Water Journal : Current May 2017
I t’s not uncommon to hear people say that being innovative is not in their remit – that it’s the realm of creative types. The truth is that more than ever, innovation is making its way into a wide range of job descriptions, across a variety of functions. This prompts the question: Are innovators born, or made? The answer is both, in which case it pays to cast a wide net. That’s because innovation can arise from the most unlikely sources, said Dr Marlene Kanga, a board member of Innovation Science Australia and Sydney Water. “Employees, contractors and customers can be a source of great ideas. It’s best for organisations to be open to innovation and facilitate how these can be put forward and tested,” she said. GAINING MOMENTUM Water utilities have coasted for decades using traditional business practices, but Kanga warned the industry could find itself at a disadvantage if it’s unprepared for disruptions like those that have completely up-ended other industries. “It’s important for the industry to be proactive and consider what these disruptions might be and then develop strategies to accommodate them,” she said. Queensland Urban Utilities (QUU) is one water utility that’s leading the way, as acknowledged when it was listed on BRW’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies List for 2015. The utility is very young by industry standards – formed in July 2010 – so they had to adopt an innovative approach from the get-go in order to compete against more established players. “All businesses need to generate a competitive edge, and it has to be from within,” said QUU’s Innovation, Research & Development Manager Colin Chapman. “For decades the water industry has employed a traditional approach: invest strongly in assets and build things that will last 100 years. Today it’s more about maintaining affordability, and having flexible and agile options. The mindset has shifted.” City West Water (CWW) is another utility diving into more forward-thinking approaches. The Victorian Government- owned retail water business just hired its first ever chief information officer. It’s a critically important role, said Managing Director David Ryan, and one that will help the organisation get on the front foot technologically. “Customer expectations are changing enormously, and a way to deliver extra value is through technology. This is a field that is changing frequently, and so we wanted someone to bring in the best thinking from outside our organisation,” he said. Technological innovation is also allowing CWW to be proactive about asset management, and even anticipating problems before they arise, said Ryan. “It will help us understand the condition of our assets better so we can renew and replace them at the right time.” Innovation helps organisations better manage other assets as well – namely its people. Chapman said that nurturing and encouraging talent to think differently and put their hand up helps retain staff and attract better talent. In fact, ABS figures collected in 2012-13 show that twice the proportion of businesses that undertook some sort of innovation activity – regardless of whether those innovations were implemented within the year – reported an increase in productivity compared to those that didn’t. A PERFECT MATCH Innovation hubs, chief innovation officers, innovation workshops ... there are many ways to approach this issue, said Dr Kanga. Some are large and far-reaching; others can be small and targeted. The trick is to figure out what will work best within your organisation’s culture.
Current Feb 2017
Current August 2017