One of my favourite business quotes is “Business has only two functions – marketing and innovation.”
It is from the leading business thinker Peter F Drucker and for me, in my role as a product manager, sums up pretty much what I do for living. Yes, of course there are other elements to my daily work life, but essentially a large part of my time is spent driving innovation and then figuring out how we take that innovation to market with the ultimate aim of delivering value to the shareholders.
My portfolio covers a wide range of products for the management of foul and stormwater. As a result of this I spend a large part of my daily life thinking about pipes in one form or another. I’m pretty sure that this is not something that could be said for most people.
Thinking about the pipes
Engineers designing drainage do not seem to think too much about the actual pipe; the design process considers where the pipe is going to run, how much flow it will it carry, how many other pipes are going to flow in and where you need to get in to inspect and maintain, but which pipe they are going to put in the ground does not seem to matter as long as it meets the recognised standards. Outside of any framework supply contracts, pipe has become a commodity business where whoever has it on the ground, and can supply it at the right price tends to win.
I am the first to admit that pipes are not the sexiest subject in the world. As I was leaving for the office my five year old apologised for my job being boring because “it’s just pipes”… I don’t feel this way, however I suspect most people would agree with him, although this perceived lack of glamour does not stop me from doing my job innovating and marketing.
Away from the pipes it is the same with other products. Twenty years ago we supplied the first major install of a plastic geocellular stormwater attenuation tank at Birmingham Airport, forming a geotechnical structure. The solution is now widespread and widely accepted by engineers, developers and contractors, however, in many ways the geocell market has followed pipes and is becoming an increasingly commodotised market driven by generic specifications.
We operate in a conservative market where some water authorities still want clay pipe in adoptable situations, consultants are specifying around generic specifications and contractors are buying on price.
This does deliver innovation, but innovation around the service element of how we get the product to market, or how we can value engineer the product to get ahead in a highly competitive market. Of course this is still valid innovation that still requires marketing but it is innovation that reinforces the view of my five year old. The innovation we really want to see challenges the norms around water management driving the market to really think about how we do things. The question we need to answer is: “is the market interested in this, or is it just drainage?”.
● Martin Lambley is Wavin product manager, foul, utilities and water management
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