Sector needs 'bigger and bolder' approach - Ofwat's Russell
Radical change is needed if the water industry is to meet the serious challenges it is now facing, a British Water event heard.
With climate change, population growth and changing customer expectation already driving transformation, more needs to happen – and closer collaboration, while removing barriers to innovation, is key.
John Russell, Ofwat’s senior director of strategy & planning, said: "The sector needs to be bigger and bolder in its approach.
"The supply chain is crucial in ensuring the sector delivers the outcomes we all want to see, and collaboration is key. It’s exciting that so many conversations have started. It feels like we’re on the verge of something big."
Russell was among speakers at British Water’s Building Collaboration in the Water Industry event, supported by Ofwat and Xylem.
Over 100 delegates from across the industry gathered at the Institution of Civil Engineers in London, including representatives from eight water companies and from across the supply chain.
Eight also attended from Ofwat and speakers from the Consumer Council for Water and Department for International Trade made presentations.
Delegates agreed a “paradigm shift” was needed and closer working across the industry could have tangible benefits in many areas:
National innovation platform
Richard Collard, senior associate, strategy and policy, Ofwat, said: "Ofwat is pro innovation and innovation does not happen in a vacuum. What are the barriers to innovating in the sector? Do we need a centre of excellence, or a catalyst hub? Could we share data better? Shifts happens when lots of people in a room think of new ideas."
Alignment of pilot projects
The question was asked: could the sector work together more closely on pilots? Albert Cho, vice president and general manager of advanced infrastructure analytics, Xylem, said: “How do we make co-ordination better? There is something difficult about the repetitive nature of trials happening at the same time.
“There is a yearning for a coordinated approach but a fear of a loss of control. There is a balance between centralisation and empowerment.”
Create opportunities for smaller organisations
Smaller companies could be more agile and have fresh ideas but might struggle to get their feet in the door, the event heard.
Jimmy Carter, Department for International Trade, said: “There are so many clever ideas. We need to promote and adopt those ideas in the UK market first if we are going to convince people to trade with us. SMEs are less able to turn their ideas into reality. If you want to sell something overseas, you need to demonstrate you’ve done it someone else so, a message to water companies – be more proactive in adopting these innovations.”
Russell said: "The future is already here. There are technologies out there to address some of the issues but how do you get things out of the lab and into pilot phase? I’ll be thinking about access for smaller companies to help get them access to the bidding process. We need diversity. Not just the same old, same old."
Water scarcity messaging
It was agreed awareness of water scarcity must increase, and a joint voice is stronger.
Jason Howlett, managing director at Xylem, said: “We must reinforce the importance of water as an essential element of life. There is a growing threat to that service. We are in a period of the most significant change we’ve ever had in the country. The threats around us are the biggest they’ve been – but it’s also an opportunity. This is our time to create these new solutions.”
Reflecting on the day, Lila Thompson, chief executive at British Water, said she hoped delegates would take away some concrete actions.
"The numbers show there is a genuine desire for closer collaboration," she said. "Some great ideas for greater cooperation and innovation have been shared, such as the creation of a national innovation platform, and British Water is keen that this enables our members to get access to funds to take ideas forward with key stakeholders in the industry.
"It’s a challenging time for the sector but there are also new opportunities to explore, so let’s engage the industry to respond to the Ofwat consultation on Emerging Strategy and innovation. Let’s help make a difference and keep talking to change the way we do things for future generations."
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