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In April 2021, WaterStart hosted its second installment of CHANNELS Connect, our webinar series dedicated to the showcase of innovation in the global Water Industry. The theme of this latest installment was, ‘Infrastructure of Innovation’, whereby participants (WaterStart Members, Technology Portfolio Companies, Sponsors and Collaborators) were provided with the opportunity to engage with their peers to discuss the barriers their organizations face when it comes to structuring innovation activities. Participants met via Zoom and were offered the opportunity to rotate among three breakout discussions. The breakout discussions in this webinar were:
- Procurement: a necessary enabler?
- External Engagement: ten heads are better than one.
- Funding Innovation: the financial dilemma
The full recording of the webinar can be found below. Breakout rooms were not recorded to encourage open and honest dialogue.
Presenter: David Johnson Deputy General Manager, Operations (SNWA and LVVWD)
In his presentation, David spoke about the challenges of effectively managing his districts’ water supply and demand in a drought-driven, exponentially growing, city. To help face these challenges his organization(s) developed a new framework exclusively for innovation that relies on collaboration among both internal and external stakeholders to maximize the likelihood of technology adoption throughout all levels of their organization.
WaterStart facilitated three breakout rooms, each targeting a different challenge pertaining to the enablement of innovation. Participants rotated between three of the rooms, each rotation lasting 25-minutes. Each room was moderated by a different Member Lead, elected for their experience in the subject matter. Participants were encouraged to engage with their peers, exchange lessons and insights through an open and honest discussion. For this reason, breakout sessions were not recorded. The following are key themes discovered in each breakout room:
Procurement: a necessary enabler?
Moderator: Colin Chapman, Innovation Research & Development Manager, Urban Utilities
- Procurement is not only an enabler but is essential for delivery and adoption
- Successful and collaborative procurement enables you to remove roadblocks as shown in the COVID-19 pandemic where fast adaptation to changing circumstances was required and involving procurement early in the process enabled innovation to occur
- Education, ethics and integrity is key and trusting the supply community will ensure a high-quality procurement value chain
Funding Innovation: the financial dilemma
Moderator: Andrew Watkinson, Manager Strategy, Research & Performance, Seqwater
- Anything goes when it comes to funding, jump on opportunities when they arise.
- Try to find funding attached to another project
- Get the value from already allocated funds
- Trial and Error is essential to funding and knowing when to cut losses if needed.
- Don’t penalize employees if the new technology isn’t successful. This may discourage people from advocating for innovation.
- Engagement in a funding sense is important, gaining outside information offers funding opportunities through partnerships and engagements
- Leveraging smaller funding into bigger investments leads to improvement on return of investments.
External Engagement: ten heads are better than one
Moderated by: Wigs Mendoza and Peggy Vogt, Innovation Tech Scouts, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD)
- External engagement leads to awareness of innovation that already exists for specific problems.
- External engagement builds resilience and trust among the workforce.
- Empowers diversity and inclusions
- Friction may lead to new learning / encourages novel perspectives.
- Peer to peer communities and relationship development are key to external engagement, nurturing an ecosystem of like-minded individuals with common goals and values.
- Virtual technologies have been beneficial to fostering relationships. This has proven especially valuable over the past year (2020-21) in building trusted partnerships with international organizations.
Portfolio Presentation – Klir
Presenter: David Lynch, Chief Executive Officer, Klir
Managing a utility is difficult and contextual for the role of innovation. In his presentation, David highlighted the challenges of navigating innovation from a technology company’s perspective. Our members were left with sound advice for finding the right innovator for their companies to lead to future success with their innovation strategy from a company that is already in WaterStart’s portfolio. Thank you to Klir for being our Premiere Sponsor! Learn more about Klir at https://klir.io/ and learn more about their pilot at SNWA on CHANNELS, under Pilots.
Panel Discussion – Breakout Summary
Moderator: Andrew Kingsford, General Manager, WaterStart (AUS)
This panel discussion included brief overviews of each breakout room. Andrew presented questions to the moderators and audience about the nature of the problem of how organizations are dealing with procurement, funding, and external engagement in the context of delivering innovation.
Question: What was the biggest challenge(s) identified in their sessions?
- Streamlining procurement and ensuring it is understood across the organization is crucial to any future project’s success.
- Broad skill sets are often overlooked – don’t underestimate what the procurement team can bring to the table.
- We are in a dynamic, changing environment. Innovative procurement can involve the right people at the right time. Have the procurement team as your trusted advisors in innovation.
- Innovation is no longer a luxury, it is essential as a part of the core business.
- Finding the time to innovate and get involved in the process is often difficult but must be prioritized.
- The level of risk an organization is prepared to take can sometimes determine the level of innovation that is possible based on prevalent trending risks and organisational culture.
- Therefore funding innovation must take into account the benefits of solutions that solve problems. Barriers such as legacy standards, culture and existing funding models must be dealt with when assessing innovation requirements and implementing solutions that will take your organisation to the next level.
- External Engagement is currently not a great practice of utilities. Organizations are still learning and realizing the full potential of investing time in external engagement.
- Top executives are able to engage more easily than people at lower levels.
- Bringing in external engagers helps bring down internal barriers through diversified knowledge sources.
Additional key takeaways from the breakout rooms are summarized in the below video.