Media Alert


IBM will be leading a group comprising businesses, academics and members of the public in a week-long search for new ways to deal with flooding.

The focus on flooding comes as part of Northumbrian Water Group’s (NWG) Innovation Festival, which is bringing together some of the world’s leading businesses to tackle major social and environmental challenges.

The festival aims to engage the best innovative minds, using design ‘sprint’ thinking to explore and create new solutions to some of the biggest social and environmental challenges we face. ‘Sprints’ apply leading design thinking techniques to problem solving.

IBM will lead a sprint aimed at finding ways to reduce the frequency and impact of flooding, and learn lessons from past flooding incidents, at the festival, which takes place at Newcastle Racecourse from July 10 to July 14, with 400 people expected to attend each of the five days.

The task of those involved will be to look at these aspects of flooding, whatever its cause, how they are handled now, and look for ways in which they can be dealt with more effectively.

‘Rain, Hail or Shine: How can we reduce the impact of flooding?’ will start on the Monday, when the gathered delegates will scope the nature of the problem, and work through the week to develop key ideas that will be subjected to scrutiny from members of the public. At the end of the week, the sprint’s findings will be presented to a gathering of industry experts and regulators.

The Innovation Festival is supported by headline sponsors IBM, Microsoft, Reece Innovation, CGI, Ordnance Survey and BT, who will be leading the search for answers to other big social and environmental questions.

Darren Bentham, IBM Global Business Services Executive Partner in the UK, said: "Flooding is a complex issue which has a profound impact on people and communities. It is exactly the type of social and environmental challenge IBM loves to tackle. We are excited by the prospect of working with NWG and the team in our sprint to find pragmatic solutions to both predict and mitigate the impact of flooding."

Nigel Watson, Northumbrian Water Group Information Services Director, said: “We understand that the flooding is one of the worst things our customers can experience in their home. When it happens, customers want to know why it happened, who’s going to fix it and will it happen again.

“Having customers who have experienced flooding in the tent with us will be a great way to use their experiences to make sure that we really understand what they go through when this happens to them. Their input will be vital to us being able to develop new ideas that really address those experiences.

“Our hopes for the sprint that IBM is leading are twofold. We want to find ways to respond in a more effective manner, and to build upon the work we already do to reduce flood risk and to help people to have a greater peace of mind, so that they have less need to be fearful of this happening to them.”

The work to tackle six key problems will take place in a true festival environment that will also feature live comedy and music, as well as inspirational talks.

The big questions under consideration during the week are: 

  • ‘Rain, Hail or Shine’: How can we reduce flooding? Led by headline sponsor IBM
  • ‘Keep It Flowing’: What do we know about leakage from water pipes and how can we fix it?  Led by NWG, alongside a Microsoft-led Hackathon of data relating to leakage.
  • 'Preparing for the Future’: How do we upgrade our infrastructure for the 21st Century effectively and affordably?  Led by headline sponsor Reece Innovation
  • ‘Tomorrow’s World’: What will living and working look like in 2030?  Led by headline sponsor CGI
  •  How Green is Your City?’: What can businesses do to improve the environment in the North East? Led by headline sponsor Ordnance Survey
  •  21st Century Reach’: How can we optimise a mobile workforce for a complex network business?  Led by headline sponsor BT

The NWG Innovation Festival is also being delivered in association with Newcastle University, Durham University, Genesys, Interserve in partnership with Amec Foster Wheeler, Costain Resources, PC1, Tech Mahindra, Mott MacDonald Bentley (MMB), Wipro, Virgin Media Business, Schneider, Wheatley Solutions, Sopra Steria, Accenture, 1Spatial, Infosys, Unify, ITPS, Esh-MWH, and Pen Test Partners.

People can find out more about what’s taking place at the NWG Innovation Festival at


The Challenge

The impact of flooding on people, properties, infrastructure and communities can be devastating.

If it happens to you, then you simply don’t care where the water has come from. What you want to know is “why did it happen?”, “who is going to fix it?”, and “will it happen again?”. You might feel angry that it happened to you, worried about the future and uncertain about where to go for help.

Flooding, in the broader context, is a complex issue and it’s not the role of any single organisation to fix it. The way in which Water Companies, Regulators, Public Bodies and private companies work together has changed significantly in the last few years. But how do we move this to the next level? Can we stop flooding happening by changing the way we manage the natural and built environment? Can we help people and communities to prepare for flooding, mitigating the impact that flooding might have? How do we learn from flooding events, to improve our responses in future? How can we manage our assets better to reduce foul flooding?

These are the challenges that we will address in the sprint.


Our task will be to understand the problem, understand what we do now and look for ways in which we can be more effective. It’s likely the solutions we generate will require better prediction, impact analysis, operational response and support for those impacted.  Given the numbers in the sprint, we are likely to break this problem down into manageable ‘chunks’ to ensure we address the challenge and focus on the opportunities for innovation.