Time to reflect

As we enter 2020 it’s time to reflect on Innovation Lab 2 and Demo Day. We spoke to Kieran Brocklebank, head of innovation at United Utilities, to find out how he’s found the process and what he’s looking forward to next. 
Hi Kieran, it’s been a little over a month since we had Lab 2’s Demo Day, what were your thoughts of the day?

I think it was a fantastic day and a true celebration of the achievements of this year’s cohort, showcasing what they achieved throughout the Lab Programme. It provided a wider UU audience, a glimpse of what’s possible when we open our doors and collaborate with small, innovative companies. On the day we saw a great turn out from our colleagues who were engaged and inquisitive throughout the presentations and supplier showcase and equally the suppliers were only too happy to talk to them about their products and solutions.

So now we are well into the New Year and Demo Day marked the official end of the Lab, what are the next steps for UU and the teams?

The hard work that was undertaken during the Lab period will continue, there are a number of teams we want to keep working with, so the challenge is to find the appropriate way to keep working with them and in what capacity. The hope is that in the near future some of the suppliers’ solutions will be adopted across the business, scaled and implemented as business as usual.

As we know it’s the second Innovation Lab UU has hosted, what are the main differences you observed between Lab 1 and 2?

We’ve seen differences in the types of companies that were part of this year’s cohort, for example 6 out or 8 were start-ups and we had more teams who were at an earlier stage of development. Of the 8 who were part of the Lab, 3 were brand new to the UK water sector and 6 offered a digital solution, so the makeup of this cohort was different to the first Lab.
In addition to this we saw more engagement from UU employees, including a greater level of support from designated Business Leads as well as engagement with our Executive Board. We made a conscious effort to have a greater focus on onboarding this year, in order to clearly understand what each party wanted to achieve in the 10 weeks before the suppliers even set foot in the door at UU, which allowed us in conjunction with L Marks to provide tailored sessions such as Commercial, Systems Thinking, investor and grant funding sessions.
We previously heard from Laura and Emma that this time round more teams were onsite and with some travelling 9,000 miles to get here, how did this impact the programme?

Having more teams regularly onsite was extremely positive in creating a rapport amongst the suppliers, as well as helping to build and solidify relationships with UU colleagues. This rapport translated to cross team collaboration and a willingness and eagerness to help and support each other through the Lab journey.  We also recognised some of the teams spent substantial time away from their family and friends and so it was important for us to ensure they felt supported and had some down time away from the office, this resulted in more social activities in comparison to what we had last year, as well as including them in our company initiatives such as Mental Health Awareness Day.

What is it about the Lab process that works in terms of benefiting UU and why is it important for the water sector to look to be constantly innovation and engaging with innovative agile companies?

From a UU and Innovation team point of view this process provides us valuable market intelligence, showing us the innovations that are out there not only in the water sector but in other sectors where young, agile companies may be operating but have industry agnostic solutions that can be applied to our sector. The Lab itself allows us to test and validate solutions at pace, a process that can sometimes take up to 2 years is expedited to 10 weeks. Working so closely with these teams allows us to forge strong relationships and it also allows us to discover more about our colleagues and uncover internal talent.

For an organisation whose customers are at the forefront of everything we do we have to keep looking for new and find smarter ways to innovate our processes and in turn provide a world class service to our customers and provide our colleagues with solutions to allow them to be more efficient at delivering this service. By collaborating with innovative, agile companies who have fresh ideas and offer different approaches to tackling challenges we are able to find and develop these solutions that will ultimately benefit our colleagues and customers.

What are you looking forward to in 2020, given that the Lab was just the beginning of engagement with some of the teams? 

I’m looking forward to seeing the teams we’ll continue working with undertake projects outside of a Lab environment and scale their solutions within the business. I’m also looking forward to seeing what will come of the relationships we’ve been building with a number of teams who were at Pitch Day who weren’t quite right for the Lab environment but who we found had intriguing offerings. Then finally I’m looking forward to planning for the next Lab and how we can build on the success of the first two in order to make Lab 3 bigger and better!