In early December, EIC Water Innovation Engineer, Beth Ronald, attended the WWT Water Industry Innovation Conference in Birmingham. As the ‘UK’s most established conference for innovation professionals focused on embracing cultural transformation and game-changing technology in water,’ Beth went along to find out more about the latest trends in water innovation.
With over 20 expert speakers, 200 industry delegates and more than 15 water companies in attendance, the WWT Water Industry Innovation Conference is always a significant event in the water industry’s calendar. As one of the EIC’s Water Innovation Engineers, I was excited to join key members of the industry and find out more about how we might help drive innovation in the water sector.
The conference acts as a brilliant forum to hear all about the different approaches to innovation and everything that is being done to encourage it within the water industry. This year, it was really refreshing to listen to Chris Thomas, Head of Business Improvement and Innovation at Bristol Water, who headed up the event with his ‘Story of an Innovator’ presentation.
Chris provided a clear demonstration of the different pathways and difficulties innovators can face when trying to get a product developed and implemented in the water industry, ranging from funding to accessing the industry. We are really aware of at these challenges at the EIC as we work with innovators, particularly SMEs, on a daily basis so it was great to hear them being recognised by the water industry.
The day was full of interesting workshops and seminars, and there were lots of fantastic opportunities to network with water company representatives and innovators from the sector - it was great to see so many familiar faces and companies among the attendees! For me, one of the most valuable workshops of the day had to be the ‘Partnership Working Workshop’. This was particularly insightful as it explored the process of innovation from the perspectives of the water companies, as well as innovators working within the sector.
For innovators, key concerns were surrounding the time it took to get innovations into the industry. They felt that there was a slower uptake of innovative projects within the water sector, and that water companies were more likely to take on innovation projects that were low-risk and provided incremental changes, as opposed to more disruptive projects that were seen as high-risk but could provide transformational solutions. These sentiments were also echoed by the water companies themselves; in the 2019 Innovation in the Water Industry survey, WWT found that on a whole, organisations characterised 69.7% of the innovation they carried out as incremental, with only 30.3% of innovation being disruptive. Water companies also felt that they were great at sharing knowledge between themselves, but that often, this didn’t necessarily lead to action. They felt that more collaboration between companies was needed in order to increase engagement with innovators and to drive progress within the sector.
This is again something we are very familiar with at the EIC. From experience, we know it is important having an independent third party driving collaboration. As each utility will be driven by pace and priorities of their own business, having an independent advocate ensures everyone is aligned, and that projects remain on target.
Overall, it’s clear that the water industry is taking steps in the right direction to encourage innovation, but there are still many opportunities for improvements to be made. Measures such as Ofwat’s announcement of the £200 million funding for innovation projects are hugely positive for innovators in the sector but there are still other obstacles that need to be addressed. It was great to see evidence of the positive strides being made to tackle these challenges, and events such as the WWT Water Industry Innovation Conference seem to play a vital role in encouraging reflective thinking within the industry and bringing people together to face these obstacles head on.
The event was really beneficial as it broadened my knowledge on the current areas of innovation that the industry is focusing on. It also provided a unique insight into the water companies’ opinions on innovation processes and the ways in which they are looking to carry out more innovative projects and initiatives in the future. This enables us to support our water partners better, as well as highlighting potential opportunities for cross-sector collaboration.
Read about Beth's trip to Amsterdam for Aquatech 2019 here.
Follow Beth on LinkedIn here.