Delivering innovation through collaboration
Dwr Cymru Welsh Water innovation scientist Euan Hampton says the company is seeing the benefits of opening itself up to innovation from outside the utility
We all know that the key to successful innovation is effective collaboration and communication – it’s not rocket science.
As an industry, we in the water sector are becoming more open and honest about the challenges that face us. Without this, the ability for our supply chains to understand our needs is hampered. If something isn’t as we need or expect, we need to engage with our suppliers and enable and encourage the evolution and growth.
The market has been changing – suppliers are more open to working with each other in partnership rather than trying to do everything themselves. This change provides water utility companies with an opportunity to shape products and services that meet our needs in an ‘a la carte’ manner.
Whilst most suppliers are aware of their competition, they may be completely unaware of those technologies and suppliers that would be complementary to them to meet our specific needs. We almost expect our suppliers to know everything about themselves, ourselves and everyone else!
We hold a unique position in knowing who is out there and what their specialisms are – and have the ability to bring them together.
In the middle of last year, through an innovation event supported by Isle Utilities, we were introduced to Abyss Solutions. We liked what they could do and had been speaking to Panton McLeod about a service that would benefit. Having made an introduction between the two, we then had the opportunity to work with the parties to trial a series of services combining the two technologies. The result was our problem solved, business relationships for them.
Recently, we’ve looked at the challenges associated with undertaking camera surveys through loose/fixed jumper hydrants. Across our network, a significant proportion of our hydrants are of this type.
Camera surveys through these assets has proven particularly problematic, with success rates so low that the solution to date has been the replacement with through-bore hydrant, which is a costly exercise.
However, by working with camera providers such as APi or Aquam and getting in a room with the hydrant manufacturer AVK, we have been working on an improved method of entry.
We have also had success in bringing suppliers together to work on new products tailored to our needs. For example, we have recently been working in collaboration with NIVUS, ATi and Swansea University to undertake a series of workshops identifying our operational requirements and considering solutions. These workshops we hope will develop into marketable products that the suppliers will hold the rights to – and for us, the benefit is seeing our operational challenges solved.
As an industry, we are also getting better at looking outwards to other sectors. For example, we have ongoing projects with companies that specialise in medical sciences, traditional manufacturing, robotics and aeronautics, telecommunications companies as well as those with more obvious similarities such as oil and gas. We are currently looking at joint innovation projects with Wales and West Utilities to consider remote field communications and asset condition monitoring.
With the opening up of the market, in terms of willingness to collaborate first and consider financials alongside rather than this being primary focus, the innovation arena is one that is exciting and energising. We believe those companies and service providers that actively engage in this space will be stronger and more adaptable to future change. It also means further developing relationships with each other through shared responsibility to the customer – those people we serve.
We have a unique position and opportunity – and we should grab it with both hands.
This article originally appeared in the October issue of WWT
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