Digital Transformation with Nebula, Azure, Engen

Engen is an African-based energy group focused on the refining and marketing of petroleum, lubricants and functional fluids, chemicals and retail convenience services, through an extensive network of service stations across seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands. Engen also exports its products to various other territories.

Engen operates a refinery with a nameplate capacity of 120 000 barrels per day and two lubricant manufacturing plants. An extensive network of storage facilities, including depots, terminals, lubricant warehouses, a bitumen plant and aviation facilities spread across southern Africa and Mauritius ensures security of supply across all Engen markets.Fact sheetSolution: Nebula’s Microsoft Azure-based solutions Surge Cloud Platform and Surge IdentityIndustry: EnergyProvider: NebulaUser: Engen

In the past, Engen supported their supply chain operations via siloed on-premises legacy extranet applications for each customer segment, which performed the very important function of allowing customers to order fuel. These extranets enabled the business operations for retail service station customers as well as commercial customers, which includes the owners of large transport fleets.

However, according to Andries van der Vyver, a veteran IT Manager at Engen, many different applications made the process of maintaining and updating these platforms onerous and time-consuming. “This hindered innovation and proved to be a major hurdle on our digital roadmap,” says Van der Vyver.

Today, Engen uses Nebula’s Microsoft Azure-based solutions Surge Cloud Platform and Surge Identity to enable a successful cloud environment and to handle their identity and access management needs.

With a 30 000+ user base, this platform has proven to be key in differentiating their B2B and B2C customer journeys, adds Van der Vyver. “It has increased internal collaboration between business functions, enabled an empowered work force, increased customer loyalty and created a culture of innovation.”

Introducing petroleum 2.0

Understanding that they needed to accelerate their digital transformation, Engen set out to rebuild and rearchitect key customer systems using cloud technologies. Their aim was to create a single cloud platform that would unify all digital channels and make it possible to service all customers in one place.

“Cloud was the obvious choice to achieve the smooth experience we were looking for,” explains Van der Vyver, “and given our longstanding relationship with Microsoft, the decision to go with Azure was an easy choice for Engen.”

When Engen started on their cloud journey, the technology behind the scenes needed to be as seamless as possible. Should any functionality improvements be made, the updates needed to be deployed automatically across all customer areas, with no impact on the end user. It therefore all came down to providing a great customer experience and leveraging web and mobile channels to simplify the process of doing business with Engen.

A matter of cloud identity

Identity and access management was a critical component of this.

“At the time, strict corporate policies around access management meant that Engen’s IT teams spent an excessive amount of time managing passwords for over 2 000 external customer users. This also compromised customer experience because users had to navigate multiple usernames, passwords and login experiences,” says Van der Vyver.

Streamlining the process demanded that Engen implement a robust cloud identity platform to control what type of information was made available to different users. Enabled by Azure, Nebula’s Surge Identity improved their login experience and boosted data security via single sign-on and a fully fledged third-party social login, which includes Azure AD and ADB2C OpenID connect flows.  Surge Identity now enables single sign-on for more than 30 000 users.

“They essentially created a gatekeeper, which provides different insights and levels of access to people based on their identity. The CEO, for example, would be permitted to access more information than an outside contractor.”

Accelerating time to market

Working with Nebula, Engen also boosted their digital B2B and B2C customer journeys through the development of dynamic, scalable Web and mobile interfaces. This was fast-tracked by more than 50% thanks to micro-services from Surge Cloud Platform, running in Azure Service Fabric. The use of these micro-services means that they didn’t have to re-develop features for each application. For example, each application needs to send notifications in a consistent and scalable manner, re-developing this each time would significantly extend time to market.

Engen’s B2B Web and mobile apps give customers greater insight into the company’s internal business operations, enabling customers to place fuel orders and keep track of their orders should the order status change. A rating service was also included to help Engen identify any areas where service delivery could be improved.

The Engen 1app is aimed at B2C retail customers. The app offers various digital touch points to boost the retail experience and build brand loyalty. It allows customers to make contactless payments at an Engen fuel station, rate their experience, view promotions and manage their fuel usage via a digital logbook. The Engen 1app is already being used by over 30 000 South Africans, which is only possible thanks to a highly scalable and stable cloud ecosystem.

For Seelan Naidoo, Engen’s General Manager: Retail, the 1app has been especially valuable during the COVID-19 pandemic. “As lockdown restrictions ease, more and more of our customers will be on the road. We encourage all motorists to download the app because it offers a safer customer service experience, as there is no touching of devices, cards or cash required.”

For Van der Vyver, the relationship with Nebula has been a fruitful one because they were able to combine his understanding of Engen’s business needs with Nebula’s tech expertise and understanding of digital innovation. “Each party brought something different to the table and this merging of skills allowed us to develop something great, together.” 

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