Making Waves: How Datatecnics want to revolutionise the world of water

Innovation is currently one of the hot topics within our industry. Ofwat’s Spark Innovation campaign, for example, has set out to encourage discussion throughout the sector by asking experts and professionals to share their experience and knowledge.

Over the forthcoming weeks, we will be speaking to seven companies who are currently working with us as part of our Innovation Lab programme. Through seven close-up interviews, we look to find out more about their ideas, what innovation means to them and how working together can help disrupt the way we think about our services and day to day work lives.

The first business we spoke to was Datatecnics, a technology company based in Birmingham. “We’re a company who have set out to revolutionise global infrastructure markets” explains Suhayl Zulfiquar, the company’s Chief Operating Officer.

Here’s what Suhayl had to tell us about his company’s product and his thoughts on innovation…

Hi Suhayl, could you explain your Innovation Lab idea to us…

Two years ago we noticed that the regulatory environment within the UK was changing quite significantly. In particular, there was a massive push from Ofwat to reduce leakage in the UK’s water supply.

In an environment where water is increasingly becoming a scarce commodity, we wanted to ask whether there was a more efficient way to protect the assets of our operators.

That idea really stuck with us and, from that, we set about developing a variant of our flagship product -- the ‘Critical Infrastructure Pipeline Protection System®’ – specifically for the water industry. What “CIPPS®” allows us to do, at its most fundamental level, is to take an inert pipe surface – whether that’s cast iron, ductile iron, PVC, PET or any other material – and transform it into a digitally reporting environment with the ability to predict failure before it occurs.

How will your idea benefit the consumer?

I think it’s a fair assumption, in developed economies, that when we come home from a day at work and want to boil the kettle or take a shower, we expect that the water services will be there. But we’ve all had those experiences where the water supply hasn’t come through, or there has been some sort of pressure loss, and we quickly realise to what extent we take our water supply for granted.

Water is so fundamental to our lives, but we seem to have this assumption [as the consumer] that it’s just going to be there. As populations rise, as urban cities become more and more dense, and the infrastructure network beneath us becomes more and more aged, inevitably what we’ll find is that these networks and the operators themselves become much more stressed. CIPPS® ensures that, in the future, those networks will be intelligent and resilient. More than anything, we’re ensuring that we will continue to have water coming through our taps because we are protecting the core assets that transport water from reservoir to tap.

In short, we are trying to ensure that those who supply the water to us have the information they need to make sure that we, as the end user, continue to get the water that we rely upon - it really is that simple.

Are you enjoying being part of the Innovation Lab?

More than anything, we are grateful. For a small company, receiving the opportunity to engage with a large corporate is usually very difficult. It’s tough to break into that space, so when the opportunity does arise, it’s fantastic.

It’s great to get up close with the problems you are hoping to address. For us, we’ve got this exciting piece of technology that we’re looking to install and revolutionise global infrastructure markets with, so to be given the opportunity to do that is fantastic.

What was it that attracted you to the Innovation Lab?

It’s the nature of the Lab itself. For us, it’s brilliant [as a company] to get the chance to work with a large corporate and make sure that, ultimately, what we are developing will have a real, tangible benefit to people’s lives. When we’re going out and developing products, the most difficult thing tends to be simply getting the data to characterise the problem as veraciously as possible – so we can make sure that we have got a solution that the end user actually wants. Typically, that information tends to be held up in the nooks and crannies of large companies, so being able to have access to that is significant for us.

How do you see your product developing through the Innovation Lab?

I think because the time scale is so short, you have to focus on what you are trying to deliver. That’s why one of the things we have made sure is that we don’t promise everything that the world contains within the 10-week period.

For us, these 10 weeks are about working together with United Utilities to demonstrate why this technology should form part of the future of water networks. We have a really rigorous use case: it is defined, we know what we are going to do and we will deliver on that output. We will look to scale the company over the coming years and that will be, in large part, because of this initial support from United Utilities.

Where do you see your product in two years?

As far as the idea is concerned, we will have completed the full product development, and will have entered into the market. From there, the product should start to gain real traction in the UK and, thereafter, across the globe.

Although the aspirations start for us in the UK, we really want to help the UK economy grow - as a UK business - by having a global output. We will look to grow the product over the course of the next 9-12 months by getting it to a point where it’s ready to be sold and is fully commercialised. Then we can go out and start selling our technologies and growing the company.

As far as the relationship goes with United Utilities, it will always be a very special one: they were the first utility company to endorse our vision for the future of pipleine infrastructure. They immediately understood that this was a long-term aspiration and they were also aware of their own need to plan for the future.

What does innovation mean to you in three words?

I would probably say “creativity”, “clarity”, and “necessity.”

Innovation is a funny concept. Even though the topic, itself, has become a recurrent theme in recent years, in the industrial sense, it’s not anything new. We, as humans, have been inventing and innovating for as long as we’ve been on planet Earth. We are, by nature, curious creatures. We like to say “here’s a problem, how can we solve it by thinking up new solutions?” So the concept of innovation, itself, is fundamental to the human experience.

As a company, we at Datatecnics are driven to ensure that innovation is inculcated within our core ethos; we are eager to make sure that everything we do addresses real problems to better lives. I think the Lab, and all of the people within the Lab, are proof that many peoples’ lives can be improved economically, socially and even physically, in terms of bodily health, by companies and individuals at the forefront of innovation.

What do you think are the most important enablers for innovation?

Its probably easier to answer that question by saying what I don’t think is necessary, because, we, as an SME, have been very limited in terms of money, time and resource - and an innovative spirit does not live in any of those things.

The enabler is a creative mindset. It is very much about the zeal with which one applies themselves to any particular problem. It’s by no coincidence that I keep coming back to this notion of a “problem”, because so many of the innovative solutions, or the solutions that are touted as innovative, don’t address a real problem. When you look to create something that’s going to significantly move an industry forward, no matter how large or small your business, you have to make sure it always comes back to resolving issues with solutions that make your clients and end-users wonder how they’ve ever done without what you’ve been able to provide.