Q&A: United Utilities Innovation Lab Experience

Earlier this year SME Water took part in United Utilities’ Innovation Lab 3 (2020/21). With applications now open for their 2022 Innovation Lab, we interviewed our Managing Director, Stuart Mawditt, to find out more about his experience as a participant and find out how it has benefited the business.

Q: What did you like most about the lab?

The energy that the United Utilities Innovation Team brought to the process was a real breath of fresh air. They were a pleasure to work with and ensured the process went well from start to finish, making sure we had all the resources we needed and access to all their technical specialists.

Having L Marks working alongside us, and separate from Untied Utilities, gave us a sounding board for ideas and a route for resolving any issues that might have arisen. Fortunately, we didn’t need this, but having them and their network available to supply technical guidance was a great reassurance throughout the process and we saw some great presentations from some specialist companies.

Q: What was the idea that you put forward to the Innovation lab?

We had been working with Essex and Suffolk Water to create a component demand model, which allowed us to understand the impacts that individual behaviour changes, such as Ramadan or school holidays, have on customers water usage. We could see that we were getting good insight into customer consumptions but needed more data to allow us to improve our analysis and use it to predict demand.

We proposed to United Utilities to produce a more detailed model and explore how it could deliver insight to their leakage teams, to help them separate customer demand from leakage.

Q: How has the Innovation Lab helped your business?

Working closely with the subject matter experts in United Utilities has helped us to realise that the insight we are delivering from our analysis has much wider applications. As well as the leakage targeting and reporting, there are opportunities for production planning, smart control of pumps and tanks, and the identification of unaccounted for customer demand. This increased scope has helped turn the insight and proposed model into a commercially viable solution, and a valuable part of the solution for United Utilities’ systems thinking aspirations.

Following the work completed in the lab, and with other UK clients, we have created Paradigm, a standard product to undertake demand analysis and forecasting. We are currently working with United Utilities to implement this within their business operations. We are expecting to have this running live within their systems from early 2022, predicting customer demand and delivering insight for a much wider group of stakeholders.

The Innovation Lab has really turbo-charged our idea and helped us to establish a viable commercial product which can deliver some real benefits to water companies with smart network aspirations.

Q: What have you learnt personally from the process?

As a small business this was one of the first times we had gone through a formal tender process, and I was really impressed with the support from both L Marks and United Utilities.

One of the challenges I faced as part of the Innovation Lab was turning a 30-minute detailed presentation into a 5-minute pitch video. Coming from an engineering background, I have a tendency to focus on the detail of our solutions when presenting to prospective clients. Unfortunately, these details aren’t always relevant for the audience I am presenting to, and (shockingly) not everyone shares my passion for the detail! L Marks arranged a 1:1 session with one of their specialists who went through the pitch with me, helping me to pull out the key points and re-organise them to create an engaging overall video.

I think this was invaluable in us being successful in the pitch process and this learning has enabled me to make sure that I think about how I can tailor my presentations to the audience in future. I think it’s fantastic that United Utilities and L Marks have recognised that previous tender experience might be a barrier for companies and have taken steps to make sure support was available if needed.

Click here to find out more about what the other suppliers thought about Innovation Lab 3.

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