The dictionary says that innovating is “bringing in new methods, making changes”. But this definition doesn’t go far enough. Because nowadays, to innovate is to forge alliances with science and technology to reinvent oneself, encourage and promote ideas, appraise them and get actual results. This is the daily task facing Manuel Cermerón Romero, an expert in managing new challenges.
Is Aqualogy a technology company? Aqualogy is undoubtedly a service company, but it has the ability to create its own technology and provide it where there is a need. Some clients require only the technology, others want a turnkey project, and by that I mean the technology and the construction of the infrastructure associated with it; then there are clients who prefer the complete package, including maintenance.
How does Aqualogy get technological ideas and knowledge to flow?
One of our strong points, what makes us different, is our ability to interact with the worldwide knowledge network in the broad sense of the concept. This means that wherever there’s a start-up, a spin-off, an entrepreneur with a technology we think is attractive, we have the means to assess what that person is doing and set up ways of communicating with them. This also puts the onus on us to keep a watchful eye on the market. But at the same time, it gives us a competitive edge.
Does Aqualogy create teams of people dedicated to innovation?
Technology intelligence is one of the lynchpins of our
innovation ecosystem, but the chain is a little more complex. Initially it’s the idea that someone has somewhere in the world. This idea needs to mature, so we start the research and development process at laboratory scale. If we find the product might be industrially viable it moves on to the next phase. This stage involves Aqualogy companies, which are involved in taking the lab prototype up to industrial scale. And if the results are satisfactory, that initial idea finally reaches the market.
It sounds like a very linear process...
That would be the ideal scenario, but it’s never like that in practice. It’s more like a controlled trial and error process that we all take part in. Even our sales executives, who study the needs and opportunities for
a particular technology or solution, based on their view of the market. And sometimes those needs or opportunities don’t match up to what we thought and that means we have to cancel a development project. This is the most complex part of Aqualogy, although it’s true that we have to develop a thick skin, not to failure but to making mistakes.
Is there some sort of internal procedure for channelling all the ideas?
Yes, it’s essential to have an ordered and well-organised process for getting and dealing with ideas. We work with the method known as the innovation funnel, with a very wide entry point and converging down to a narrow exit, managed by the Innovation Programmes Department. They collect
ideas and group them according to topic and opportunity, then they assign resources to them.
What is knowledge for Aqualogy?
Knowledge is the basis of our work. For us, generating ideas is a network with very specific nodes along it. We have seven knowledge domains, each of which is divided into around ten sub-domains. It’s here where our experts are involved, assigned to these nodes because of personal experience and/or technical knowledge. They keep the knowledge flowing through the company, resolving problems, developing new products and configuring specific projects. Thanks to these professionals we’re able to generate a permanent dynamic of innovation, of adding value to
the business model. Nurturing this human capital, this talent, is vital, and this is another of our distinguishing features.
For example, becoming self-sufficient in terms
This is a key concept, and we really must take the plunge from the sanitation point of view. Areas with high water stress will be limited in terms of growth and production potential, and they will eventually be constrained because their natural resources are not infinite. If we apply our ingenuity and move fast to reuse water, we’ll be increasing our ability to cater for large numbers of people in a single area using the same natural resources.
How is the concept applied in the case of energy?
In the medium term, in around ten years, we must be able to be self-sufficient in treatment plants; we must be able to recover enough energy during the treatment process to be able to fuel the entire process. Organic material has an enormous amount of embedded energy which we can use in our treatment plants if we’re skilful enough. That means that we’d be treating waste before returning it to the environment in perfect condition without consuming any energy. We’re close to achieving this.
Are these Aqualogy’s “star products”?
Well, in fact every market and every country has its own. Germany and the United Kingdom have little in common with the United States, because they need different kinds of solutions. It’s more likely that finding the ideal time for replacing a pipe or pumping station could be a “star product” in the USA, while in Germany they’re more interested in recycling waste produced during the treatment process, sludge drying using the TDS (Thermal Drying System) or biomass production. But if you take a closer look they all coincide on one point: the need to stimulate ideas and reinvent ourselves, to keep on innovating to tackle the challenges posed by water. x
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