Igniting Innovation

“At Xylem we're committed to creating both economic and social value. Having that higher purpose brings a sense of real excitement. It’s more than just a job.”

Delph Mak is a Regional Director in Xylem Digital Solutions, responsible for accelerating business growth in the Asia region by providing digital solutions tailored to help clients solve their unique challenges. She also leads a new global youth initiative, Xylem Ignite, which is focused on nurturing the next generation of water leaders. Here she explores the importance of water innovation – and why engaging youth is so critically important to solving water.

Picture the scene: a remote village in a largely unknown country - Laos. I’m a young student, spending two weeks doing volunteer work, building a stairway in a school. The work is hard, but so is the realization that the community needs more than a new stairway. Like so many other places on earth, it lacks the most basic commodity of all. Water.

I remember it like it was yesterday. What water there was had to be hauled from a well, then transported via heavy buckets. As for bathing, I followed the pattern established for centuries: I headed for the river. Depending on the rainfall, this could be clear, or polluted.

When I returned to Singapore, I encountered the polar opposite: a sophisticated city where clean, hot and cold water is literally on tap, all the time. Yet the memory of Laos stayed with me, alongside the personal experience of water deprivation.

That memory lay dormant as I completed my degree in chemical engineering. It was a chance encounter and conversation with a friend that led me to consider a career in water. The friend worked for a major water utility, with a hydro hub that was considered to be technologically world-leading. I was intrigued. “Tell me more!”

That’s when I learned just how smart Singapore’s system is. With no natural source of water, except what is harvested from rainfall, Singapore leverages cutting-edge technologies and practices to conserve and protect water, and in doing so is setting a standard for the world. I had the privilege of joining the utility – proud to serve a water operator that is a leading force in innovation for the sector. My career in the water industry had begun!

I joined Xylem in 2018, eager to work for the world’s leading water technology provider, with a role that focuses on increasing innovation adoption by our clients. Specifically, I bring advanced data analytics solutions to the water sector. With many technologies under the big Xylem umbrella, we work closely with our clients, leveraging creative thinking, innovation and collaboration, to find the solutions that best meet their needs. Data analytics is just one vital, part of that integration.

The great thing is we can use the technology to help utilities and other water operators anticipate and address problems, rather than wait for things to go wrong. For instance, we can assess data to monitor pressure surges or identity potential leaks in pipes, initiating protection before a burst. Water losses from broken infrastructure serves no one, but water saved helps whole societies, so I get a real sense of achievement from my work.

The Power of Digital Innovation

We’ve seen how data and analytics have transformed other sectors, from banking to energy and beyond. Now the water sector can benefit from the same step change. Groundbreaking digital solutions are giving the water operators better insights, more operational efficiency, and fewer losses and leaks, and enabling water operators to take more timely action.

Xylem is committed to bringing the power of digital solutions, including Decision Intelligence tools, to our clients to help them gain from the game-changing benefits they deliver. In January, Xylem expanded our regional headquarters in Singapore with a new technology hub to build our momentum and create even more ways to collaborate with water operators and other stakeholders across our innovation ecosystem.

Nurturing the Next Generation of Water Leaders

The other innovation driver is all about people. Young people today are joining the industry with an understanding of – and passion for – digital analytics, the Internet of Things, machine learning, artificial intelligence. They grew up with technology and understand and embrace it. They’re also passionate about sustainability: they want to make a difference. This is a wonderful and powerful combination of knowledge and idealism, which has to be great for the future. To solve water, we have to champion this next generation of water innovators and stewards.

Right now, I’m leading a Xylem initiative called Xylem Ignite. It’s about nurturing and supporting young people with an interest in working in water, or advocating for water. We’re leveraging Xylem’s partnerships and programs such us being global founder of the Stockholm Junior Water Prize, and exploring new ways to spotlight the imperative of youth solving water and drive engagement. [Hear Xylem CEO Patrick Decker speak about the critical importance of engaging youth.]

We’re focusing on sustainability, solving water challenges, engaging with the community, and incubating innovation. There’s so much talent, energy and passion out there, you can’t help but feel optimistic!

At Xylem we always talk about the importance of creating both economic and social value. Having that higher purpose makes you come to work with a sense of real excitement. It’s not just a job.

By innovating, we’re making it our passion and life’s work!

by Delph Mak