Discover June 2022

My Reflections on the 1st SWAN DaaS Design Thinking Workshop

By Mathilde Guglielmi, SWAN Research Analyst

On May 24th, 2022, I had the pleasure to attend the first SWAN Data-as-a-Service (DaaS) Workshop as part of the SWAN 12th Annual Conference in Washington, DC. As someone new to DaaS, I was excited to learn about this business model and at the same time apply the exciting, out of the box process of design thinking. The Workshop defined DaaS as “A partnership model in which a Technology Supplier operates and maintains certain hardware equipment (e.g., water quality sensor, flow sensor, level sensor) to collect, transmit, and process data where the utility only pays for the delivered results.”

Upon arrival, participants were greeted by different tables labelled with rivers from around the world and laden with colorful post-it notes, notebooks, blank pieces of paper, and pens. Once everyone was seated, the lead facilitator, Meena Sankaran from KETOS displayed a picture of a beach ball and asked each table to brainstorm alternate ways it could be used. This activity was quite fun allowing people to relax and get their creative juices flowing. Some ideas included using the beach ball as a dress, raincoat, parachute, stress ball, fun paintbrush, a tool to teach colours to kids, or a hypnosis tool.

The main Workshop challenge statement was: How might we support water utilities to identify whether DaaS is a fit for their organisation? My group, the Saint Lawrence River included global industry experts who helped offer multiple insights such as the barriers hindering utilities to adopt DaaS. Some common blockers included funding obstacles and risk aversion to innovation. Other issues raised related to data security, data ownership and the concept of open data versus private data. In our conversations we described regulators as often hindering progress and innovation; however, we also acknowledged that they could serve as great accelerators.

The next stage of the Workshop was to prototype a potential solution to the challenge statement. After much deliberation, my group came up with the “WIN” model which stands for “Water Innovation Networks” (shown in the image below). Our idea was to create a DaaS Working Group within SWAN composed of several utilities and municipalities that would gather their knowledge and experience sharing various KPIs. This information would then be examined by an exterior panel that could test and validate the findings. Lastly, the panel could share best practices and provide feedback to scale an idea or pivot the DaaS Group.

Overall, the Workshop brought out a lot of creativity and fun competition from all participants. At the conclusion, there was a shark tank with both encouraging and more critical judges. Representatives from each table pitched their prototype and even performed role playing skits. All of the final prototypes (shown in the collage below) included an “ice cream model,” a Lego design, a decision-star with key metrics, a “Game of Flows” decision support tool, an artistic representation of different data management outcomes, and lastly an actual, functioning Water World App all created in less than an hour.

(Click image to enlarge)

In the end, I think that everyone got something out of this Workshop, whether it was new knowledge, a better understanding of DaaS, ideas of strategies to implement, or simply a new-found appreciation for design thinking. I can’t wait to attend the next one!

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