Transcript: Talking utilities podcast with Martin Jackson


29th January 2020


35 min


Dale Jones

This item was originally written by Ben Lind.

In the first episode of Talking Utilities I caught up with Martin Jackson‚ Head of Strategy and Architecture at Northumbrian Water

Within‚ we discuss topics such as innovation in the water industry‚ how the Amazon Echo is opening up new channels for customer engagement as well as some of the biggest challenges facing the wider utilities sector.   




In attendance:

  • Ben Lind: Podcast Host‚ Senior strategist at hedgehog lab

  • Martin Jackson: Guest‚ Head of strategy and architecture at Northumbrian Water

*Introductory music plays* 

Ben: How’s it going everybody‚ Ben Lind here joining you from hedgehog lab HQ for another episode of the podcast. Joining me today was the fantastic Martin Jackson. Martin is a good friend of the business‚ a long time acquaintance of mine‚ and he’s joining us from Northumbrian Water group. Martin is going to be telling us all about innovation within water and his opinion on the different technologies that the utilities sector can be utilising. Not only to gain an advantage over their competitors‚ but make sure that they are adding value to their customers and to their employees as well.

It’s a really good listen for people who are experienced in the energy sector or for people who might want to know a little bit more about how to embrace technology and use it to achieve their goals. If you want to hear more from me‚ you can find me on twitter at @BenjaminL1nd‚ you can reach me on LinkedIn just search Benjamin Lind‚ or look for hedgehog lab‚ or on twitter at @hedgehoglab.

This was a great podcast‚ there’s gonna be more coming up‚ so please keep a lookout on this channel‚ and without further adieu please enjoy Martin Jackson. 

*Music fades in and fades out*

Ben: So Martin thanks very much for joining us. How’s it going today? You alright? 

Martin: Yeah it’s great to be here. 

Ben: Fantastic. So‚ for anyone whos not familiar with ya‚ would you just be alright to give us a little bit of a run down on yourself‚ on your background and what you do at Northumbrian water. 

Martin: Yeah‚ of course. So obviously my name is Martin Jackson‚ I head up our strategy and architecture function within Northumbrian water. As you can probably tell from the accent i’m a local lad‚ born and bred in Sunderland. Been lucky enough I guess to work in two of the biggest organisations within the region in Nissan and in Northumbrian water. I’ve spent pretty much my entire career working in digital technologies to some degree‚ playing various roles from delivery‚ software engineering‚ relationship management and more latterly in strategy.

So yeah‚ quite a rounded perspective on technology and y’know i think a lot of it feels like it’s all been preparing me for the role that i do today. I’d like to think that i’ve got quite a broad perspective on technology having done many different role. So yeah‚ its great it’s been an interesting few months as i’m sure you’ll dig into in part of this interview. 

Ben: Yeah definitely‚ I mean something that we were talking about before we started was‚ sorta having that cross pollination between industries‚ and I know you were saying that there’s a few different people at Northumbrian Water… 

Martin: (Interjecting) Yeah

Ben: …who have different backgrounds‚ across different industries.

Martin: Yeah‚ I think it’s very important‚ so I think the key to innovation is obviously diversity of thought. So you can bring in. Yeah so we’ve got to have the star lot of knowledge within our organisations‚ so we’ve got some fantastic people who’ve worked and are on top of their game in terms of water and wastewater‚ and the services that we offer. Some of the knowledge and the insight that’s needed to run a successful water company‚ but when you then start to cross pollinate that with individuals that have come in from other industries‚ whether that be from telcos‚ whether that be from hiring from the real industry‚ myself the automotive industry. I think that’s a really good environment for creativity and innovation‚ and for new ideas‚ and new ways of addressing kind of challenges that we’ve had for a long time.

Ben: *Noise of agreement* and I think that‚ as well as having lots of different‚ say industry backgrounds coming together and tryin’ to fix‚ y’know existing problems with different solutions. I think something that’s very important as well is to have an existing interest into the field that your working in and what the potential solutions can be. So in terms of technology and innovation‚ and i know that you are someone who tries to keep up to date with the latest sorta breakthroughs and stuff… 

Martin: (In the background) *Noise of agreement*

Ben: …so how do you go about doing that?

Martin: Yeah‚ I think first and foremost for me‚ i’m a huge technology fan. I’m a bit of a geek‚ in my personal time…

Ben: (In the background) *laughter* 

Martin: … I‚ yes‚ it’s great to understand technology theory and I think that’s very important in certainly what I do and what the team does‚ but there’s nothing like getting hands on with technology. I think‚ so in my personal life‚ y’know‚ the things that we’ve been doing more recently‚ like working on the Amazon Echo for instance…. 

Ben: (interjecting) *Noise of agreement*

Martin: …I think as a first step I bought one of those‚ I got my hands dirty‚ I got use to the technology‚ what was possible with that technology. An I think that‚ that bodes well for when…

Ben: (Interjecting) *Noise of agreement* 

Martin: … your trying to say‚ well how can we use this to benefit our customers? Which is ultimately what were hear to do as a organisation. I think beyond that‚ there’s so much change‚ its exponential‚ we can never absorb that level of change as an individual. So‚ I think it’s about building networks and relationships. So‚ I invest a lot of my time both professionally and personally in attending events‚ speaking to individuals…

Ben: (In the background) *Noise of agreement*

Martin: … learning‚ being there and being prepared to be challenged‚ as well with new thinking as well. An I think what you do by doing that is‚ people are more likely to bring you ideas‚ opportunities… 

Ben: (Interjecting) Yeah 

Martin: …so you don’t need to go sourcing them yourself quite as much. I think that the key there is to have intent with some of those things. Whereas people can come along and say ‘Come and use this technology. Have you seen the latest and greatest?’‚ I think it’s. The value of investigating in the relationship‚ so that they can come and say‚ that this is how is this going to benefit Northumbrian Water.

Ben: *Noise of agreement*

Martin: And I think thats key really ‘cause so much technology with so much potential‚ but it has to be real and it has to be impacting outcomes that we have as an organisation.

Ben: I think with sorta the‚ just the sheer scale of what there is out there that could be incorporated into any given industry. The temptation is always just to kinda‚ just bob along with a surface level understanding.

Martin: Yeah

Ben: Whereas I think that. Water pun‚ did you see what I did there?…

Martin: *laughter*

Ben: …whereas what i think‚ when you actually like immerse yourself into something and make sure that your y’know talking to people and not just sorta hearing about stuff‚ and actually reading content and trying hard to engage with it. Something that i’ve been doing recently‚ is really trying to get more involved in this sector and see what can be done‚ and I think it’s when you actually scratch the surface and get into it you start to generate your own ideas and see what more‚ like tangible applications of certain tech is. I mean‚ what’s your‚ in terms of your like tinkering at home‚ what’s been‚ what’s your favourite thing you do with your Alexa? 

Martin: Well‚ I obviously did an Innovate Now were I kinda shared a bit of a fun story‚ up top‚ about kinda how ingrained it had become in our lives‚ and the pun being that even in the end‚ we’re now using it for a baby monitor. We’ve had a recent addition to the family…

 Ben: (In the background) *congratulatory tone* hey!

Martin: …it started off with a music player‚ that sat on the kitchen bench‚ quite frankly. Then we started using it for smart home devices‚ turning on our light bulbs‚ turning on our sockets‚ those types of things. An then it just kinda got more and more embedded‚ and I became more intrigued by‚ well what else can this device do? And as I said at the Innovate Now‚ that is was really Christmas when it came into its own and we could turn on the Christmas lights‚ an that was a really fun thing to do with my young seven year old son. But it’s amazing how much of a change that has made to our lifestyle…

Ben: (In the background) *In understanding* Yeah 

Martin: …just a small space of time‚ by six months. We use it for pretty much everything and kinda the whole household now centers around that technology…

Ben: (In the background) *Noise of understanding* 

Martin: …so I think from our perspective. Your right‚ it’s about understanding how our customers and which of our customers…..

Ben: (In the background) Yeah. 

Martin: …would be using that as a channel…

Ben: (In the background)Yeah.

Martin: …we have many customers that wouldn’t be interested in using that as a channel‚ and we need to make sure that were still doing doing the right things for those guys an still able to offer a fantastic service.

Ben: *Noise in agreement* 

Martin: But we’ve‚ we’ve taken as many different perspectives as possible. Its a team effort as well‚ so obviously yes‚ i’m the head of the strategy department‚ but i’ve got members of my team that have got specific focuses around different technologies. Whether that be mobility‚ whether that be cloud technologies. More recently we’ve recruited a kinda artificial intelligence role within the team as well‚ so‚ those guys can get much deeper under the bonnet of these technologies than I ever could in my role. 

Ben: Yeah‚ I can see that‚ and in that regard like‚ how easy is or has been and will be sorta the water sector to innovate? ‘Cause I know you guys are quite involved in wanting to be at the forefront and being seen as a water supplier that is very technologically minded. I mean in your experience have their been sorta initial roadblocks to that kinda thing? Or has it been quite an open playing field and you’ve just looked to apply different tech to it? 

Martin: Yeah I think what’s really interesting about water is that it’s such a diverse business…

Ben: (In the background) *Noise in agreement*

Martin: …so‚ if you take Northumbrian Water for example‚ primarily we operate many different assets and those can be above ground‚ can be visible like treatment works‚ pumping stations all those kinda things. We’ve got huge underground networks as well‚ and a full‚ I guess engineering arm to the business. Then you put alongside that‚ obviously we’ve got customer relationship as well‚ so in water for household customers we are still the retailer or act as the retail and provide customer services for those customers as well…

Ben: (Interjecting) *Noise in agreement* 

Martin: …and then outside of that as well we’ve got the commercial element of the business‚ so we’ve got assets‚ we’ve got leisure facilities‚ so take Kielder waterside park for instance‚ that’s a part of our business and it’s a hugely diverse part of our business. Compared to our water and waste water services an I think that’s… there’s a lot of opportunity there for innovation. Yes‚ we talk about the digital innovation but digital in terms of us as an organisation is embedded right across the business. So yes‚ customer facing‚ yep that’s always gonna kinda grab the headlines….

Ben: Yeah 

Martin: …as customer experience is very important to us‚ but we’ve got a full agenda around smarter networks‚ which is about leveraging insight from our networks and looking at how we can be more effective in the decisions that we make that lead to how we perform from our network perspective. So‚ I think that there’s lots of scope for innovation there and I think‚ as I say‚ that a lot of sound basis and knowledge that we’ve got‚ we’ve got a lot of people that have served a lot of time in the business….

Ben: (In the background) Yeah

Martin: …and understand the industry. But then when you start to leer on that‚ the technologies and those opportunities that they now bring‚ icloud‚ computing and some of the huge processing power that you can buy for pence now.

Ben: Yeah

Martin: Those opportunities are opening up new possibilities for the business that potentially weren’t available to us even one or two years ago…

Ben: (In the background) *Noise in agreement*

Martin: …I think when you put all that together‚ you put together the insight‚ the industry knowledge‚ the specialism that we’ve got in what we do. You put into that the diversity of thought‚ whether that’s people we’ve brought into the organisation‚ whether its partners that we work with‚ people like yourselves‚ hedgehog lab and many others. That’s quite a rich environment to be able to innovate in‚ and I think the cultural thing is bit of a cliche‚ that culture is quite important in innovation but I can honestly say that’s a key component of innovation within Northumbrian Water. That culture‚ that ownership‚ that ability on any given day you can sense an opportunity and people feel empowered and to go after that‚ to make a real difference to our business and to our customers.

Ben: Yeah. It’s like creating that open environment where people don’t necessarily feel like they’re pigeon holed or constrained by whatever their job role may be. It’s about‚ as you say empowering them and incorporating. You hear it a lot in business now this sort of JFDI culture….

Martin: Yeah.

Ben: …and I think as long as that’s done constructively and you know that you have the support of the people around you to like back you up encase you’re acting in the best of intentions but it doesn’t go quite to plan the first time…. 

Martin: (In the background) *Noise in agreement* 

Ben: …I think that really does‚ just like‚ propel people forward and allow them to really sorta push the boundaries of what is possible.

Martin: Yeah and ultimately you get a lot of fulfillment‚ personally in your role by being trusted and being able to deliver. I would like to think that my team feel like that they have got full autonomy to go after opportunities and to do the right things for our business. That’s not to say that we want to chase glamour projects‚ as well‚ I think its got to be tangible and we’ve got to see a real translation between what we do with that technology into real benefits in our business…

Ben: (In the background) *Noise in understanding* 

Martin: …and for our customers.

Ben: In that regard then‚ how big a part does like research play‚ when it comes to looking at‚ not just from a customer side‚ looking at who your different personas are from a buyers perspective. But say from a employee perspective as well‚ because I know in previous conversations that we’ve had‚ or certainly with other people who work for Northumbrian Water‚ its a case of there might be somebody who’s been there for 30 years or so. They’re very entrenched in what they do but there might be some resistance there to adding‚ say a more technological part to their job.

Martin: Yeah and I think that yeah‚ I would entirely agree. I think that we’ve come on a bit of a journey with this side of things. So i’ll take an example‚ so our field workers are out there‚ they’re our front of house. They deal with our customers‚ they’re dealing with communities‚ they’re doing a lot of the engineering work‚ digging the roads and doing the things we need to do to be able to provide the services that we provide. I think traditionally the mindset there has been that‚ we maybe buy a package solution‚ a big enterprise product and that would maybe come with some sort of mobility element to it…

Ben: (In the background) *Noise in acknowledgement*

Martin: …that came out of the box and we give it to the guys and say here’s a tablet‚ go off do that‚ here’s a process can you go follow it. I think that’s really flawed and I certainly think that it’s flawed in today’s world. So y’know these guys at home are getting a fantastic experience at home from technology‚ they’ve probably got iPads‚ they’ve probably got wearables to some degree‚ they might even have the Alexa on the kitchen bench. They’re expectations of technology and the experience that they get from technology have changed quite dramatically‚ we’ve recently published a new strategy for our field workers and mobility and had an entirely different approach‚ to say these individuals are working in certain environments and certain conditions‚ doing specific jobs. Not all field work is the same‚ there’s a huge variety of different jobs we can’t just provide them with one out of the box solution and expect that to fit and enable them to do a fantastic job. So we’ve been more specific and targeted and we’ve actually spent a lot of time out in the field‚ with various different workers understanding…

Ben: (In the background) *Noise of understanding* 

Martin: …a little bit about their challenges‚ understanding how they currently use technology and assessing where there might be some gaps. 

Ben: Yeah

Martin: We’ve then begin building bespoke experiences that those guys can use that really reflect their needs on a day to day basis‚ and reflect the fact that they are all individual and they’re all doing slightly different jobs‚ a lot more embedded into what they do. Which enables them to more seamlessly‚ to just get on with the job and do a good job at what they do.

Ben: Yeah. I think it’s‚ it’s about finding out what the drivers are and what the reason behind the question is…

Martin: (Interjecting) Yeah 

Ben: …or the reason behind the problem is. An I think that‚ y’know certainly in my experience‚ innovation for innovation’s sake is something that people are very wise to now and it’s something that was maybe a bit easier to push‚ I don’t know 5 years ago‚ 10 years ago…

Martin: (In the background) Yeah

Ben: …whereas now theres‚ just such a plethora of available and existing technology that people are just sorta wise to it y’know?

Martin: Yeah 

Ben: Like you talk to someone about an app or a VR solution‚ or using an AI or something and chances are they are quite well versed in it…

Martin: (In the background) Yeah. 

Ben: …in the first instance so. To bring it back to the customers though…

Martin: (Interjecting) Yeah

Ben: …in the water industry‚ it’s a bit different to the gas and electric industries in the sense that people maybe don’t have as much choice as when they might do when choosing a supplier….

Martin: (Interjecting) Yeah

Ben: …for energy. With that then‚ how important. Sorry‚ in spite of that‚ how important is it to make sure that you are still a company that they would want to retain if and when it came to them having the choice?

Martin: Yeah‚ I mean I say it time and time again that we operate for the benefit of our customers. Then that is very tangible within our organisation‚ so then even when we’re not providing services for directly to a customer‚ to an external customer we still live by the same principles in terms of the customer services‚ that we might provide internally to customers. So that cultural thing‚ is very tangible within our organisation and we’re geared around customer experience and providing a fantastic customer experience. I think when you layer on that‚ that regulator‚ simulator competition within customers service. So though your right‚ household customers are not able to switch currently in terms of their provider. In terms of regulated‚ does simulate that. Ultimately‚ we want to be the water company that our customers would choose‚ even whether they could or not. We want to be that company and we do a lot in that field to be able to provide a lot of different options‚ I think is fair to say. A lot of different channels….

Ben: (In the background) *Noise of agreement*

Martin: …because as you’ve alluded to we’ve spent a lot of time mapping out a lot of the different customer personas that we have…

Ben: (In the background) *Noise of agreement* 

Martin: …and understanding that there’s lots of different customers and there’s lots of different perspectives and they have different needs‚ for the services that we offer and there’s ultimately there’s no solution that will fit all of those customers. So we innovate in different ways depending on who those customers are…

Ben: (In the background) Yeah

Martin: …we accept that. We’ve got traditional channels like telephone‚ that a lot of customers will choose to use to make contact from‚ so that’s not to say that there’s not potential to innovate in those channels…

Ben: (In the background) Yeah

Martin: …to provide‚ better‚ more personalised‚ more convenient service to those customers and naturally digital technologies give us new ways to interact with customers‚ that weren’t available to us as an organisation maybe one or two years ago. So we’re always looking for those opportunities‚ were always trying to test those ideas with customers themselves. We’ve recently did a workshop around our Alexa technology for instance. Where we brought in customers….

Ben: (In the background) *Noise of acknowledgement*

Martin: …we showed them it‚ we spoke to them about it‚ we asked them how they might use it‚ and they’ve helped us create a future roadmap for that product as well. So‚ I think that’s very important‚ we need to validate with our customers what they want from us and….

Ben: (In the background) *Noise in agreement*

Martin: …us as an organisation and not just assume that it’s the right thing to do. So that engagement piece which we do that quite a lot as an organisation…

Ben: (In the background) Yeah

Martin: …that‚ that huge engagement piece with customers is very important to us‚ and what we do and the services that we offer.

Ben: I mean‚ in a lot of the research that I’ve been doing sorta around customer satisfaction‚ within the utilities sector‚ is that. A lot of the feedback that people seem to give is that they get their bill every month‚ every quarter or whatever it is‚ but that’s just it‚ that’s where the relationship ends with them and it’s about maybe wanting to go a little bit deeper into where that actual‚ that payment that fee is going to. I mean that to me seems to be one of the most common things‚ but I mean in your opinion what would you say is like the biggest challenge facing the water or wide utilities sector at the minuet?

Martin: I think there’s‚ obviously‚ water as a resource is finite‚ and we’re seeing it y’know at the moment with the dry weather and some of the challenges that it’s bringing some of the other water companies have had to impose the so called hose pipe ban….

Ben: (In the background) *Noise in agreement*

Martin: …I think from our perspective‚ and our supply in the north east being very resilient and I think y’know it’s something. It’s not just a look there‚ we’ve spent a lot of time making a resilient supply and putting a lot of effort into that. But at the same time‚ there is just things that as a country‚ as in the UK we need to be doing to make that we are protecting those resources‚ for current generations and future generations as well.

Ben: (In the background) *Noise in agreement*

Martin: Even if that is something that is a direct challenge to us as a business‚ it’s a very important issue that we must help and gauge around. Having those conversations with customers to ensure that we are protecting those resources‚ very important to us. I think that‚ bringing it back round to technology‚ looking at how we can engage and have a meaningful two way conversation with customers is very important to us and we have set ourselves some very ambitious targets about how many customers we want to be able to reach and to be able to have those conversations. We can ask them‚ we can ask what is important to you as a customer‚ when were shaping our plans‚ our business plans moving forward and the services and things that were looking to innovate around. We want our customers to set the tone for that‚ we want our customers to be able to tell us what and where should we be spending the money that we invest to benefit them ultimately. The areas that are very important to them and the security of their families for now and in the future as well. So that two way dialogue is hugely important and I think that technology definitely has a role to play in that engagement.

Ben: Yeah‚ and it’s potentially a facilitator for that as well in that there are so many channels now that there are out there for people to communicate and say what’s important to them…

Martin: Yeah 

Ben: …I mean something that you alluded to earlier that I wanted to touch on is AI. Now this is being hailed as a potential silver bullet for not just the water industry but for‚ let’s say for life in general shall we say. I mean‚ do you share that optimism?

Martin: Yeah I do. I absolutely do. Y’know its at the very top of the hype cycle isn’t it?…

Ben: (In the background) Yeah

Martin: …y’know to use a Gartner term. What people often get disillusioned at this point at this point in time‚ so the expectation is so high and ‘cause we’re not potentially able to meet that right now‚ that doesn’t necessarily mean that the technology isn’t the right thing to do still. There’s still some really good applications for AI which we’re already doing as an organisation and all organisations are doing…

Ben: (In the background) *Noise in understanding*

Martin: …it’s about being realistic. What can the technology do today? What problems can it solve? How can we use it successfully? But keeping one eye on the future‚ were that technology might go and what might be possible and planning for that as well…

Ben: (In the background) *Noise in agreement*

Martin: …I’m a firm believer that‚ again taking what I said earlier about me privately‚ getting my hands on technology. I think that’s how you learn. I think that we could have sat and studied this technology and we could have said‚ how can we use it? We could have done a big engagement exercise or we could just go for the gut‚ we’ve got to get our hands on this. We need somebody who’s looking for us as an organisation and that’s what we chose to do.

Ben: *Noise in agreement*

Martin: So we created this role‚ we haven’t hired in a AI expert. What we’ve done is take someone who we think has a core set of capabilities…

Ben: (Interjecting) Yeah

Martin: …within our organisation and the background that those guys have got and we’ve but some development around that. But we’ve said go away‚ go an investigate‚ go an discover‚ go an see what other organisations are doing. Which now we feel we’ve found some really interesting things from. We can start to say well how do we embed this into what we do as an organisation…. 

Ben: (In the background) *Noise in agreement*

Martin: …and make it more as our business as usual.

 Ben: I mean‚ it seems that like there is such a premium on the most modern and most forward thinking approaches to things. I think that it’s definitely an industry where you cant really afford to just stand still. Perhaps we’ve seen‚ sorta the dangers y’know‚ in the wider utilities sector‚ of just kinda companies resting on their laurels and thinking that maintaining the status quo is gonna be like a way just to. A way of like of maintaining status essentially…

Martin: (Interjecting) Yeah‚ yeah exactly.

Ben: …I think it’s getting to the stage now‚ where there is so much out there that it’s almost like foolish not to at least try to experiment with these things. So like the last thing I wanted to touch on was‚ I know that you guys just celebrated your second annual Innovation Festival. I just wanted to ask if you could give us the lowdown on what that was and what your favourite parts of it were.

Martin: Yeah. For us and people that aren’t familiar with it‚ it’s basically‚ we’ve ran it two years now‚ completed our second year. It’s a five day event‚ its held locally up here in Newcastle Racecourse. It is basically‚ a year’s worth of innovation condensed into a five day process…

Ben: (In the background) *Laughter*

 Martin: …so this year‚ we ran 13 different sprints. So sprints for us‚ is kinda based on a design thing with the google methodology and its a five day process. We ran those sprints around a different series of challenges‚ some of those challenges are specific to the water industry‚ some of those issues were societal issues‚ so how can reduce zero reuse plastics‚ those kinda things‚ right the way through to how can we engage with more customers. Leak gauge‚ some of the big things from the water industry perspective. Then we invite a whole host of very clever and intelligent people both from within our organisation‚ from our partner network. I think this year we had about 1‚500 different people over the course of the 5 days throughout the door‚ it roughly equates to around 800 people a day…

Ben: (In the background) *Quietly* Wow

Martin: …as most of the sprints have about 60 or so attendees. An ultimately you go through that process‚ kinda early in the week and ultimately it’s about getting everybody up to a certain level of knowledge around a‚ around the particular challenge. Lots of inspiration through little lightning talks from subject matter experts. The middle of the week it’s kinda coming up with ideas…. 

Ben: (Interjecting) *Noise in understanding*

Martin: …around those problems. Distilling those down a little bit‚ refining them towards the middle of the week. Then ultimately as you get to the latter part of the week‚ it’s about taking a smaller number of those ideas and actually coming up with some kinda tangible solutions…

Ben: (In the background) *Noise in agreement* 

Martin: …with the view of showcasing those on the friday. An even then really that process is only the starting line really…

Ben: (Interjecting) Yeah.

Martin: …because those ideas are just ideas at that point in time. 

Ben: Yeah

Martin: We talk a lot as an organisation about innovating with intent‚ an how you can pick those ideas up and how can we translate those into real benefits for our customers. That’s not always us as an organisation‚ I think that there’s somethings that lend themselves to us and theres somethings that we want to achieve but outside of that‚ there’s a lot of innovations that have came that we’ve just picked up. Whether that’s partners‚ people that have attended the festival that are not partners. One of the great things that i’ve found from this year‚ is that it created such as media buzz‚ as you can imagine‚ when you’ve got that many people together.

Ben: Yeah

Martin: If nothing else it‚ that atmosphere‚ that environment it’s gonna be contagious…

Ben: (In the background) Yeah 

Martin: …it’s going to leak out into social media‚ it’s going to be part of the media presence‚ it’s gonna be out there‚ I think it’s fair to say. I think this year‚ we’ve managed to inspire a lot of people as well to go away to their own organisations and maybe challenge their people. To say why aren’t we doing something like this? Whether it’s on that kinda scale or whether its on a micro version of it. There’s been countless blogs and things that i’ve read‚ that it’s great to see. It’s absolutely fantastic to see that people are really engaging and really bought into this idea of innovation and how they can in their own organisations.

Ben: Fantastic. I think‚ like for me‚ that is the lesson to learn from things like that. When it comes to introducing sprint‚ kinda introducing like design sprint methodology or these sort of. Its a quick way to‚ I mean reasonable‚ I mean not putting a festival on obviously. But it’s a pretty quick and inexpensive way to quickly generate ideas and focus on the ones that you think are the best to be progressing with.

Martin: Yeah‚ and I think that outside of that realm of the sprints and of the innovation‚ the festival covers so much more. It’s got a well being element to it‚ quite a lot going on there. One of the things‚ obviously being a guy from the north east‚ one of the things that i’m really proud of is the STEM side of the festival as well. So I think we had 700 school children running their own STEM activities over the course of the week their as well. That’s something that I am particularly proud of‚ so it’s not about the here and now‚ it’s about the future‚ it’s about the sustainability‚ it’s about creating things for future generations and inspiring young people as well. Hopefully a lot of those people will go wow Northumbrian Water are a cool organisation and i’d love to go work for them when I grow up. We can bring the next crop of talent and great minds through into the organisation‚ and that for me as much a benefit to what we do at the Innovation Festival as the outcomes‚ as important as they are…

Ben: Yeah

Martin: …an how we’ll pick those outcomes up in the shorter term‚ I think that longer term legacy is very important in what we do as well.

Ben: Fantastic. No I totally agree and I think that‚ y’know things. Doing things like this is going to get the message out a lot clearer‚ I did a little cursory research for utilities on some podcast channels yesterday and there wasn’t a lot of stuff… 

Martin: *Laughter*

Ben: …so hopefully when stuff like this goes out‚ there’ll be a wider audience ready to embrace it‚ and learn more about Northumbrian Water and start some rewarding careers there.

Martin: Yeah‚ it’s ultimately‚ it’s a very cool organisation to be part of. I think y’know we’ve given‚ hopefully been able to give a bit of a flavour of how progressive. How open minded‚ the fantastic culture the organisation has. How on any given day we can seize an opportunity if it’s the right thing to do for our customers and for our business. But I think ultimately in the water industry its an exciting time‚ there’s a lot of big macro level challenges for us. Resilience of supply and…

Ben: (In the background) *Noise in understanding*

Martin: …how you can embed innovation into what we do as organisations. But I think there’s a real openness as well to collaborate on some of these bigger challenges…

Ben: Yeah 

Martin: …and I think it’s about letting down our guard sometimes as an organisation. As the organisation within water‚ getting around some of the bigger problems‚ the problems that are bigger than us as organisations. An actually y’know benefiting and ultimately the customers.

Ben: Yep 

Martin: Creating a sustainable legacy‚ I guess for the future generations. I think if things like the innovation festival help us create a catalyst and create a bit of a movement for that.

Ben: (In the background) *Noise in agreement* 

Martin: Interviews like this kind of prompt some kind of action from other water companies. I think that’s very important.

Ben: Definitely‚ a sustainable future for the next generation ah? 

Martin: Yeah‚ I think so.

Ben: So what a hopeful not to leave it on. Martin thank you very much for joining me today and stay in touch‚ speak to you soon. 

Martin: Thank you‚ thanks

Ben: Thanks Martin‚ cheers. 

*Music fades in and out*

Ben: Boom. Wasn’t that a good podcast? I thought the guy was fantastic‚ he’s a born speaker‚ he’s very entertaining and to be fair the things that Northumbrian Water are doing are pretty incredible. It was a shame that I missed out on the Innovation Festival this year‚ but maybe next year. Ladies‚ Gentleman ‚ I really hope that you guys enjoyed the podcast as I say there are more to come.

Please keep in dialled in. Get me on twitter @BenjaminL1nd and on LinkedIn‚ send me a connect request‚ drop me a DM. We’re always just sharing content into my network‚ we have interesting discussions going on about the utilities sector‚ about water in general. There’s blogs‚ there’s articles‚ there’s even some videos‚ there’s nothing not to like. If you wanna hear more about my facilitator‚ the company that lets me do this‚ the company that makes the most of my propensity for speaking for a living. Please check out hedgehog lab on the internet‚‚ check them out on twitter @hedgehoglab. Thank you very much for listening‚ please leave some feedback‚ give it a like‚ tell me what you liked‚ tell me what you didn’t like. It’s the only way this is gonna get any better.

Till next time I’m Ben‚ speak soon.

*Ending music fades in*

What do you think the biggest challenge is for organisations within the utilities sector? Let us know below in the comments section.