An alliance of businesses in the business of water

Why (and how) every business needs to transform itself

May 24, 2017

This month, WIA’s CEO Rachel sat down with Tim Waterhouse over a coffee to talk through what’s happening in business, and the opportunities and challenges in the water sector.

Rachel:  Let’s start with a bit of background; I know you’ve been involved in the water industry and operating across SA’s business landscape for some time.

Tim: I’ve had 15 years involvement in the Water Industry Alliance and in mentoring start-ups and businesses. I have started business, invested in businesses, helped revive businesses and managed the closure of others!  Right now, I sit on government panels that assist business transformation and new product commercialisation.

Rachel:  Having looked at so many businesses, are there any key themes across business today?  What do you see are some of the issues our members are tackling right now?

Tim:  The clear message in my experience is that no business can stay with the same business model, products and client base forever.

The impact of globalisation, of the Internet, of credible cost reductions and increases in capability of electronics, of computing and the automation of manual processes have all accelerated the rate of change. This presents a challenge to many businesses.

Rachel:  What do you see as some of the threats to the water related businesses in South Australia?

Tim:  For water industry businesses, there is less expenditure on water projects in Australia, and the growing presence of international and multinational businesses in the Australian market. The combined effect is growing competition in a shrinking local market.  So, if there aren’t significant increases in expenditure in the Australian water industry, growth must come from gaining market share.

This looks like a recipe for brutal price competition and will make sustainable growth challenging.

Rachel:  So, what is the flip side to some of this? Are there opportunities too?

Tim:  Some of the same forces that threaten our businesses do also create opportunity.

Globalisation is an opportunity for many of the products, services and IP skills we have. There are massive markets opening up in emerging economies in Asia and elsewhere.

First world countries are experiencing regional water supply, water quality and wastewater issues as well, the opportunity isn’t just in developing nations.

We have more knowledge, and more great products and services to offer than we realise. Australia is one of the few places in the world to know how much water we have, who owns it, how to store and trade it and how to manage it effectively and in an environmentally responsible way.

The SA government has developed great relationships in places including China and India. Within these regions alone, the demand for water advice, services and products is massive.

I’ve seen a number of WIA members considering IoT (the Internet of things) and looking at opportunities to remotely monitor, manage, advise and consult.

Rachel:  So what should our water sector members be doing?

Tim: It is likely many businesses will need to discard their current model. They will need to find new ways to get a return on their IP other than embedding it in a project.

There are likely to be smaller returns but on massively greater volumes. These businesses are also likely to have to build new international partnerships.

Rachel:  That is really challenging, transforming a business model requires serious commitment and often, additional resources – what can our members access to assist them?

Tim:  Yes, the challenge for most of us is to throw off all the limitations of our current thinking. This is always easier if you engage other minds in the quest for another view.

This may be staff, friends, other trusted colleagues or consultants. There are a number of Water Industry Alliance members who have already started this journey – seek them out!

There are also great programs out there that will also help you look at your business and seek new ideas. For example the NVI at Flinders University offers inspired speakers at little or no cost and Flinders Enterprise Consulting provides low cost partnering with high level students who might help inspire!

There are more formal programs too – the University of SA Centre for Business Growth offers heavily subsidised programs that are an extraordinary opportunity for teams to dissect their business and plan high growth futures.

I have seen hundreds of business transformation ideas and plans generated by clever (and sometimes desperate) businesses. This has confirmed to me that there is always a better idea and a better way!

Rachel: Our April Members’ Night event featured a panel of representatives from start-up/early commercialisation support organisations, and we had a great response from members.

Tim:  Absolutely! It was a great night!  Once you have your transformative idea, there are programs available to help fund implementation and provide advisory support. The South Australian Government has recently committed millions of dollars in grants to promote innovation and transformation. I encourage WIA members to take a look at the Department of State Development and TechInSA programs.

Rachel:  Any last words of advice for our water industry members?

Tim:  Be brave – transforming your business is not an option, but a necessity!