Innovation Lab - the halfway point

They say time flies when you’re having fun and that’s certainly been the case for the United Utilities Innovation Lab now in week 5, we’re at the midpoint of the Programme. Midpoint provides a perfect opportunity to reflect on progress made as well as starting to look ahead to the end of the Programme culminating in Demo Day taking place in early December 2019.

So far we’ve heard from some of the teams taking part, this week we’re catching up with Laura Conroy, Innovation Programme Manager at United Utilities and Emma Marshall Transformation Lead, Entrepreneurship of innovation partner L Marks to hear their thoughts on the Lab.

We’re at the midpoint of the Programme, how are you feeling?

Laura - Fantastic – seeing all the enthusiasm from the teams is energising. The time and effort being put in from the supplier teams, core teams and sponsors is great. It’s clear we are all working towards the same goal seeing everyone collaborating and co-creating in such a short space of time. 

We are seeing great relationships being built to not just the individual teams but all of the 8 suppliers working together sharing tips and taking time out to get to know what each other is up to.

Emma – I’m feeling really good, last week we had our midpoint event where the teams were able to update UU on their progress. The teams have been working incredibly hard on delivering their scopes and we’re now at the stage where live trials will be taking place and thoughts turn to Demo Day and what the suppliers want to showcase.

How do you feel the teams are progressing this year?

Laura - We’ve just had our midpoint session and a sneak peak of what to expect for demo day. From building test sites, validating findings to deploying new technology for the first time. Lots has happened in such a short space of time

Everyone who was there at pitch day was invited to see how the teams were progressing. It’s clear to see how each of the teams are working to improve our service performance and how they have the potential to contribute to accelerating our systems thinking strategy.

Emma – I feel like the teams are making really solid progress, there’s been a couple of bumps along the way but that’s to be expected in a process of this nature, the most important thing is overcoming challenges quickly and efficiently, so teams don’t lose momentum and I’m pleased to say that that’s what’s happened, which is a testament to the collaboration between UU and the suppliers.

Is there anything we’re seeing this time round that we didn’t see with cohort 1?

Laura - This time we have seen more teams basing themselves on site – this means more time for collaboration not only with UU but between the teams which is a great fringe benefit to what we’re doing.

It’s also our second time doing this so we have been able to anticipate things better and be better prepared. One of our learnings from last time was to make sure we know exactly what the plan for each team was before day 1. By making the most of the on boarding time before they started in the Lab programme, this has got us off to a flying start – and we have made more progress and gone faster with more teams than in Lab 1. 

Emma – Just to echo what Laura’s said seeing more collaboration with this year’s cohort which has been refreshing and not something we usually see in the Programmes we run, this is possible because 5 of the teams have been working from UU’s Innovation Centre more frequently than in Lab 1 – they seem to get more from the Lab 2 programme. We are also seeing more opportunities where we as L Marks can leverage our network to help the teams in a general business sense, for example with fundraising – we recently held an investment workshop and some of the teams will be attending our Investors Day.

The level of commitment and engagement from UU in Lab 2 has been outstanding and this is a massive contributing factor to the progress the teams are making.

Laura – To add to Emma’s last point, our chosen ideas are more digitally-centric than Lab 1 which is exactly what we were looking for. The Lab programme is a chance for the Innovation Team to work with more employees from UU – there are some new employees and they are equally enthusiastic about innovation.

As we know it’s the second Innovation Lab, what is it about this process that works in terms of benefiting UU and what is it important for the water sector to look to be constantly innovation and engaging with innovative agile companies?

Laura – What was good yesterday won’t be good enough tomorrow. We have to innovate to enable us to do that, not just in terms of efficiency but also from the quality of service we give our customers. How we embrace our technology to enable our customers to be closer to the service we provide and to enable us to keep moving the dial on is what the Lab programme is all about. We’ve seen from the success stories of Lab 1 that whilst it is hard work and a bit commitment this process does provide tremendous value both to UU and the suppliers we support.

We still have 6 weeks left of the Programme before Demo Day, what are you hoping to see from the teams between now and then?

We’re getting to the point of the Programme where the majority of live trials will take place – this is where the suppliers will get their solutions validated in a live or controlled environment.  We’ll also start to build business cases and looking ahead of Demo Day deciding who we think we’ll want to continue working with and in what capacity, some of our teams are getting close to being awarded contracts – so they will be scaling up to meet the demand. After that, we’ll turn our attention to working with those suppliers who didn’t make the final 8 – but have great ideas that we want to consider.

Keep an eye out on our website for developments and blogs from the teams.