BreakOuts: Don’t give up innovating, water sector told
Event Europe Digital Solutions

BreakOuts: Don’t give up innovating, water sector told

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Strong registration for Aquatech’s online event launch

An improved perception and culture around remote working. A renewed effort to improve digital skills, in the field and office. And a stronger need for cross-industry collaboration.

Those were some of the key messages from an expert panel of speakers who came together this week to deliver the first Aquatech #BreakOuts online event.

Nearly 800 people, including water utilities, engineering companies and solution providers from 86 countries signed up for the live and interactive session.

BreakOuts brought together a healthy mix of water utilities, global engineering companies, solutions providers and associations, across Europe, the Americas, Asia and the Middle East.

Panellists included:

  • Julia Braune, General Manager, German Water Partnership (GWP), Germany
  • Meriem Riadi, Chief Digital Officer (CDO), SUEZ Group, France
  • Yossi Yaacoby, VP of Engineering, Mekorot, Israel
  • Moderator: Tom Freyberg, Content Director, Aquatech Global Events, UK.

Answering a poll question ‘How will Covid-19 impact water technology innovation?’ - the audience responded:

  • It will accelerate innovation (45 per cent)
  • It won’t impact at all (2 per cent)
  • It will slow down innovation (6 per cent)
  • It’s still too early to tell (22 per cent)
  • (Abstained from the vote) (25 per cent).

The crisis is accelerating digital adoption

"Innovation is at the core of our strategy, and that is not going to change – it will be accelerated further, especially with digital," remarked Kjelds.

The chief digital information officer explained how the second largest utility in Denmark, which provides water and wastewater services to 500,000 people, has “fully embraced the necessary changes in communication and digital technologies”.

Aarhus Vand was already on the path towards making project work become more digital, but the crisis has accelerated that move, he added.

“We’ve learned a lot of lessons from the past three months,” said Kjelds. “There’s been a demand for increasing our competencies. From workers out in the field to the office – we’ve seen a surge in upgrading our digital skills.

“Also, in terms of access to data and new IT technologies, we're going to see a push in terms of digital innovation – I firmly believe that.”

He asked the question: “How can we leverage the new energy that will come out of this crisis? We’re very hopeful for what this can bring to our utility ecosystem, including the partners we work with.”

Reinventing business models

Meriem Riadi said the pandemic has really helped to improve perceptions of remote working, as well as internal communication.

“The crisis has led to tremendous progress in how we work across the whole spectrum of internal digital transformation,” she told the audience.

“It’s changed the perception around the phrase “home office”, so I think there will be a tremendous change after the crisis has passed in the culture and way of working.”

The CDO presented details of the company’s ‘Digital Hub’, designed to help accelerate start-up technologies internally, and linked this to Suez’s three digital pillars: Digital customer experience, Performance & Data and New business models.

She believes the crisis will also help to spark new business models.

“There is a strong pressure in the costs due to the crisis,” she added. “All projects related to performance and data will be accelerated, and I believe that reinventing asset-light business models will be a key priority for us."

Don’t give up innovating in water

Mekorot’s VP of engineering, Yossi Yaacoby, said that the industry continues to need innovation but that it will take "a different shape".

“Innovation is still here – don’t give up,” he told the audience.

In an earlier interview with Aquatech Online, Yaacoby reported that around 95 per cent of the water company’s 2200 employees were successfully working remotely.

In BreakOuts, he said: “There is the added stress to some start-ups in the way they can operate and finance activity, but still we need innovation – it’s critical. We need to shift away from suggesting innovation should fall to any utility, or company, or equipment supplier. We need more and more [innovation] from digital companies.”

Strengthening industry alliances

Julia Braune, managing director of GWP, said the pandemic gives us a chance to help improve collaboration between sectors and borders.

“We should use this crisis as a chance to rethink the way we’re doing business,” she said.

“I believe for the future we should look for more and stronger alliances and closer collaboration, not just between municipal utilities and the manufacturers but also the innovative young start-ups and entrepreneurs.”

The managing director of GWP, which represents 350 companies across the German water supply chain, added: “I believe this is the way to solve the global challenges that lie ahead of us, whether it’s an economic recession or climate change, or fighting the next pandemic. But it's definitely a chance."

- To watch the recording of the first BreakOuts, or sign up for the next edition, visit:

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