Answering the Big Questions

Steve Kaye, CEO at UK Water Industry Research (UKWIR) talks about how innovation can flourish across the sector to help answer the ‘Big Questions’.

If there’s one thing that all those working across the water sector agree on, it’s the need for innovation to continue to drive change, deliver better outcomes and increase value for customers, the environment and society.

The water sector is one which continues to innovate and the work of organisations such as UKWIR has helped the industry to significantly improve its service. UKWIR’s research has led to new and better ways of doing things, in areas from leakage to pollution, and has supported individual companies who also work with academia and the supply chain to discover, trial and implement new solutions – sharing their learnings across the sector.

Innovation has often been incremental, with companies at times working in isolation and not leading the adoption of new tools and techniques. With the challenges we are facing – population growth, climate change, ageing assets, increasing customer expectations and environmental protection – it’s time for us to take a more radical approach that will help innovation flourish across the sector.

Innovation means implementing new ideas, creating dynamic products or improving our existing services. Ideas could come from many places, including academia, the supply chain, water company employees, stakeholders and other sectors. In its emerging strategy, Ofwat talks about how it could facilitate the adoption of new tools and techniques and options have been put forward in its recent consultation on driving transformational innovation that include ring-fenced funding, rewarding companies that successfully innovate and stimulating innovation through competition.

I agree with the idea of taking a more centralised approach to support high-priority innovation for the sector – including dedicated funding to support the end-to-end innovation process. This would help us target the large gaps in areas where greater collaboration and co-ordination for the benefit of customers and the environment is essential.

This will allow us to continue to encourage an open approach to innovation where it is needed most, without stopping individual companies progressing projects to drive benefits for their customers.

When we look across other sectors there are different attitudes to innovation. In Formula 1 the culture is to learn from failure. This is something that the water sector will need to be more accepting of if it’s going to make the big leaps in innovation needed. However, failing is one thing but recognising this early and moving on quickly is essential too if companies are to protect customers and facilitate swift progress.

The biggest opportunity a more centralised approach will bring is to enable greater collaboration, both within and beyond the sector, around common challenges and securing funding for those projects that will have the most industry-wide impact. Several heads are definitely better than one.

By creating a central platform and strategy for research and innovation we have the opportunity to reach much further to find the best brains, learn from and build on what others have done, leverage new sources of funding and drive the transformation the sector needs to deliver excellence, value and stewardship.

UKWIR’s work to date, links across and beyond the UK water sector and our ambitious Big Question programme means we are well placed to support the industry on this journey.

Read: Find out more about UKWIR’s Big Questions programme in ‘Answering the Big Questions – how research and innovation will drive transformation across the water sector

Find out more about UKWIR – and follow them on twitter and LinkedIn

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