Fast progress at Northumbrian Water’s Innovation Festival sprints


Recently, we saw the return of Northumbrian Water’s famous Innovation Festival hosted at Newcastle racecourse. It brought together colleagues from across the UK water sector, suppliers, partners and celebrity guests.

The event is made up of a series of ‘sprints’. These are defined as focussed, time-constrained processes to speed up problem solving and solution development.  They set the ambitious aim of completing ‘a year's worth of work in a week’, to solve some of the key challenges facing the sector.

Colleagues from the Bluewave innovation team attended the event, taking part in sprints focussing on supporting our vulnerable customers, identifying new ways to help customers to use less water and improving the mapping of our wastewater assets. It was great to make new connections with colleagues from both inside and outside the industry, as well as suppliers and businesses with interesting solutions.

We were thrilled to co-facilitate the ‘HMS Sewer’ sprint alongside colleagues from 1spatial, Northumbrian Water and Yorkshire Water. This sprint aimed to build a hybrid approach to improve the mapping of our sewer assets. Having a clear picture of our assets is key to us identifying issues proactively and planning maintenance effectively. Many of our assets were built decades ago, meaning it can be difficult to identify their location without using invasive and expensive techniques. The sprint aimed to identify non-invasive and more cost-effective technologies that could work together to increase the accuracy of our mapped network.

A brief breakdown of the HMS Sewer sprint:

Day 1

Day 1 was focussed on understanding the problem of our unmapped assets. We heard from different teams impacted by this, including sewer maintenance, misconnections and frontline customer teams. Each water company presented specific challenges for their own region, to give everyone a view of the problem we needed to solve.

In the afternoon, we saw the network in action, as colleagues from Northumbrian water sewer inspection teams showed us a typical visit to spot a misconnection and to fix a blockage.

Day 2

On Day 2 we held our own version of ‘Dragon's Den’, inspired by a talk earlier in the week by official Dragon, Sara Davies. Our five previously shortlisted suppliers pitched their solutions in the morning before answering some tough questions from our dragons in the afternoon. In the evening we took to the main stage to talk about our sprint and some of the key takeaways so far.

Day 3

Day 3 focussed on building the business case for why we needed to invest in new approaches, and we discussed the technical feasibility of a new hybrid solution. The day ended with a wrap up and some warm words from attendees about their takeaways from the event.

It was brilliant to bring together over 50 people for the HMS Sewer sprint. This sprint was just the start of our work together, as we continue to explore how we can take the ideas forward that we generated across the three days and carry on building better ways to map our networks. We're already looking forward to next year’s Innovation Festival!

Want to learn more about the Bluewave team or have a solution to any of the challenges mentioned above? Contact [email protected] - we’d love to talk further.