OCTOBER 23 — Pandemics have a history of catalysing change. While Covid-19 has unequivocally disrupted our lives and livelihoods, our shared goal of overcoming the pandemic has driven innovation at an unprecedented speed in order to adequately tackle these newfound challenges, from nationally-produced test kits and masks, to rice ATMs, and even temperature-taking technology.

Outside of global crises, innovation already plays a big role in economic and societal development.

We need constant innovation to improve productivity, raise efficiencies, and most importantly, address new problems and challenges that arise as the world continues to evolve.

This especially rings true for the water industry, as the water supply and sanitation (WSS) sector continues to face increasing pressures to produce more with less to remain sustainable.

Innovation and technology have a vital role to play in scarcity and safety, water efficiency, utility operations, monitoring and treatment, and data and analytics.

This becomes even more imperative in the pandemic — water consumption is expected to have gone up tremendously, with increased handwashing and higher frequency of cleaning of public spaces and homes observed all around the world.

As a pioneer in innovative pump technology, Grundfos has been steadfast in its focus of delivering high quality and intelligent water solutions, leveraging the strength of mobile connectivity to deliver optimal control and reliability, for everyone from industries, municipalities, to the general public.

However, as innovation continues on a positive trajectory in the new normal, there remains some key questions. How can we sustain our efforts towards innovation to beyond addressing the impact of the pandemic but also start driving recovery, in a reality where we are expected to co-exist with the coronavirus?

Can we innovate beyond single-point solutions but instead a range of interventions that would truly bring about change in a big way?

Driving innovation through effective partnerships

Firstly, we can no longer innovate in silos, especially in today’s globalised business environment.

Success in tackling global challenges requires us to not only look at innovation through technology, but also partnerships.

Beyond driving research and development, seeking collaborations and partnerships can help advance and accelerate any innovator’s existing efforts.

New companies enter the ecosystem every day, bringing with them new technologies and business models, any one of which could transform an entire industry from the ground up.

Partnership based on complementary portfolios and competences can help support the implementation of intelligent solutions.

For example, last September, Grundfos partnered with Siemens to collaborate on water and wastewater applications, industrial automation and building technology.

Grundfos also recently partnered with Augury, a fast-growing data analytics company and leading Digital Machine Health solution provider, in digitising water and utility infrastructure worldwide.

Our strategic partnerships have helped accelerate our approach in innovating new solutions that have helped shape water management today.

Technology alone is not enough

However, what truly sets innovation apart from mere invention? Innovation is defined as the process of turning a new concept into commercial success or widespread use, in turn making a difference in the real world.

To truly have innovation make a difference, there is great benefit in not only collaboration between businesses and industries, but also between the private and public sectors.

Governments have the access and power to effect change, while corporations are driven by a commitment to be part of the solution and also have first-hand knowledge of what is needed from governments to unlock private-sector investments.

Notably, public–private partnerships (or PPPs) are being increasingly used to deliver critical infrastructure projects within developing countries.

Grundfos has been committed to working in cross-sector partnerships with governments, water service companies, development sector organisations and the private sector.

Notably, in the remote village of Sabah, Grundfos worked with the Rotary Club Tawau in the beginning of the millennium, where a single Grundfos solar pump system provides all of the 302 inhabitants with clean water.

Its success has since led to the installation of renewable energy pumping systems in rural schools and clinics in east Malaysia. Access to safe, clean water especially during these times are imperative and such partnerships can help bring the right solutions to help the right people.

Specifically, for developing countries, gaps in technical capacity, expertise and resources can prevent such technology from being sustainable and widespread. But with the support of the right partners we can bring these innovations to life and make a difference.

Preparing for collaboration

With partnerships and collaboration being such an important catalyst for innovation, we need to first and foremost understand what it takes to establish an environment conducive and inclusive enough to encourage long-term, sustainable collaboration.

Firstly, establishing shared values or vision provides greater clarity in why you are coming together. The reason why the pandemic has driven innovation so strongly is the fact that it has given many innovators a common goal to work towards.

For example, Grundfos aligns its business goals with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which allows us to easily relate them to businesses and government stakeholders alike on what we are trying to achieve through our strategic partnerships and take collective action.

Embracing flexibility is also key — a lot of variables exist in innovation within one organisation, and these variables double when it involves a partnership.

There will be a high chance that some aspect of the partnership or initiative will not go exactly as planned, and by making room for flexibility you set you and your partner up for greater agility and sustainability.

Lastly, support the process when you can. This is especially the case for governments engaging the private sector in PPPs, where some projects feature procurement processes that require a lot of guidance.

The public sector can help make the partnership process more supported through establishing good policies, expertise in developing well-structured projects and supportive institutions.

Moving forward

Innovation is more than just technology — it is also about different agents of change coming together to bring to the table their own unique strengths and bring about real impact.

Thinking innovatively in terms of partnerships is crucial in achieving development impact while at the same time meeting the business needs of a rapidly changing world.

By combining technological tools and a cultural willingness to work together and bring to life new ideas, we have the power to unlock something that can tackle anything, even a pandemic. Now is the time to turn that key.

* Kenth Hvid Nielsen is general manager of Grundfos Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand & Vietnam.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer(s) or organisation(s) and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.