The water industry may be vast but it is a mistake to represent it as some sort of industrial monolith.
While it may talk with an often welcome degree of unity on the issues of the day, its disparate nature is revealed in the ability or otherwise of its various participants to respond to changing demands and circumstances.
The sector has provided a fertile ground for innovative products and systems in recent years. Yet the ‘brand image’ of the water industry as one of lumbering giants tied to legacy assets and traditional ways of doing things lingers on.
Scale and longevity are not incompatible with innovation, in the water sector or the process industries in general. One has only to think of the likes of Siemens or Honeywell to appreciate that deep pockets and substantial resources can be crucial for developing new ways of working.
Yet it remains the case that many companies are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place: they know they need to innovate but lack the expertise to do so assuredly and need to maintain more than a degree of ‘business as usual’ while embracing change.
Regulators meanwhile have provided an additional pincer of obligations. They must clean up their acts environmentally and sustainably and meet onerous targets in short time. And they must invest without seeking to increase the burden on the consumer.
One hardly need mention those other twin pressures on economic activity, Brexit and Covid-19. On top of everything, water firms cannot of course blindly innovate and implement. Few outside industrial and research environments appreciate the complexity of the testing processes that underpin change.
Creating, modelling, testing, scaling up, implementing, training for and selling new approaches is often based on far longer timetables than politicians and public allow but as our feature on page 10 emphasises, the key will remain technology that can drive cost-saving efficiencies.