The challenge laid down by Ofwat to develop a strategy to guide the delivery of transformational innovation in the areas where rapid progress is most needed has been taken on with energy and enthusiasm by the water sector. The publication of the UK’s first innovation strategy lays a path for a very different future for water in the UK and there has been no shortage of collaboration along the way – something which we at UKWIR have had the privilege of facilitating.
It is, I hope, a defining moment for the sector and one which will fundamentally change how we work together in the future to deliver for more for customers, society, and the environment. It will enable the sector to scale-up innovation more efficiently, avoiding duplication and ensuring our combined effort is focused on the areas that will deliver the greatest transformation.
For the first time we can see the full picture of the innovation landscape across the UK and beyond, with the links between the many and varied organisations with a role to play set out to help us navigate our way through it. This is a web of opportunity for all involved and will be crucial to the successful delivery of the strategy. In particular, I am excited by the prospect of it creating a more strategic relationship with academia, where many of the fledgling ideas and research begins. UKWIR already benefits from strong partnerships in this area, as do many of the companies. The strategy however has the potential to take this to another level and to embed universities at the heart of our innovation agenda and delivering many mutual benefits.
The vision and roadmap that the strategy provides will no doubt improve the way in which the water industry engages with other sectors – to share learnings and experiences of their innovation work and to identify opportunities to collaborate on shared issues. I also believe it will drive a much more positive relationship with the supply chain around innovation, an area where currently the sector is falling short according to British Water’s latest survey. I hope it provides a platform for genuine partnership and encourages start-ups and SMEs to bring their ideas and energy to the table along with a fresh perspective on the challenges faced by the industry.
The strategy transcends Ofwat’s innovation fund, although this will be a key enabler of the innovation that it delivers. Its broad focus and collaborative approach will provide much more opportunity to unlock new sources of funding and bring them into the sector – delivering far greater value for companies and customers alike.
From an UKWIR perspective it breathes new life into our Big Questions – the strategic programme of research we are already delivering with our member companies. They are integrated into the key themes identified by the strategy and will help to provide the evidence base that drives the change we need to see. I believe the strategy will be the catalyst to take this evidence and turn it into innovation, whether that be through technological advancements, regulatory change or new business processes.
This is the start of a new journey. I hope that colleagues from within the sector are excited by the opportunities the strategy promotes and that partners and stakeholders outside are encouraged and inspired to get involved. Hearing what you think will be vital as we take the next steps to turn the words into reality. If you care about the future of water, then we care about what you think https://waterinnovation2050.org.uk/