How a Digitally Native, Mobile Generation, will Transform the Water Industry


I am mad.  To be completely honest, I have been mad for a long time.  I want my flying car!  I was promised it.  Every Saturday morning, George Jetson even went so far to demonstrate how it would fold into a tidy suitcase.  So, where is it?  How hard can it really be?

I think the hold must be because of a strong underground movement of tire lovers.  They likely have been silently working against my dream; plotting to keep us earth bound for the sole purpose of selling more replacement tires.  Or, could it something simpler that keeps my eyes on the clouds and feet on the pavement?  I have been asking that question a lot these days.  Why do some industries move very fast and others seemingly never change?

Perhaps what is really at play is an Innovation Fire Triangle.  What? Well you remember in elementary school the Fire Department would come in and let us all see the big trucks and give out plastic fire helmets.  Then someone would tell us that with the right combination of fuel, air and heat you can have a fire.  Innovation is like that too.  With the right combination of cultural acceptance, technology, and commercial viability you can have sustainable innovations.

Thomas Edison is known for saying "I find out what the world needs and I proceed to invent it."  That concept works pretty well for a guy who solved darkness.  But, inventing is not enough.  People were tired of dealing with Kerosene lights and their instability. So, he had cultural acceptance.  What he lacked was the other two: the light bulb and a commercial business model.  Well, he solved the light bulb finally, but building a small scale power grid was painful, but it worked.  As for a commercial business model, well, I'll spare you the long history, but, ultimately Edison had some help from others solving it.

I like this example because if any one of those legs had not fallen into place, then kerosene would have been lighting homes for many more years.  You can insert tons of research and fancy MBA graphs into innovation curves [here], but the simple fact is the triangle formed and the spark that happened, defeated darkness.

When I look at the industrial controls market, the innovation triangle leads me to believe elements are aligning for that defining moment of change.

Here’s what I mean:  The technology principles revolutionizing the way we consume, process, and manage information at home or on-the-go are powerful tools for transforming automation challenges into opportunity that improves how we manage our water.

The industrial automation industry is conservative, and for all the right reasons.  Yet, you can apply and leverage consumer technology trends – the transformative power of IT technology, collaboration frameworks, and secure connectivity – to benefit and minimize the disruption from dynamics impacting the world.

Depending on your location, you face either an exodus or a shortage of skilled workers.   In the next five years, 40 percent of America’s skilled manufacturing workforce will retire.  Increasingly, your business will employ a generation of workers who have the ability and expectation of applying technology they’ve used in school and at home, to their work.  This digitally native, mobile generation knows exactly how to collaborate to improve the quality and velocity of information within a business. Enabling this can deliver productivity results direct to the bottom line.

It is said that hindsight is always 20-20, but we would argue that the triumph of those companies that embrace and adapt new technologies to their business needs is inevitable.  At GE Intelligent Platforms, we believe the conversation about the Industrial Internet is more than idle chatter. The machine-to-machine communication that we expect to reach 100 billion connected devices by 2020 is not merely a risk to prepare for or a reality to manage through, but contains within it the ability for businesses to use data and analytics for unprecedented levels of performance, uptime and productivity.

See my excitement! The legs of the triangle are rapidly aligning.  The digital natives expect information fast and simple, the technology is in place everywhere today.  Now it's up to you to figure out your commercial models.  Imagine how you can apply it.  Go ahead—build your flying car.


Alan Hinchman

As Chief Operating Officer at The Water Initiative, Alan Hinchman leads global businesses and local communities in the pursuit of clean, affordable water. His work with water distribution information technologies helps make our most valuable resource safe and accessible around the world. Connect with Alan on LinkedIn.

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