From artificial assistants to pollution-busting trees, NWG Innovation Festival delivers new ideas

14.07.2017

Water regulators have praised a unique week-long festival of innovation as playing a pivotal role in delivering future industry improvements and developments.

Pictures show Heidi Mottram, Chief Executive of Northumbrian Water Group, and the invited audience that witnessed the presentation of ideas.

Northumbrian Water’s NWG Innovation Festival has brought around 1,000 people, including delegates from around the world, to the North East, to find new ways of tackling important issues that affect us all.

Some of the world’s biggest names in business have been leading the ideas hunt, including IBM, Microsoft, Ordnance Survey, BT, CGI Group and Reece Innovation. The NWG Innovation Festival has taken place over five days at Newcastle Racecourse.

At the end of a long week looking at challenges such as flooding, leakage, 21st century infrastructure, green cities, mobile working, and working in 2030, hundreds of ideas were streamlined to produce 18 key projects that can be taken forward and developed.

A summary of the ideas presented is at the bottom of the release.

Business leaders joined academics and Northumbrian Water customers with first-hand experience of the problems being tackled, all bringing their own different perspective on the issues.

Carl Pheasey, Director of Strategy and Policy at water industry regulator Ofwat, said: “I think the idea is fantastic and it’s very timely, because the launch of PR19 this week – where Ofwat has outlined the areas we believe the water industry should put its focus on – puts a lot of emphasis on innovation and so this is the sort of event that I think we probably want to see more of in the future.

“It’s really impressive and it looks like Northumbrian Water have worked really hard to put on a good event that is aiming to get really good outcomes and substantive thinking out of the sprints and that’s great.

“There is definitely something about collaboration that is really important to doing innovation well. We have talked quite a bit recently about the importance of collaboration both within and beyond the industry.

“My limited experience of these sorts of processes in other sectors is that the really good innovative ideas come out when you get people from very different backgrounds and frames of reference coming together and trying to take a fresh look at how to solve long-standing problems. So, getting people from lots of different sectors together to think about things afresh is really great.”

Heidi Mottram, Chief Executive of Northumbrian Water, said: “The amount of time you spend tackling problems over the course of the year adds up to a lot of working hours. The NWG Innovation Festival has enabled us to achieve that in five days.

“We’ve heard about some very impressive developments that have come out of the work that has been taking place at the NWG Innovation Festival and it will continue when we all return to work on Monday.

“There is a lot of hard work still to be done in delivering these ideas but we are convinced that the spirit of collaboration and innovation will continue long after the festival has closed, because these are important issues that deserve the continued focus of all involved.”

Ideas presented at the end of the NWG Innovation Festival included:

‘Rain, Hail or Shine’: How can we reduce flooding? Led by headline sponsor IBM

• Members of the public who would work closely with relevant agencies and help to keep communities informed, to help reduce flood risk and enable people to be better supported when they are affected.

• The creation of an agency that links directly with customers to give and receive bespoke information on flooding, helping to reduce flood risk.

• A collaborative approach to reducing the surface water that runs from the landscape into water courses.

• A system that utilises artificial intelligence technology to deliver bespoke flood information to users, so they are better informed about how to respond when problems occur.

‘Keep It Flowing’: What do we know about leakage from water pipes and how can we fix it? Led by NWG, alongside a Microsoft-led Hackathon of data relating to leakage.

• A tool that allows water companies to focus their efforts on areas where the biggest impact on leakage reduction can be made.

• A system that will allow water companies to more closely monitor its network of pipes, highlighting deterioration and areas of risk before leaks happen.

• The use of mobile apps that allow members of the public to report leaks with greater accuracy, using geospatial technology.

• Hackathon: More collaboration with experts outside of the sector, using the power of data to deliver a better customer service.

‘Preparing for the Future’: How do we upgrade our infrastructure for the 21st Century effectively and affordably? Led by headline sponsor Reece Innovation

• Greater sharing of information between businesses, to ensure that services can be delivered in a way that better suits customers, with a particular focus upon those members of the public who are vulnerable and need additional support.

• Sensor mapping technology that improves knowledge of the various service infrastructure, such as gas, electricity and water, that lies beneath the ground.

• The introduction of a system where communities can tell companies, such as those that deliver services, what is important to them. This would enable businesses to better understand and provide for the needs of those communities.

• The introduction of shared infrastructure corridors, allowing different businesses to use the same pipes for their services, improving information sharing and reducing the impact upon the public of maintenance.

• The use of technology such as fibre optics to improve the data available on utilities networks, particularly focusing on pipes and cables beneath the ground, to allow companies to identify problems more quickly and understand what is going on underground.

‘Tomorrow’s World’: What will living and working look like in 2030? Led by headline sponsor CGI

• A ‘life assistant’ that filters through the increasing volumes of information, from such areas as e-mail and social media, to prioritise what is delivered to users when.

• Infrastructure that allows people to work in the environment of their choosing, or a personalised workspace, without becoming detached from their team.

• An personalised artificial intelligence device to learn about the environments and schedules that best suit the wearer, helping them to adapt their working practices accordingly.

• An artificially intelligent system that links with digital personal assistants, such as Alexa, Cortana and Siri, to liaise with service providers, such as plumbers or handymen, save home owners’ from having to do so directly.

‘How Green is Your City?’: What can businesses do to improve the environment in the North East? Led by headline sponsor Ordnance Survey

• Installing special ‘moss trees’, which absorb pollution, into towns and cities. The trees would also help to reduce surface water that might enter sewers and contribute towards flooding. This idea will be entered into Ordnance Survey’s Geovation Challenge in October, alongside hundreds of other ideas from around the world, where it will compete for funding that will help it to realise its potential.

• A text message and app system that will alert people to opportunities to car share, work from home or an alternative location, and advise on time, money and carbon savings.

‘21st Century Reach’: How can we optimise a mobile workforce for a complex network business? Led by headline sponsor BT

• Creating a single, integrated system, that brings together all of the information necessary for a particular job, from details of the work, the tools needed, recordings of the initial call from the customer, previous jobs at that location, and even training videos.

More information about the NWG Innovation Festival is available at www.innovationfestival.org.

For further media information, call 0191 3015678.

Northumbrian Water Limited supplies 2.7 million customers in the North East with both water and sewerage services, trading as Northumbrian Water, and 1.8 million customers in the South East with water services, trading as Essex & Suffolk Water.

In the most recent survey by the Consumer Council for Water, Northumbrian Water was named the UK’s most trusted water company by its customers. 2017 also saw Northumbrian Water named the world’s most ethical water company for the seventh successive year.

Abbey Road, Pity Me, Durham DH1 5FJ. Telephone 0345 6047468. Website: www.nwl.co.uk

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