Water & Wastewater Treatment

WWT October 2016

Water & Wastewater Treatment Magazine

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Page 13 of 51

14 | OCTOBER 2016 | WWT | www.wwtonline.co.uk Industry leader Jeremy Heath, Innovation Manager, Sutton and East Surrey Water "ODIs have given us focus… it's simple to work out the tangible benefit of putting in a solution." W here does innovation come from in the water industry? Academics, researchers, technology firms and the supply chain of course all play a part; but one source that's oen neglected is a water company's own workforce. Who better to identify the need for a possible improvement than the people on the front line who are doing the job? That's the thinking that Jeremy Heath, Innovation Manager at Sutton and East Surrey Water, has been seeking to apply recently at his company. The company has put in place a system dubbed ERIC – Employee Realistic Ideas Capture – in which staff can suggest improvements to their own jobs or the wider company operations. These are considered by Heath and other senior managers and either implemented or rejected based on discussions and cost-benefit analysis; ideas that are taken up can earn staff rewards and recognition. "Your people are hugely important, because that's where your ideas come from," Heath tells WWT. "It's not even that people come up with innovation so much as they help you realise the problems, and the sort of things you might do to make it better. For years I was in charge of our metering teams, and I used to make a point of regularly going out and reading meters myself, because it's only once you've actually gone out there and done it you start thinking 'why do we do it that way?', 'wouldn't it be great if you could do this?', and so on." The suggestions system has been accompanied by another training programme called 'inverting the triangle' which turns the traditional power structure on its head by encouraging managers to listen to and assist front line workers. Heath points out that while technological breakthroughs and disruptive innovations take the headlines, such improvements are extremely rare and most innovation - around 70 per cent – comes from small incremental improvements of the sort that could reasonably be proposed by the workforce. However, while he is keen to capture such low-hanging fruit, Heath is also constantly on the lookout for the bigger, sweeping changes which could prove transformational. Five years ago, he was instrumental in equipping SESW's mobile workforce with tablet computers – one of the first water companies to do this – and changing their work habits to make the most of the new kit. "That's been a huge change within the industry I think - we were very much at the cutting edge in terms of thinking tablets were the way forward, and we are very much tablet-based now," says Heath. "It was a sea change when we brought them in, for staff who had been using large chunky devices or using paper, to find that they could do so much more on these devices. We did an analysis with a meter fitter – where it's easy to measure his performance based on Interview by James Brockett

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