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In March 2020, the Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA) announced a new partnership with Isle Utilities and ThinkPlace – W-Lab – ‘a partnership which will deliver an industry-leading Innovative Technologies Program for WSAA and its members’.

WSAA Executive Director, Adam Lovell, said, “W-Lab has the potential to launch WSAA and our members into a global network which will drive innovative, technological solutions to overcome future industry challenges. W-Lab will offer even more opportunities for utilities to collaborate through access to Isle’s global database of technologies from industry sectors all over the world.”

Much has happened since the March announcement, with the conduct of a Digital Ideation Summit in June involving 100 water professionals and the recent conclusion of a series of online ‘Launch Pads’, which have refined the path that Australian and New Zealand water utilities wish to take and has defined some of the specific challenges that water utilities of all sizes wish to overcome.

Mr Lovell added, “The strategy is being driven by a full cross-section of the management and staff of W-Lab members and their specific requirements. Feedback from the Launch Pad sessions has been overwhelmingly positive. They have created an ideal situation for WSAA members to collaborate and to share their views.

“Utilities large and small have had a voice, which will mean that the solutions being developed will be tailored to Australian water utilities and to utility size, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

“W-Lab membership numbers now stand at 34 and with the recent addition of WaterNZ and the Orana Water Alliance, there are now 100 water utilities under the W-Lab banner.”

Dr Alex Cech, Chief Technology Officer at Isle Utilities (Asia-Pacific), said, “The Ideation Summit built initial momentum for the W-Lab program, with a clear goal to use technology innovation to create a new water future and to build something quite special for the water industry.

“A roadmap will be created to provide a direction to allow the eventual assessment and filtering of innovative technologies, and will present solutions to help WSAA members to make confident decisions in four defined innovation frames – customer, enterprise, flows and nature.

“The discovery of the individual requirements and the specific challenges of the local utilities through the W-Lab program will enable Isle Utilities and ThinkPlace to use their global reach to create bespoke solutions for the Australian water sector. It’s a very exciting time.”

Thomas Kuen, Manager Asset Management Research, Integrated Planning at Melbourne Water, said, “There is a significant benefit to Melbourne Water in collaboration and collective knowledge. By working together with other utilities, we can share our resources, expertise and experience, which makes it easier for us to de-risk trials and should speed up any new services or new solutions that we decide to offer.

“W-Lab’s benefit is the value of the collaboration beyond a utility doing something like this on its own, which the big utilities could. The more people you can involve in the collaboration, the more benefits people tend to discover in talking with others who may have different views.

“There are also a number of intangible benefits that will come out of the process. You end up with a clear and consistent message to put out to the private sector of what’s important to the local water sector and why.

“I think where we can all benefit is by expanding the experience base. It helps all of us to identify and to build better business cases, which are created faster and cheaper.”

Dr Nicola Nelson, Manager, Research and Innovation at Sydney Water, said, “The involvement of experts from outside the water industry during the W-Lab Launch Pad process has been a real positive – it provides the opportunity to leverage the expertise of people outside the water industry and provide new insights on innovation for the water industry.

“When the roadmap is developed, being able to align it with budgeting and business planning processes will allow utilities to better identify relevant technologies and plan trials ahead of time.

“This will give us the ability as an industry to look at technologies which are more bespoke to Australian utilities and to collaborate more on potential trials, which will provide maximum benefit to the Australian water sector as a whole, as well as to individual utilities and their customers.”

Alayna Gleeson, Project Officer at Orana Water Utilities Alliance, said, “We represent eleven of the smallest and most remote water utilities in NSW. We thought it was important to be a part of the W-Lab program to be sure that regional NSW had a voice.

“It is a really big call for a small utility to trial a new technology or look at innovative ways to do things when there are limited resources available, so being part of W-Lab gives us an opportunity to see what other utilities may
be doing with a view to adapting their successes for our situation.

“Through W-Lab we are looking to undertake joint projects and initiatives that can bring about cost savings, look at innovations which can overcome the challenges of remoteness for our alliance members and to assist with workforce development and training.”

Doug Moorby, Chairman of the Technical Committee of the Orana Water Utilities Alliance, said, “The W-Lab project has the potential to build competency and confidence in the water industry to attempt different things, to use innovative technology and to take a few risks, while taking the steps to mitigate these risks.

“I believe that W-Lab can help remote utilities to be more innovative in their thinking and in their business organisation. We can all bring something to the table, but W-Lab can help us bring a lot to the table.”

For more information, please contact Victoria Allen from WSAA at [email protected].

Charlotte Pordage is Editor of Utility magazine, a position she has held since November 2018. She joined the team as an Associate Editor in October 2017, after sharpening her writing and editing skills across a range of print and digital publications. Charlotte graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London, in 2011 with joint honours in English and Latin. When she's not putting together Australia's only dedicated utility magazine, she can usually be found riding her horse or curled up with a good book.

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