‘Brexit provides a chance to rethink regulation in the UK’

There has arguably never been a more vibrant time in the privatised water industry


Chris Loughlin, chairman British Water

As water companies strive to become evermore customer centric, while also improving performance and efficiency, the supply chain is being challenged to provide new and innovative solutions that will help take the sector to the frontier of what can be achieved. This has already resulted in some incredibly exciting developments, many of which are being made possible by recent advances, especially in digital technologies.

In the early-90s who would have thought that, in 2017, companies would be using aerial drones to monitor assets, using virtual reality technologies within operations and employing artificial intelligence to provide increased business intelligence? The use of big data, together with advanced monitoring of assets and networks, and the capabilities of remote technology, is steadily revolutionising the relationship between customer service and day-to-day operations.

Such innovation is mission critical for the future. In addition to changing consumer expectations, the sector is faced with significant longer-term challenges in areas such as population growth and climate change. A global crisis is brewing in terms of water availability and so an emphasis on new technologies and techniques that will better protect and sustain this precious resource is inevitably required. No one is better placed to lead this charge than the industry supply chain, working, competing and achieving success all around the world.

Within all of this, the onus is on the supply chain to engage with water companies and identify solutions through a collaborative approach to problem-solving. Major challenges for companies exist, particularly in areas relating to environmental sustainability, so there is a huge opportunity for supply chain partners to step up to the plate and take the industry in new and exciting directions. This will further enable the UK supply chain to build its already strong credentials as an exporter of cutting-edge water industry knowledge and expertise.

A pressing area of focus is the circular economy and how the water sector can close the loop in terms of resource and energy sustainability. Many companies are already making inroads in activities such as onsite energy generation through new and existing forms of renewable energy and energy recovery from waste, but there is still a long way to go. Clearly there is a huge opportunity for the supply chain to explore and exploit the opportunities that exist in this space, and it will be interesting to see how this is supported through the evolution of the regulatory framework.

Looking ahead, there are also opportunities presented by Brexit. Regardless of your position on the departure of Britain from the European Union, there is no denying that it can, and should, provide an opportunity to discuss how best to address local issues to improve environmental protection. In recent years, a more holistic approach to drinking water and wastewater management has been adopted, with companies, supply chain partners, communities, landowners, local authorities and other stakeholder groups working more closely together on shared challenges, for example raw water quality issues, flooding and pollution. Brexit arguably provides a once-in-a-lifetime chance to rethink how regulation is best applied within the UK and enable the provision of more tailor-made localised solutions.

This will require even greater partnership-working and further investment in pilot programmes, for example in new and innovative approaches to catchment management. As a result, the UK supply chain, which is best placed to deliver such innovation here, will benefit from vital post-Brexit export opportunities – a springboard into new global marketplaces.

The industry as a whole is being challenged, under increasing scrutiny, to work towards a more sustainable and resilient future that will meet the needs of customers, communities and the environment. This creates a climate in which innovation, fresh thinking and thought leadership are highly sought after. The challenges are increasing – the ambition and capability to take them on should follow suit.