Pre­par­ing for the in­dus­try of the fu­ture

EME Outlook - - Front Page - Writer: Matthew Staff Project Man­ager: Richard Thomas

De­spite a his­tory that can be traced back to 1881, it is very much the fu­ture that for­mu­lates wa­ter-link’s phi­los­o­phy, out­look and op­er­a­tions, as Flan­ders’ pri­mary pro­ducer of drink­ing wa­ter strives to stay ahead of the in­dus­try curve.

Ser­vic­ing both the Port of An­twerp and in­deed the rest of Bel­gium, its over­rid­ing rep­u­ta­tion and fo­cus re­volves around the for­mer in be­ing the sole drink­ing wa­ter provider in the city and its sur­round­ing re­gion. And while more than 100 years of evo­lu­tion is im­por­tant to the com­pany you see to­day, the change of name to wa­ter- link in the early 2000s has laid a more re­cent plat­form for a for­ward-think­ing en­tity to thrive amid fluc­tu­at­ing con­di­tions.

Di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion has been more of a ne­ces­sity than a wish, as the Com­pany looks to spread its busi­ness risk and ap­ply its in­dus­try knowl­edge on a broader scale.

“To­day the Com­pany’s ac­tiv­i­ties are di­vided into three mar­kets: the de­liv­ery of drink­ing wa­ter to the pub­lic, the de­liv­ery of drink­ing wa­ter to other Flem­ish wa­ter com­pa­nies, and the de­liv­ery of prod­ucts and ser­vices to the in­dus­trial mar­ket,” in­tro­duces Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer (CEO), Franky Cosaert. “In the res­i­den­tial mar­ket we pro­vide drink­ing wa­ter to both res­i­den­tial and pro­fes­sional clients but this ini­tial core ac­tiv­ity shows a trend of wa­ter con­sump­tion go­ing down, even tak­ing into ac­count the pop­u­la­tion in­crease.

“Fur­ther, prices have risen strongly since 2008 due to the in­tro­duc­tion of a uni­form rate for drink­ing wa­ter, sewage ser­vices and waste­water treat­ment which is based on the ‘pol­luter-pays’ prin­ci­ple.”

A re­cent Flem­ish Gov­ern­ment de­cree has sub­se­quently en­sured that a new ‘com­fort rate’ will bring about uni­for­mity but at an even higher rate, with the busi­ness now con­cerned

about fur­ther mar­ket de­clines and heavy bur­dens on fixed costs ahead.

Franky Cosaert con­tin­ues: “Wa­ter- link is in a chal­leng­ing process of build­ing re­newed part­ner­ships with the other three big wa­ter com­pa­nies in Flan­ders that are now clients for the de­liv­ery of drink­ing wa­ter, in­clud­ing a new sewage ser­vice be­ing op­er­ated in part­ner­ship with Aquafin. “These part­ner­ships com­bine our in­fra­struc­ture for pro­duc­tion and trans­port and re­sult in new, long-term agree­ments for the de­liv­ery of drink­ing wa­ter and shared in­fra­struc­ture.

“As of 2019, wa­ter-link shall be re­spon­si­ble for pro­duc­ing and trans­port­ing more than 40 per­cent of Flan­ders’ drink­ing wa­ter.”

Op­er­a­tional ex­cel­lence

The Port of An­twerp has been an in­dis­pen­si­ble fa­cil­i­ta­tor of world trade through­out his­tory, and still to­day can boast the sec­ond largest con­cen­tra­tion of chem­i­cal in­dus­try in the world. As such, wa­ter-link has once again show­cased its abil­ity to be flex­i­ble to in­dus­try cli­mates and bud­ding op­por­tu­ni­ties, by be­com­ing the sup­plier of process wa­ter and dem­iner­alised wa­ter for in­dus­trial cus­tomers and part­ners.

Demon­strat­ing turnkey ser­vices to take the pres­sure off clients, the Com­pany’s eight lo­cal pro­duc­tion sites and 26 kilo­me­tres of dem­iner­alised wa­ter pipe­lines - com­ple­mented by an ever-grow­ing treat­ment plant ca­pac­ity - epit­o­mises wa­ter-link’s ap­proach to project as­tute­ness in all ded­i­cated ar­eas.

“Last year we took a new drink­ing wa­ter pro­duc­tion plant into ser­vice in our Pro­duc­tion Cen­tre South, in Rumst to meet the grow­ing de­mands of the other wa­ter com­pa­nies, Farys and De Water­groep,” Franky Cosaert of­fers as a fur­ther ex­am­ple. “This fully au­to­mated unit with a ca­pac­ity of 150,000 cu­bic me­tres a day is one of the big­gest in Benelux at a cost of €40

mil­lion. The project is now the ex­am­ple of op­er­a­tional ex­cel­lence we want to in­tro­duce across the other three pro­duc­tion lines.”

A sim­i­larly per­ti­nent project has seen the busi­ness de­ploy smart me­ter­ing across a pi­lot 1,000 cus­tomers ini­tially; bring­ing wa­ter-link, its loyal clients, and in­deed the re­gion as a whole into the dig­i­tal era.

Franky Cosaert adds: “We are now fi­nal­is­ing the eval­u­a­tion of the pi­lot and will be rolling it out to all our cus­tomers in the next three years, mak­ing wa­ter-link one of the first com­pa­nies in the world with a full dig­i­tal wa­ter me­ter­ing ser­vice.”

Smart so­lu­tions

Re­main­ing en­tre­pre­neur­ial and flex­i­ble enough to not only fore­see trends, but to quickly en­act pro­cesses and struc­tures in or­der to ne­go­ti­ate them, is a trait that has served wa­ter-link well over the years, and es­pe­cially in re­cent times.

Franky Cosaert openly ad­mits that the Com­pany is vul­ner­a­ble to changes in wa­ter con­sump­tion, es­pe­cially in the res­i­den­tial seg­ment, but by adding an in­dus­trial string to the com­pany bow, busi­ness risk has been spread, and its pos­i­tive rep­u­ta­tion has ex­panded.

“These trends have driven us to be­come the ser­vice provider for the in­dus­try and in start­ing the new ac­tiv­ity of sewage ser­vices for the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties as well,” the CEO notes. “We no­tice that our clients are search­ing for smart so­lu­tions to make their lives eas­ier and to re­duce their costs, and we are there­fore able to lever­age so­lu­tions from one area of our busi­ness, to these new ones.”

The In­ter­net of Things (IOT) is a prime ex­am­ple to this end, ini­tially work­ing in the in­dus­trial arena, but now also al­low­ing res­i­den­tial cus­tomers to be­come smarter.

“We also no­tice the de­sire to in­tro­duce cir­cu­lar wa­ter use as a way of cop­ing with en­vi­ron­men­tal stress

and to re­duce the wa­ter foot­print,” Franky Cosaert adds.

To stay at the fore­front of such en­hance­ments, the CEO at­tributes three core strate­gic pil­lars which help to fos­ter an in­ter­nal frame­work that can off­set all prospec­tive chal­lenges.

The first re­volves around con­tin­u­ous in­no­va­tion, as epit­o­mised by the afore­men­tioned dig­i­tal wa­ter me­ters and adop­tion of con­cepts like IOT and cir­cu­lar treat­ment. The sec­ond then takes into ac­count “smart part­ner­ships” as seen through the re­cent part­ner­ship with Aquafin on the sewage side, and also with Pidpa, to ce­ment both com­pa­nies’ mar­ket- lead­ing po­si­tions in the prov­ince of An­twerp.

The fi­nal pil­lar may be the most sig­nif­i­cant though, as Franky Cosaert de­tails: “It’s all about build­ing a team for the fu­ture, as none of the above men­tioned goals can be reached with­out the full sup­port of our per­son­nel.

“So we are put­ting in place a new HR ap­proach which places a lot of em­pha­sis on per­sonal growth and train­ing, sup­ported by a coach­ing style of lead­er­ship.”

A proven track record

Not only is each mem­ber of staff trained to best-in-class stan­dards but an ad­di­tional ad­van­tage comes from the sense of pride and loy­alty that em­anates from a work­force that de­rives mostly from the lo­cal area.

In­ter­ven­tions that help the wider com­mu­nity and save cus­tomers from the lo­cal re­gion both money and time are ob­jec­tives em­bed­ded into the mo­tives of each em­ployee, mak­ing wa­ter-link an ex­tremely at­trac­tive, lo­cally-en­rich­ing, em­ployer.

In­ter­nal re­fine­ments are also ev­i­dent on an on­go­ing ba­sis from an in­vest­ment per­spec­tive, as the Com­pany makes sure that it keeps up with its own growth and the needs of the re­gion.

“For the in­dus­try in An­twerp were are in the process of en­hanc­ing our ca­pac­ity of de­liv­er­ing dem­iner­alised wa­ter to the chem­i­cal clus­ter on the right river bank, dou­bling it by the end of this year,” Franky Cosaert says. “We con­tinue to de­liver to our clients ex­cel­lent wa­ter qual­ity, com­pli­ant with the re­quire­ments of the new­est gen­er­a­tion of co­gen in­stal­la­tions.

“In Ghent the clus­ter is also in the process of up­grad­ing to meet clients’ re­quire­ments. We are stay­ing true to our com­mit­ment of de­liv­er­ing what we have promised via the care­ful se­lec­tion of mar­ket-lead­ing tech­no­log­i­cal so­lu­tions with a proven track record of per­for­mance and sus­tain­abil­ity.”

All new in­cep­tions’ in­te­gra­tion into the busi­ness are aided by a round-the- clock, manned con­trol cen­tre in Rumst, and this is re­cently be­ing de­vel­oped into an “in­tel­li­gent con­trol cen­tre” where all dis­patch and plan­ning ac­tiv­i­ties will be con­cen­trated; once again lever­ag­ing lead­ing tech­nolo­gies

through the use of re­mote sen­sor­ing and pre­dic­tive mod­el­ling across drink­ing wa­ter net­works and sewage sys­tems.

“This will al­low us to evolve from a cu­ra­tive to a pre­ven­tive ap­proach of our as­set man­age­ment, and high­light our unique aware­ness of how to cre­ate value for our stake­hold­ers in the mar­ket,” Franky Cosaert con­cludes in al­lud­ing to wa­ter-link’s ul­ti­mate dif­fer­en­tia­tors. “We can lever­age our his­tor­i­cally solid rep­u­ta­tion in the mar­ket as a trust­wor­thy and reli­able sup­plier, while mak­ing the switch to be­ing more than just a com­mod­ity sup­plier; rather a provider of ser­vices, in­no­va­tions and smart part­ner­ships.

“We are in­spired by the ex­pec­ta­tions of our clients, are not afraid to in­vest in new ap­proaches, and now have the am­bi­tion to be the wa­ter com­pany in Flan­ders that everyone wants to be part of.

“We have a dream to con­vince peo­ple to use the real force of wa­ter and we will do this by be­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween the re­al­ity of to­day and the po­ten­tial of the fu­ture.”

We have a dream to con­vince peo­ple to use the real force of wa­ter and we will do this by be­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween the re­al­ity of to­day and the po­ten­tial of the fu­ture

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