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'Fuel'ing the Indian Economy with Cutting-edge Technologies For the first time, the sputtering oligarchic industry, infamous for being a 'closed sector', is inviting start-ups with cutting-edge technologies to fuel the ambitious Indian economy

By Sahiba Khan

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Brunei….no, I am not talking about my dream holiday. Apart from Limousines and grandiose, the one thing that these nations are thriving on, by de facto, is oil; precisely a resourceful use of oil. And so, better late than never, the Indian Government has realized how to fuel its own economy with this "black gold'. Let's find out how these start-ups are pouring oil on troubled waters!

It's the first time when the sputtering oligarchic industry, infamous for being a "closed sector', is inviting start-ups with cutting-edge technologies to fuel the ambitious Indian economy. Hence, for starters, India's mammoth corporations and public sector units such as ONGC, Hindustan Petroleum, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited, GAIL and Indian Oil, along with others, have decided to become the flagbearers of the much needed change in the rigid oil, gas and energy regime. Guess Einstein was right when he said "We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive."

Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Dharmendra Pradhan said, "Thousands of applications have come in and out. Of that we have selected 36 start-ups, some with Artificial Intelligence tools to solve the sector issues."

With Rising Demands Come Greater Responsibilities

India's oil demand is expected to grow at a CAGR of 3.6 per cent to 458 Million Tons of Oil Equivalent (MTOE) by 2040, while demand for energy will be more than double by 2040 as "economy will grow to more than five times current state," indicates Pradhan. Managing an oil and gas plant (for exploration and refining during downstream process) which is thrice the size of a football field and its workers ain't a cakewalk. Moreover, logistics for plant maintenance and employee management is an added task. And Maximl, an IIT-Madras based start-up, aims to put that in perspective with its software-as-a-service platform SyncOps - the first machine learning powered planning and execution platform which increases the efficiency of large industrial projects and helps commissioning them apart from turning around sick units or shutdown projects.

Pankaj Pawan, CEO, Maximl, thinks connecting the whole plant is the biggest challenge for these big industries and still, they are often the most neglected one. "I knew I had to build this technology when a friend told me how even with the best of talent and the huge amount of money pumped in, projects get delayed due to mismanagement," says Pawan adding, "There's no rocket science. We have focused more on the simplicity of the userinterface so that every worker and employee could use it efficiently."

Such a complex issue with a simple software approach, but what is all the management for, one might ask. Well, managing a plant could be more arduous when the risk involved in it is lethal. Since time-immemorial, oil and gas plants have seen the biggest of protests by the residential localities due to "safety' concerns. Keeping safety as their focus, DeTect Technologies have come up with a drone system for the detection of leakages and resolving it then and there. According to Tarun Mishra, Co-founder, DeTect technologies, "It's like your body has a lot of nerves but if they don't work properly, they don't matter at all. Similarly, pipelines are the nerves of the plant. The way to detect any leakage is also very unsafe and rudimentary. We wanted to change that and give a realtime solution."

Keeping a tab on the nerves (pipelines) is a good step. But what if the pipelines are submerged under the water? This behemoth sector stretches its hands on both land and water. The under-water pipelines are equally dangerous to the flora and fauna in the sea. Since the extraction of the crude oil from the sea can possess potential harm to its biodiversity, Planys is the first and currently the only OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) of Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicle in the Indian subcontinent, and perhaps the first in the world to offer ROVs integrated with advanced sensing and diagnosis tools. Angel backed, Planys is in talks with the major PSUs as well. ]

Answering to why the start-up influx in this sector has emerged so much so rapidly, Tanuj Jhunjhunwala, the founder, says "It's time for the state-of-art technologies to rise. Even the bigger players want indigenous companies to assist them instead of taking exorbitant services from foreign companies."

Nonetheless, since the size of the industry is big, there are start-ups coming up not just with products and technologies, but services as well. From corrosion managers to scanners and drones, Chennai based start-up, Dhvani research, deals in both.

Long Ingestion Period And Volatility Of The Sector

Nobody likes to wait, especially when they are already a step ahead. Whenever someone talks about the problems of the biggest of sectors such as defence, oil and gas, railways, what they mostly mean is either the lack of technology or the rigid bureaucracy involved to crack in.

While the issue of innovation could definitely be sorted if the start-up is innovative enough, the red-tape and bureaucracy eats all the valuable time, and sometimes money too. It's only logical when Mishra says, "It took me over six years to register my company after the long Research and Development phase. I am practically an old man now." Similarly, it took 10 years of internal research and development before the Dhvani research to begin its operations in 2010.

Technological needs have been triggered by the increasing integration of national economies with the global economy propelled by entrenched forces of liberalization, globalization and present technology. A cut in oil prices sometime in the next couple of years is expected — due to this uncertain nature of the market, the big investments even in the US market have reduced. That has given some playing room to the traders and start-ups who have avoided the sector since a long time.

With an optimistic note, M.K. Surana, Chairman, Hindustan Petroleum says, "These start-ups will promote technological enhancement and skill enrichment in oil and gas industry. Rigorous competition will push big players towards faster execution of drawing board strategies with innovation on the forefront and develop foresight beyond the boundaries.

(This article was first published in the January issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)

Sahiba Khan

Former Trainee Writer, Entrepreneur India Magazine

Sahiba Khan is a journalist with a passionate interest in business, political and social issues. She is adept at creating content for print, audio, video and online platforms and is well-versed with cross-platform storytelling. She specializes in policy reporting and camera.

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