It has been about a week since we completed a Design Sprint at the Northumbrian Water Innovation Festival 2020 where around 3000 people from 37 countries came together virtually to discuss a range of topics aiming to bring innovation into the Water sector. New technology, new processes and applying innovative ideas from other business sectors to the water industry, were all explored.

It was attended by people from a variety of different organisations such as Universities, IT and Software companies, start-ups, large operational organisations and other Water companies. For everyone, the Festival was a chance to take a step back from the day job, bring together a diverse collection of perspectives and collaboratively work together to solve problems.

This being my first Design Sprint, and my first as a facilitator, I signed up to the various pre-festival training events to make sure I was prepared. I undertook Design Sprint, Sketchbook, Miro and Zoom training courses to get orientated. The Sprint Lead and core team designed an agenda to help structure the discussion and provide a checklist of activity for us to make sure we used the time effectively each day to try and ensure we met the objectives for the week. We also spent some time reviewing our plans with an experienced Design Thinking and Innovation Facilitator who gave us some useful pointers on structure, content and tips for keeping the conversation going as well as driving collaboration. My overall reflection is what a fantastic journey of innovation we all went on. I am a convert to using Design Sprints for managing the innovation process and was hugely impressed how this approach effectively collates all the inputs and ideas of a group to achieve a common objective.

In our case, using the Dexda Machine Learning platform to make predictive insights into asset failure. We had to deliver some pre-festival development work on the data model but during the 4 day Sprint, we refined it as a team, added different data sources (some we could not have guessed would have been available such as satellite data on miniscule ground movements) and got to a position where the Dexda model, in combination with the right algorithms and identified anomalies/indicators, was successfully able to identify a water mains burst in advance of it happening!
So, the exciting takeout from that was with access to real time data, we could be able to predict and prevent a burst by a variety of routes. This was hugely satisfying and could be a game-changer for managing critical physical assets in the Water sector. If we could predict Water mains bursts, why not Wastewater incidents such as pollution spillages or even the holy grail of the Water sector, Leakage?

This will definitely not be my last Innovation Design Sprint as I now have the bug after seeing the results. It was intense, tiring, exhilarating and inspiring but most of all effective, as the desired objectives were achieved. Thanks Northumbrian Water!