which is then translated into financial progress automatically. Cost to Company (CTC) reports are created on a weekly basis to ensure the construction at the site follows the Bill of Quantities and does not exceed the budget. For example, it helps track whether the actual quantity of concrete for the foundation of a structure is in line with the planned quantity.
This feature helps predict future scenarios and trends based on the existing collection of data. This form of business intelligence helps foresee potential risks and pitfalls that might arise in the future, and thereby helping in taking preventive measures.
An assortment of dashboards helps in identifying trends in the project – delays in certain set of design decisions and hence its impact on project time lines; performance of certain BOQ items to predict whether the project will stay within budget or not; which sub contractor’s performance when improved can have a real impact on the on time completion of the project, etc.
Site engineers can use their mobiles to capture photographs showing the progress/issues and they will show up instantly on web enabled dashboards that can be accessed at Head office. One interesting aspect of nPulse is the ability to configure visual dashboards which can show the layout of the project itself, and also of individual components (such as a panel) within the project. Reviewers can at a glance see where the progress stands and which areas need intervention.
Take a look at some snapshots from the nPulse interface.
What makes nPulse unique?
nPulse is different from other project management software in that, updates can be made real-time through mobile and information can be communicated instantly. It establishes the hidden link between documents, issues, schedules and BOQs thereby bringing all the stakeholders of the project on to a common platform. This unique feature provides unparalleled insight into the project’s status thus enabling better decision-making process for the project managers and the top management.
In a particular case, nPulse was reported to provide an attractive ROI of just 6 months.
More details on nPulse can be obtained from the Nadhi web site
Interview with the Founder
Kalyan Vaidyanathan, co-founder of Nadhi Information Technologies, talks to Solar Mango about his background and experience, potential for his technology in the Indian solar sector and expectations for his company.
- Tell us briefly about your education and professional background.
>> I have an undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering from IIT Madras and a graduate degree in Structural Engineering from Cornell University. I worked across engineering and technology jobs for about 15 years, before co-founding Nadhi in late 2008.
- What got a project management software firm such as yours interested in developing a custom solution for a solar power project?
>> We think of ourselves as a construction information supply chain solutions company rather than a project management company. In that sense, our solutions are sector agnostic and has fit into the solar projects as well. We did not have to do any custom solution for solar. The same solution has been applied in roads, port, power, solar, bridge, and commercial and residential real estate. Sure, the solutions have to be configured for each solution, but we do that as part of our implementation services.
- What have been the experience so far for the project developers who have used your solution during their power project construction? What have been the key benefits, according to them?
>> It is early days in solar and we are still learning. But from the initial impression, the simple fact that the site is able to update progress remotely and HO is able to see the progress real time is of tremendous value. Secondly, the fact that we automate some of the chores of project monitoring including the proactive reminders, issue followups, and MIS report generation is the other value add. Finally, the elimination of data entry duplication is seen as a value add.
- What are the future additions and improvements that you plan to incorporate in your solution?
>> We are looking at the area around virtual construction aka BIM to see how best it can be incorporated into our solution. Similarly, we are looking at how to easily create custom forms and workflows to further extend information capture for the project. Ultimately, we’d like for nPulse to be the platform that has all the project information.
- As you work across multiple industries, what key differences do you find in the solar power plant sector when compared to others?
>> Again, it is too early for us to comment, but the sense we get is that people think the projects are of small duration and that there are only 3 to 4 activities to monitor. We think that might be a short sighted thinking. The project is from concept to commissioning and these projects have the same issues as other infrastructure projects around land acquisition, approvals, drawings, and other issues that severely hamper progress. But yes, the construction duration is smaller.
- Solar is expected to grow 20 fold over the next 6 years. How do you plan to capitalize on this growth?
>> The engagement we are working on currently is our first solar project. But we have at least 1 or 2 other EPC contractors working in Solar whom we are talking to. We are also hoping that the current EPC contractor will buy the solution and deploy it across their portfolio of projects. In short, we are bullish about the prospects.
- What are your suggestions for those keen on building software solution companies such as yours that has a significant focus on catering to the domestic market needs?
>> Indian clients are very price conscious and hence ROI has to be there. So, build and deploy at client locations and learn quickly on what works and what doesn’t (for the price point that they are willing to pay). Domain knowledge is also a key differentiator. For us, the simple fact that we are not seen as an IT company, but a team of professionals who understand construction industry and specifically the challenges of the Indian construction industry well and happen to have developed a solution for this industry gives us credibility. The second is that companies that have developed solutions for the abroad market look at India as a big market and hence competition heats up quite quickly; so make sure your solution is indispensable with your clients.
Interested in working with nPulse? Please contact Mr Nikhil.