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“Use the idea of the future as an excuse to have a really deep and meaningful conversation about what is happening now,” futurologist Richard Watson told the Northumbrian Water Group innovation summit.
Author and scenario thinker Richard Watson is part of the Foresight Practice at Imperial College and lectures at the London Business School. Organisations that have recruited Watson including Shell, Samsung, McDonalds, IBM, General Electric and the Ministry of Defence. Watson rightly predicted the 2008 financial crisis.
“There are so many opportunities to do great stuff in the water industry,” Watson said at the Northumbrian Water innovation summit.
Watson shared with the attendees the wider macro-economic environment that water organisation will have to play a role in. He informed the attendees that by the year 2045 large parts of the global population will be living in “water scarce areas”, that population growth will continue because “of a healthcare revolution that water has played an important role in”; lettuce could become illegal for its low nutrient value and high water usage” and that “a city will run out of water in the next few decades”.
Closer to home Watson described how the nuclear family of two adults and two children is no longer the norm in the UK and that as our national age increases so fertility may become a major problem as the workforce shrinks. Watson was speaking to the Northumbrian Water delegates ahead of the national referendum.
“Half of global GDP will come out of Asia, the same as it was in 1820. We could have a North/South water divide and terrorism has been discussed widely in the water sector and the weather is going to get more extreme and effect people increasingly,”
he said before warning that “emerging markets have real governance issues.” These global trends are and will have counter forces as Watson believes localism will also increase and for businesses that means providing information on topics like provenance.
For innovation leaders these macro-trends will place them at the heart of changing services. Watson urges innovation leaders to consider the needs of older customers and reminded them of the popularity and readability of the Amazon Kindle device with over 60-year-olds. The internet of things (IoT) will be a major opportunity for utilities companies Watson said, but he warned that these new technologies and methods run a risk of creating new information silos of disconnected intelligence in organisations. “Pipe networks are going to get smarter,” he said of not only the intelligence, but also new maintenance methods organisations will have to invest in.
“How you become more resilient is to be open minded. Pricing is fascinating and there are so many models an organisation can consider such as seasonal, surge, usage and sell back,” he said before investigating alternative business models a utility company may want to consider such as materials recovery in the recycling industry, solar panels floating on the reservoirs, financial products through reduced service insurance, precision agriculture, or value based services. Watson suggested water companies could investigate a Nespresso capsule product range that adds colours or flavours to water.
“The key thing is to think about what business exists within the business that can be grown and perhaps spun out.”