By Nigel Watson, Northumbrian Water Group’s Director of Information Services

Day four, the penultimate day of the festival, and what a day it's been.

The energy levels have been as fantastic today as they were when we kicked off on Monday and whether that's through the caffeine or sheer enthusiasm it's great to see.

I started my day today with Peter Bourke and Bertrand Chan, from CKI, and gave them a tour of the site and they were both very impressed by what they saw going on in the sprints. 

Peter also spent some time in the Hackathon this afternoon and ended up judging the competition, he told me he left amazed by some of the work he saw and people he met. 

We then had some guests on site from Anglian Water and I took Iain Fry and some of his team around the festival and showed them what was going on. They are looking to run a similar style event in the future and we're very impressed and left full of innovative ideas.

I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Roberts from Water UK today and we talked at length about the vision behind the festival and he was very complimentary and enthusiastic about what we are doing and loved being part of it. 

I also managed to squeeze an Indian head massage in, it's a hard life, and then had the pleasure of judging the teenagers bedroom of the future competition. 

The entries were all to a very high standard but the winning entry had clearly thought about the customer, the impact on the world around them and produced a fantastic end product. I was delighted to be able to hand the award over and while there I may have found a potential apprentice for the future, very exciting!

In between all of this I've managed to get into all of the sprint tents and it was clear to see how hard everyone was working to get their projects and presentations finished.

I can't wait to see them and what else the final day brings. 

INNOVATION CHIEF CALLS FOR MORE COLLABORATION

Picture shows Hans Moller discussing innovation with a student in one of Nissan’s LEAFs at the NWG Innovation Festival. Please click on the image to download the photograph.

Innovation needs to be more visible and include ideas from a wide range of people across all disciplines, according to one of the North East’s leading experts, speaking at the region’s first Innovation Festival.

Hans Moller, the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s Innovation Director, was attending Northumbrian Water Group’s Innovation Festival, where he spoke to hundreds of delegates including businesses, academics and young people, as they looked to tackle key environmental and social issues.

He said: “Until 10 to 15 years ago, corporations tried to deal with innovation internally. They had huge research and development departments and budgets. But in the modern innovation context, the process of bringing ideas into prototyping and into the market is so quick that you don’t have time to spend years and years with your internal department, waiting for something to happen.

“When you have your engineering and research and development teams focussing on their own challenges, they don’t think outside the box. You have to bring in ideas, wherever they come from, and you have to be open to them.

Innovation is at the heart of the Strategic Economic Plan, which was drawn up by the LEP, with support from businesses and academia, said Hans.

“Innovation is extremely important to the North East. One of the ways of delivering that Strategic Economic Plan is supporting innovation, because we have to stay competitive. Post-Brexit, it’s even more important, for economic development, sustainability and climate change.

“I think it’s an absolutely amazing decision from Northumbrian Water to go with this. It’s exactly what I think companies need to do, because it’s about promoting and explaining innovation internally and externally, and making it visible to people, because that’s one of our challenges: dealing with and supporting innovation and making it visible.”

The NWG Innovation 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. Around 400 people a day are expected on site for the festival, including representatives of a wide range of businesses, academia and members of the public – young and old.

The 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.

Also at the festival, Anthony Mullen, Research Director at global research and advisory company, Gartner, talked of the need for people to come together to innovate.

He said: “It’s key to make the time for events like this. They are not ‘nice to have’, they ensure the future.

“It’s going to be quite a long time before you can automate what’s happening here today, given the speed with which businesses change and technology disrupts - it’s organic, face to face, lateral thinking.

“The people here really seem to be very engaged and passionate. There is nothing like practical exercises or hackathons to create an extra level of depth, in terms of meeting people and creating working relationships that can drive ideas and actions.”

Heidi Mottram, Chief Executive of Northumbrian Water Group, said: “We started planning the festival with some ideas, but when we started talking with partners and people who come at things from a completely different perspective, things were started to be added in, saying what about this and what about that.

“We’ve got global, leading businesses, like Microsoft, IBM, CGI, BT and Ordnance Survey, as well as Reece Innovation, who are more local, but still very much like that, on board and they have taken it and put it in a different place. So, now what you are seeing in the sprints is the result of people bringing new ideas, and our ideas in areas like waste water and water being pushed and pulled and built on.”

Carol Bell, Executive Director of the Great Exhibition of the North, said: “For a business to do something which is going on the journey and taking the risk, where they don’t know what the answers are, but they want to find out, is great to see.”

HOW MAPS OF THE WORLD BENEATH OUR FEET CAN EASE CONGESTION ON THE ROADS

New maps that plot the mystery beneath our feet could improve people’s lives by reducing traffic delays and disruption for people in the North East.

The idea has come from experts at Northumbrian Water Group’s NWG Innovation Festival, an unique week-long event that has brought people to the region from around the world to tackle social and environmental challenges.

Among the organisations taking part at the event, at Newcastle Racecourse, is Ordnance Survey, which is looking to work with utilities companies on a trial of 3D mapping to identify the exact locations of gas and water mains, electricity cables, and more, in one place for the first time.
If the trial is successful, it has the potential to be rolled out across the country, making maintenance and upgrades to these networks easier and less costly.
Ordnance Survey is working with Northumbrian Water on a week-long “sprint” as part of the festival, looking for innovative ways that businesses can contribute to an improved environment in the North East.

The idea has also been highlighted by teams at the festival looking at how infrastructure can be upgraded more effectively and affordably, and improving the way mobile workers, such as those responsible for the maintenance of such networks, operate.

Richard Crump, a managing consultant for Ordnance Survey, said: “The topic of where the various companies’ underground assets are, such as pipes and cables, comes up regularly. There have been various attempts to tackle it in the past, but if we can pull all of this data together there are many different benefits, for the public and for the businesses that supply these utilities.
“Improving the knowledge of the various networks and the areas where they come together will help massively when there are problems with one or more of the underground cables or pipes, or when they need replacing. For example, it has the potential to reduce the chances of affecting other companies’ services, making it quicker and easier to make repairs or upgrades, and much more.

“We would like to get all of this data in one digital space that shows where it is, how deep it is, what the critical nature is, and then we can work with the companies to see how we can improve things for everyone.”

Nigel Watson, Director of Information Services at Northumbrian Water Group, said: “This idea of improving the knowledge that we all have about the various networks of cables and pipes beneath the ground has really caught the imagination of people at the NWG Innovation Festival.
“We have maps that show where our road networks and pavements are, people create maps of the electrical wires inside buildings, so the idea that we can do the same beneath our streets is something that makes real sense.

“Many older pipes and wires are not recorded digitally, so some of the data is incomplete or held only in paper format, but the benefits of resolving that and creating a complete network map are huge.

“Greater knowledge of what we are facing when we go out to work on our network means we can complete jobs more quickly, and this is a great new idea for improving that understanding. Likewise, if we need to dig a hole in the road to repair a water burst, knowing what else is in the ground can reduce the chances of causing problems on another company’s network, so we avoid unwanted disruption or loss of services to customers.”


People can find out more about the NWG Innovation Festival at innovationfestival.org.

By Nigel Watson, Northumbrian Water Group’s Director of Information Services

Today, I spent some time talking with the students taking part in our Teenager’s Bedroom of the Future sprint about what the challenges are that we face as a business and how we go about delivering innovation.

Also, we talked about what kind of skills we will need in the future.

Earlier this year, Northumbrian Water Group helped to launch the Energy & Utilities Skills Partnership, with the aim of filling more than 220,000 roles by 2027, so there’s a real challenge ahead and these are the types of people we need to be engaging.

At 17-years and above, they will be joining the workforce in the next couple of years, so I talked with them about the need for skills such as maths, science and infosecurity, but also the importance of retaining those creative and problem solving skills.

Artificial intelligence might creep in and take away some job types, but those sorts of skills are going to remain hugely important in our sector.

We also welcomed Peter Bourke, CIO of CKI, and he was incredibly impressed by what we are doing here and is keen to see this sort of activity played out across the group. That’s something we should all be very proud of and I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been involved in the NWG Innovation Festival for their contribution in that.

I’ve also been dipping in and out of the sprints to see how we are getting on, in terms of being ready for Friday and having great ideas in place.

Without wanting to give too much away, there are going to be three or four blockbuster ideas that will make people sit up and say “wow”. It’s all building up to be a fantastic back end of the week, so keep an eye on social media, the NWG internal channels and innovationfestival.org, for more updates.

By Nigel Watson, Northumbrian Water Group’s Director of Information Services

Day 2 Update

We kicked off day two of the NWG Innovation Festival this morning with our first wellness session and it was great to see so many people taking part in the yoga, as well as the pilates at lunchtime.

After hearing an update from each sprint, we started the day’s innovative working with a great idea of the progress so far and it’s been inspiring to catch up with those teams at the end of the day to see just how many ideas – literally hundreds of them – are coming through.

The teams really seem to be gaining momentum. I think with the people we have got here, they are very naturally inclined to solve problems, so they are really in their element right now.

I spent much of the afternoon in the Invest Quest judging, which, for those of you outside of Northumbrian Water Group, is an opportunity for our people to bring forward some great ideas that will help us to work smarter.

There were five great finalists and some tremendous ideas coming through from the teams, so that was a part of the day that was both fun and very rewarding.

Members of the sprint teams are heading out into Newcastle City Centre tomorrow, to talk with members of the public and get their views on the ideas and challenges. The input of the public is hugely important to delivering innovation that matters to people outside of the organisations delivering it, so we are really looking forward to seeing what people out and about in Northumberland Street have to say.

By Nigel Watson, Northumbrian Water Group’s Director of Information Services

I’m absolutely thrilled with the way the first day of the NWG Innovation Festival has gone.It was incredible to see so many people in the tent this morning from so many different companies and backgrounds. This is exactly what we want in terms of input from the various parts of the audience.

The welcome session was breath-taking, looking out across the room you could really feel the energy.

I really enjoyed the session, with everyone getting involved in a version of the Foo Fighters’ Learn to Fly. It was an interesting way to kick off the Monday morning, certainly not a typical start to the week, but it really got everyone in the spirit and raised the energy levels before going into the tents.

The tents have been really buzzing and, inevitably, in an environment like this where it’s specifically set up to be like a festival, we will get noise, from other tents, from rain, and from all around us, but we managed to overcome that really quickly.

We’ve got some ways of making tomorrow even better, and hopefully the weather will be kinder.

It wouldn’t be a British summer without a bit of rain, but hopefully it won’t be like that all week.

The general consensus is that day one was a success. People got a real debrief on the problems we’re aiming to tackle and everything is set up now for the rest of the week to be really organic and go off in some interesting directions, and we can then distil some great ideas to make a real difference for people.

OPENING THE MIND AHEAD OF A CREATIVE DAY

Alison Corner looks at why yoga and mindfulness have a key role to play at Northumbrian Water’s NWG Innovation Festival.

In his book 'Catching The Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity', David Lynch likens ideas to fish: “If you want to catch a little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch a big fish, you’ve got to go deeper.”

By 'deeper', Lynch is referring to our sub-consciousness, the deeper part of our mind, and he explores how to harness our minds to boost creativity.

Practising mindfulness and yoga can clear the mind of much of the clutter that overpowers our brains. 

Mindfulness has been around for many years, particularly within eastern cultures. However, in recent years the practice of mindfulness has taken hold in the west as people seek greater clarity and wellbeing.

Why is mindfulness becoming so valued in modern businesses, full of cutting edge technology? The answer is simple; our brains are simply too busy. They are full of thoughts, and it appears that we are constantly at the mercy of uncontrollable mind chatter.  In computer terms, our processing units are overworked and underproductive.  The practice of mindfulness gives us the ability to focus our attention on the here and now. It slows down mind chatter - even potentially to a point where we can cease it altogether.

Yoga has its roots in ancient India, and it's purpose is settling the mind into silence. Often misunderstood, yoga goes far beyond the physical postures you might be thinking about: the postures are simply how we can release tension from the body. They give us a way to connect with the breath and the mind. Once the mind is still, our ability to focus and concentrate increases dramatically, and our energy can be directed towards doing things that add meaning and value, rather than processing all the chattering and distractions of a 'monkey mind'.

Yoga is credited with bringing a sense of balance to the body and mind, enabling us to harness clarity so we can channel our energy into more creative and innovative thinking. 

This is why our NWG Innovation Festival includes a “wellness tent”, where participants and guests can start the day with yoga and mindfulness sessions.

A world first, the NWG Innovation Festival is a week-long event which brings together leading thinkers and practitioners to generate ideas about how to tackle our most important social and environmental challenges. The pop-up Innovation Festival will appear at Newcastle Racecourse from 10 -14 July, and will feature design sprints by day and a festival programme by night, and promote STEM to local schools. 

So why mindfulness and yoga? By starting the day in a mindful state, we can focus  our minds for the day ahead, giving ourselves an opportunity to unleash our creativity. Likening this again to a computer, just turning off all those background applications that serve no purpose but use up valuable resources.

Archimedes' 'Eureka' moment is a case in point. He'd strived to find the answer to a problem, and the more frantically he searched his mind, the less clarity he found. It was only when he paused to relax and take a bath that his mind settled and profound insight came to him. 

We’re not asking participants, who will have come from as far as Hong Kong and America, to take a bath in the middle of Newcastle Racecourse! We're simply offering to help to expand their creativity by stopping the mind-chatter that overloads our brains.  We all experience thought-overload; we are just trying to think of too many things at once. Our conscious minds are only capable of one thought at a time; everything else is a distraction, hampering clarity, productivity and, indeed, innovation.

The brain is like any muscle in the body - it builds strength when exercised correctly.  Initially, mindfulness and yoga can feel like lifting a heavy weight at the gym; it can be a struggle to stay focused. However, over time it gets easier, and as we build clarity and the state of being mindful becomes more of a part of our everyday lives.

Mindfulness and yoga are very simple and yet powerful methods of enabling ourselves to connect with our innate ability to gain clarity and hear our intuition, which in turn helps us to problem solve and find more innovative solutions. 

At NWG we are fortunate to have two qualified teachers in the HR team; James Muir, Transformation Development Manager, will be leading mindfulness sessions and Sarah Salter, our HR Director, will run morning yoga sessions during the festival. 

So, with mindfulness and yoga as our secret weapons, and with support from our main sponsors IBM, Microsoft, CGI Group, Ordnance Survey, BT and Reece Innovation, we’re ready to tackle the challenges of flooding, leakage, the 2030 workforce, mobile working, STEM engagement and creating green communities. 

For more information on the NWG Innovation Festival, visit innovationfestival.org. Alison Corner is Employee Engagement Programme Manager at Northumbrian Water Group.