Sasha D'Arcy28 November 2023

Spotlight on Disruptive Innovation at SA Water

When we think disruptive innovation, we often think about start-ups sticking close to customers and taking over from their much larger competitors. Nimble, adaptable, lean, hedge fund investors, all spring to mind. What doesn’t come to mind, is government organisations. The world of disruption has often talked about how disruption is rare or sometimes even “impossible” in the space where no competitors exist to provide a product or service (e.g. who else is going to issue your passport if not DFAT?). However, some great examples out of the US government (unmanned aerial vehicles) have highlighted how it is possible for large, public organisations to disrupt themselves.

Government innovation in action

A great example of self-disruption comes from our clients at SA Water. SA Water is a successful, modern water utility that is wholly owned by the Government of South Australia. They employ more than 1,500 South Australians across a broad range of disciplines who operate over $14 billion of assets, to deliver essential water and sewerage services to more than 1.7 million South Australians.

Our work with SA Water started many years ago when they approached us wanting to better understand how their internal innovation capability compared to their fellow mining, agriculture and utility peers in Australia and New Zealand. It was essential for them to establish a clear baseline and identify areas of improvement, to ensure they could develop a fit-for-purpose innovation strategy that aligned with their long-term vision for the benefit of their people, customers, and community. We conducted our signature benchmarking service over several years to highlight new drivers of innovation to focus on to improve their overall innovation impact. Since then, we have rolled out our Building Innovation Fundamentals program which provides bite-sized innovation training and tools widely across the organisation to build capability far and wide (with another cohort set to go through in September).

Leveraging their innovation foundations co-designed with Inventium, alongside their innovative partnerships and sustainable practices, SA Water has made significant steps forward in enhancing their operations, reducing costs and improving service delivery for customers. Central to SA Water’s success has been encouraging their people to experiment and contribute ideas helping to drive engagement and achieve performance targets.

The impact of disruptive innovation

One example of such progress is their creation of a new standard for recycling PVC pipes. Approximately 65 per cent of their waste sent to landfill is comprised of pipe offcuts, which has significant environmental and financial impacts. By thinking upstream and implementing sustainable practices, SA Water has been able to deliver a two-fold solution to this problem. Firstly, their new recycling program has enabled further reductions in waste and delivery of cost savings. Secondly, the program has delivered a 25 per cent reduction in carbon emissions during the manufacturing process. Through this initiative, SA Water is harnessing more sustainable practices to deliver a positive outcome for our environment.

By creating regular events, workshops, and networking opportunities, SA Water aims to create an environment where everyone feels heard, valued, and supported. The utility firmly believes in new possibilities, and prides themselves on their innovative spirit that enables a constant balance between the challenges of today with the solutions of tomorrow. This forward-thinking approach ensures that there is always a problem to solve and a goal to strive for.

So, keep an eye out for the ideas and disruptive innovation that continues to flow from SA Water.