Integrated Petrol Station Automation
Petrol Stations are getting increasingly modern and customer friendly...
Each oil company is trying to attract & retain its customers by creating a sense of assurance regarding Quality & Quantity of fuel delivered, good environment, slogans, added facilities like ATMs, shopping stores, coffee pubs, ice cream parlors and loyalty programmes.
Post IT revolution, its retail revolution gathering momentum, a simple credit card transaction today is however very time consuming.
In mature markets, a typical fuelling process would not take more than a minute for transaction processing (apart from the physical fuelling time). In this, the driver first swipes / shows his/her card for an amount of fuel desired. The system receives a pre-authorisation from the driver's bank & authorises the dispenser to fill for the corresponding amount. After fuelling, the exact amount is debited to the driver's bank account. System prompts for showing/swiping any Loyalty card, the same is shown or passed by the driver & a receipt is printed for the actual fuel filled with loyalty points. Fleet owners pay at one locationwith their vehicles being able to fill even a particular fuel grade from any location.
How does all this happen?
It is through integrated Petrol Station Automation linking fuel, non-fuel products & services at retail outlet, oil company & banks.
All dispensers, underground tanks & other forecourt equipments are connected to a Forecourt Controller (FCC) to check sales from each of them, drive Outdoor Payment Terminals (OPTs) used for customer interface containing card reader, keypad and display & printer.
A Point of Sale (POS) machine is located either on the forecourt for normal business hours OR/& in the manager's room for extended business hours.
Additional POS with integrated keypad, display, and barcode scanner & printer can be located inthe convenience store.
All fuel stations are further connected to banks for payments & oil company head office for driving business electronically with oil companies able to uniquely identify its customers, transfer pricing data & monitor operations online.
Forecourt Controller Technologies available are on solid state or PC based platforms. Solid state platforms have fast boot-up time & free from Windows OS related problems, however they are too proprietary in nature & not economically modular & scaleable. PC based platforms are more open, upward scaleable & replaceable. Both technologies need to be protected from power outages.
POS Technologies also come in solid-state or PC based platforms. OPTs for payments & loyalty come ruggedised suitable for forecourt application. Some even comply with EMV Level 2 requirements which would be demanded by banks for all credit card transactions in a year or two.
Dispensers moving up!
While the Automation system expects the Dispenser to only be a dumb slave executing the commands sent by it, Dispensers are also moving into automation space. Dispensers now have receipt printer & card reader toaddress the loyal customersoperating with smart cards. Theday is not far when dispenserswould handle almost all functionsmaking most of the Automationsystem redundant!Whichever way automation &dispensers move, benefits wouldbe available to end-customer,dealers & the oil company.
End-customer sees increased speed of transaction, quality & quantity confidence with the printed receipt, easy payment mode options & good quality time at the Outlet.
Dealer sees improved efficiency with auto billing, fast fuelreconciliation, audit trail, automaticreporting, facility for extendedbusiness hour operation, easylocal account handling & evenremote viewing of retail outlet.
The oil company benefits include CRM on forecourt, improved monitoring & control of retail outlets, no stock dry-out & readiness for dynamic pricing where fuel rates could be one in the morning & change in the evening or even different on opposite sides of the road depending on traffic direction.
While all this is a reality in mature markets, the road ahead needs tobe well planned for success.
The Indian context
Our fuel stations are small & busy,credit card transactions are slow ¬ linked with the nozzle, powersupply failures are common andold, rickety generators do notprovide clean power.
The solutions around the Indian context revolve not only on forecourt technology platforms but also the operational & environmental issues. One needs to regularise the solutions. Typically issues are, what happens when a card is swiped & power fails OR a card is shown for a transaction & then the driver decides not to fill OR there is a long drawn black outOR the operator wants to continue filling the next 2 wheeler without putting the nozzle back?
No benefit comes without planning. Oil companies need to identify theirStrategic Goals, i.e., Q&Q orProfitability or Customer attraction & retention or Control of Retail Outlets or all of these.
Strategic Initiatives follow strategic goals. These may involve buy-in of the oil company management, pilot project trials across the country, training of ground level staff, setting up communication networks, message sample data & even work with banks for electronic fund transfer facility through an automation system.
Technology Solutions follow experience gained through strategic initiatives before a countrywide rollout of automation.
The future may be a bit away but it is certain that we would see lesser crowded stations with happy dealers & a smiling customer uniquely pampered by the oil company.
- Russy Master & Sujit Dey