I Like the Diversity of Skillsets Working on My Problem

Case Study of IdeaConnection client Ben Barrow.
By Paul Arnold
IdeaConnection’s interdisciplinary teams of experts work collaboratively over short and intense periods to provide world class scientific and engineering solutions and insights. In 2013, project manager Ben Barrow approached us looking for an innovative water storage solution.

Ben has a wealth of experience in heavy mining, oil and gas. He wanted to find a way to prevent the evaporation of hundreds of millions of litres of water that are extracted out of an underground aquifer at a mining site in Australia. Four of our teams went to work on the project and within two months had delivered a handful of solutions. In this interview Ben talks about the problem he’s trying to resolve and his experience with IdeaConnection.

Ben BarrowI was working in the mining industry near Mount Isa which is an inland city in far north Queensland where you have around four hundred millimeters of rainfall a year and about three meters of evaporation a year. My employer was wanting to extract the water out of an aquifer that runs through a particular copper ore body.

As a project manager I was overseeing a portfolio of projects. We had a project to extract four hundred million litres of water so the guys can mine and then parallel to that we we’re spending millions of dollars to find a reliable water source. We were looking to refurbish pumping stations and 40 kilometres of pipelines so that we could have a secure water source from another aquifer. Now I just thought that was a bit stupid.

So what did you do?

I asked my peers why were we doing this. Surely we should be trying to store the water that we’re pulling out and use it later? They said the only place that we can store such a huge volume of water is in our open raw water dam, but it will all have evaporated by the time we need it. So I thought, why don’t we stop the evaporation? I went looking for answers. I did the market research and found there is nothing which I would term economic on the market.

Did you find anything at all?

There are some very good products on the market and some very poor ones, but none of them stood out to offer evaporation reduction at a price which is actually economic.

Once I understood the problem that my employer was having I wondered if other people were experiencing it too. And yes everybody has this problem. It is a very, very substantial problem everywhere in the world. It’s lot worse in Australia than countries like Canada, France or Sweden. But around the Mediterranean, the US, Mexico and the Middle East it’s a problem.

Having established that there is a widespread problem in need of a solution, what was your next step?

Well, scientists think quite differently to people in the real world. Most of the problem solving has been left to scientists and I wondered if I could use my MBA kind of approach to understand what the market would expect to see. And then solve it. The market need is enormous. For example, the United Nations talks about nine thousand cubic kilometers of water evaporating from fresh water storages every year. It is a major problem.

I recently completed my executive MBA and I used this as one of my projects. IdeaConnection was an ideal platform for me. As an engineer and someone with an MBA I could come along and say I know what the market wants, I’ve done the market assessment and I know the performance criteria, but I haven’t got the foggiest idea of how to solve it.

How did you come across IdeaConnection?

I actually goggled them to be honest with you. Initially I had been listening to a TED talk about open innovation. And so I googled ‘open innovation providers’. The thing I liked about IdeaConnection above the others I saw was they put together teams of different disciplines, whether it’s chemical engineering and pure science, business and something else and something else to try to solve the problem.

So I liked the diversity of the skillsets that were going to be working on my problem. The team approach was the real deciding factor for me to use IdeaConnection.

So you developed a problem statement and the teams went to work. How many solutions did you receive?

There were twelve unique proposals from the four teams. I ended up giving a partial reward to the team who came the closest, with the intent that I’ll work with a contact here in Melbourne to finish off the research and develop the solution.

What is your view of this way of innovating and problem solving?

I like the way it utilizes the surplus skills and capabilities that are out there in the community in a positive kind of way. It’s fantastic that there are these folks who are retired or want a second job or get involved because they enjoy it. At the same time it gives start up organizations like mine the opportunity to be able to do hard-core research with skills they don’t possess and can’t afford, and with minimum risk.

How did you find the experience of working with IdeaConnection challenge teams?

Overall I was very happy with the experience. It was very positive. Would I use them again? Absolutely. Would I recommend using them again? Absolutely - for the right size project.

What is the next stage for you?

I’m going to need to pivot slightly versus the pure solution that was proposed. But did it drum up some ideas? Absolutely. Was it a valuable exercise? Absolutely.

Ben is actively pursuing the next stage of his project to provide a cost-effective means of preventing the evaporation of large bodies of water. Challenge teams furnished him with insights and ideas that are moving him closer to his goals. This was Ben’s first experience of working with IdeaConnection’s diverse experts, something he says he will happily do again.

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what an idea charge
Posted by sanapala nani on December 12, 2014