Q&A with Xylem’s Chief Innovation, Technology and Product Management Officer Dave Flinton.
Digital technologies hold the key to managing water more effectively and efficiently – enabling communities and businesses to address urgent threats like climate change, lack of water access, water affordability challenges and greenhouse gas emissions. Earlier this year, Fast Company named Xylem a 2022 Best Workplaces for Innovators Large Company Standout for building a rich culture of innovation to help shape the future of water.
In our Culture of Innovation series, we talk to Dave Flinton, Chief Innovation, Technology and Product Management Officer at Xylem, about how digital innovation is helping Xylem, our customers and their communities solve the world’s most pressing water problems.
Q: Before we dive into digital, can you share some perspective on the history of innovation at Xylem?
A: Absolutely. Xylem has a long record of innovation in water – from inventing the world’s first-ever submersible dewatering pump in 1947, to our groundbreaking pipe inspection tools with acoustic sensors, to the world’s first wastewater pumping system with integrated digital intelligence and beyond.
Today climate change and other critical issues – like the energy crisis in Europe – underscore the need to bring more advanced and sustainable technologies to the market at a faster pace.
So we are redoubling our efforts on innovation, with a focus on digital technologies that add intelligence and functionality, helping utilities and businesses optimize the way they manage water to create important water, energy and cost efficiencies.
Q: How has Xylem’s approach to digital innovation evolved in recent years?
A: Digital innovation is critical to enabling us to deliver greater impact for our customers, so we’ve shifted more of our R&D spend to build these solutions. Today, we’re spending a majority of our product development time and energy on digitizing our portfolio and bringing new digital solutions and services to our customers. We’ve also brought all of Xylem’s digital solutions under one tent – called Xylem Vue. Xylem Vue is our digital solutions platform that combines our smart and connected technologies, intelligent systems and services, and 100+ years of problem-solving expertise – to help utilities deliver transformative outcomes to their communities.
Q: Can you talk more about Xylem’s approach to digitizing our foundational products?
A: Our core portfolio of technologies and installed base of pumps, mixers, treatment equipment, meters, analytical instrumentation, etc. is a huge competitive advantage for us. We’re taking these cornerstone products and converting them to connected products. To accelerate the process, we’ve created standards around cybersecurity, interoperability and device connectivity – think of this as a digital standards playbook.
These digitized offerings give our customers data and insights to better manage their infrastructure – helping generate tremendous cost-savings, and water and energy efficiencies.
For example, by implementing remote monitoring, utilities can reduce truck deployments previously needed to manually read meters, reducing carbon emissions.
Q: How do these connected products support Xylem Vue’s more sophisticated digital solutions?
A: Xylem’s higher-level solutions, like our Advanced Metering Infrastructure and Wastewater Treatment Optimization, are essentially systems of connected products that can gather and send large amounts of data to software that uses data analytics and machine learning. These solutions can create predictive models of entire networks, helping utilities, businesses and other water managers create water, energy and cost efficiencies on a much larger scale.
These are real-world solutions that are already delivering game-changing results, like helping Suffolk County DPW in New York avoid $2 billion in sewage infrastructure costs and helping EPAL in Portugal reduce 1.7 million cubic meters of non-revenue water.
Another example is our work with the City of South Bend, Indiana. The city used digital technology to reduce combined sewer overflow volume by more than 70%.
By eliminating the need for a significant new construction project and extending the life of its infrastructure through smart technology, South Bend also made a major impact in reducing its carbon footprint.
Q: What is Xylem doing to help encourage utilities to adopt digital technologies?
A: One way Xylem is helping drive adoption is by making it easier for utilities to conduct start-up technology pilots, and turn pilots into commercial deployments. We’re partnering with water consultancy Isle Utilities on their revolving loan fund – called the “Trial Reservoir.” It’s an industry-first approach that makes a pool of funding available to early-stage technology companies, giving them the capacity to undertake trial deployments with water utilities, and reducing the burden and risk to utilities.
Another example of business model innovation that’s encouraging adoption: we’re using Xylem’s strong balance sheet to create a network-as-a-service and software-as-a-service offering that takes the burden off utilities to staff, manage, upgrade and pay for IT infrastructure – helping make modernization more affordable.
The bottom-line is that the technology exists today to transform water management. Now, as an industry, we have to apply the same innovation, passion and focus that we’re bringing to developing new technologies to encouraging adoption. And we can’t be afraid to break some glass. The most innovative technology in the world is useless if no one is using it.