Everett Rogers’ diffusion of innovations theory seeks to explain how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spread, including the important role that early adopters play. Early adopters look to exploit the advantages of new technology when it addresses an unfulfilled need. They carefully select innovation, so they can retain their opinion leadership status and continue to improve their lives and businesses with it.
Research and innovation are a key focus area for us here at DHI, and we are very aware of the need to stay relevant and bring value to our partners and customers through our MIKE software and consultancy services. For more than 50 years, we have been fortunate and privileged to have partnered with many early adopters across the globe. They are amongst our most valued partners, as they encourage the exchange of ideas that can lead to co-creation processes that break new and important ground.
What’re the best ways to interact with early adopters?
Focus on the challenge
One of the innovation traps we try to avoid is to develop new technology for the sake of new technology. We have learnt to maintain focus on the challenge which we want to solve. For example, a water utility needed to find ways to reduce sewer overflows to comply with legislative requirements of water quality in receiving waters. One solution was to build more retention basins in the drainage system, but this was found to be very costly. We decided to explore the use of one of our latest technologies - model predictive control. This would enable them to better coordinate the operations of different pumping stations to maximize the capacity of existing retention basins remotely and in real-time. If this project worked out, it would not only save infrastructure investment costs but also help to accelerate the automation of the utility’s operational system, which is one of their longer-term ambitions.
Research and innovation are a key focus area for DHI and we are aware of the need to stay relevant and bring value to our customers
Open and transparent discussions
Research and innovation have their upsides and risks and so it is important to have open and transparent discussions, with a view to maximizing the learning experience. At DHI, we like to bring our partners into our core team so we can clearly determine success criteria and navigate constraints. Turning back to the above example, one of the key issues we faced was, how often should the control actions be updated. The solution should optimize the operation of all pumping stations in a 6-hour forecast window to maximize the use of the storage capacity of the retention basins. It also needed to be able to do that every 5 minutes to capture the dynamic changes in the system for the solution to be viable in an operational way.
To achieve this, we would require either massive computational resources using a traditional modelling approach or apply an innovative approach that combines new efficient modelling and optimization technologies. The discussions about issues, objectives, and ways forward helped us understand what was key and enabled us to get to the desired solution. At the end of the project, we managed to achieve what we set out to do – showed that we can coordinate all pumping stations operations and maximize in real-time the operational capacity of the retention basins with model predictive control that is continuously being updated every 5 minutes.
Support innovation with real case examples
The success criteria for whether a new technology fits the challenge are important. In the above case, we were fortunate to have an engaged partner who shared details of requirements in their day-to-day operational work, and we were able to adapt the technology to match those expectations. As a result, they have a feasible, alternative option to consider and that puts them in a better position to make their investment decisions.
Through our experiences, we learnt that these are important considerations when working with early adopters, to better ensure that new technology can work and bring value to our partners.