In the wake of a successful 2018, Flanders’ primary water provider will continue to leverage innovation, differentiation and digitalisation in order to excel throughout the coming year
Writer: Jonathan Dyble
Project Manager: Richard Thomas
“water-link is really on the move. What we promised last year is now really becoming a reality for Antwerp and the wider region.”
Almost a year to day the day since we last spoke with CEO Franky Cosaert, it’s evident that Flanders’ primary water provider has experienced a revolutionary 12 months.
Working alongside an array of clients that include regional residents, industry players and other water suppliers, water-link reached a new milestone earlier this year, now accounting for 40 percent of the Flanders region’s entire water needs.
However, in the eyes of Cosaert, there’s much more to come for 2019.
Recent months have seen one of Europe’s largest petrochemicals companies, INEOS, naming the Port of Antwerp as the home of its new €3 billion cracker plant, while fellow industry stalwart Borealis equally revealed that it would be investing approximately €1 billion in the development of a propane dehydrogenation plant in the region.
Two facilities that will undoubtedly bring countless benefits to Flanders, water-link is set to play a substantial role in facilitating their success through the provision of process and demineralised water.
“Antwerp is really an exciting place to be at the moment,” states Cosaert.
“It’s fantastic news for the economy, and these new demands, combined with other developments, have motivated us to expand our capacity and improve our efficiencies in innovative ways.”
From concept to reality
Driven by these ambitions, water-link remains heavily involved in an enterprising investment programme, ending 2021, that will position the company at the forefront of Flanders’ water market for many years to come.
“In my eyes, we stand apart from the competition by emphasising innovation in all our activities,” explains Cosaert, a differentiator that is apparent in a range of the company’s recent endeavours.
“We began full-scale deployment of smart water meters in October 2018, for example, with the expectation that each and every one of our clients will possess one of these,” the CEO continues. “Already 5,000 of our customers have been provided with these smart meters, and we’re hoping to be one of the first company’s in Europe to provide this full scope by the end of 2021.”
Moreover, water-link’s Intelligent Control Centre (ICC) is starting to be actualised, with the firm having commissioned an architectural business to begin building the flagship facility that is expected to be operational by 2021.
Set to replace the firm’s existing three existing, separate centres, the ICC will provide a much more transparent, efficient and seamless way of managing its ever-growing water distribution network.
“Within this facility we’ll be implementing state-of-the-art software that has been helping to transform our operations,” Cosaert states. “We’re now able to use remote sensoring, data analytics, the internet of things and other technologies that can be interpreted, providing network diagnosis and making us better aware of what’s happening throughout our supply chain.
“Previously such mechanisms weren’t possible, but we’re keen to take advantage now that such technologies have come to market
and are available.”
A renewed approach
The implementation of innovative systems, however, is just one aspect of water-link’s atypical approach to utilities.
An industry that has often been defined by division and competition, water-link has challenged this status quo as a leading advocate of cooperation and multi-utility unity.
This in mind, the company has been fundamental to the development of a collaborative platform that has become crucial to the municipal government, providing an outlook of utility demands from which overriding strategies can be calculated.
“This multi-utility software that includes not only water providers but equally gas, electricity and telecommunications players is a revolutionary tool, and one we’re particularly proud to be involved with,” Cosaert reveals. “In the current day and age, we feel cooperation is no longer a luxury but a necessity.
“The consequences of climate change are clear to see – 2018 was a record dry year and 2019 is already abnormal – and so it is becoming increasingly important that we collectively implement the right solutions in order to safeguard our access to clean water.”
This outlook has similarly seen water-link developing a range of smart partnerships such as its collaboration with Pidpa, a fellow Antwerp-based water supplier.
“This has become a crucial part of our strategy,” Cosaert reveals. “In regard to the Pidpa partnership in particular, we’re expecting to have a triangular production setup in place between our northern site, southern site and Pidpa’s own sites, operational by 2022.
“We’ve also implemented rain water plans across many communities,” he adds. “We have to try and retain water for longer and reuse it wherever possible.”
A pioneer of change
A true pioneer of sustainability, water-link has successfully established itself as a preferred employer, attracting aspirational people to the company as a result of its socially responsible practices.
“There are good employment opportunities in Antwerp,” states Cosaert. “Young people have a lot of choice, yet we often see promising individuals joining us because of the innovation and sustainability aspects that our business offers in the way of opportunity.
“It’s an industry where you can make a real difference.”
Further, the firm actively encourages employee involvement in the aim of not only developing technical and soft skills, but equally in order to allow its esteemed staffing pool to be an internal source of creativity and innovation.
“We invest around €900,000 each year in education and training alone in order to provide a progressive platform to our people,” Cosaert continues. “water-link also collaborates with the University of Antwerp, readily providing both current students and graduates with an abundance of opportunities.”
Looking ahead to 2020, water-link will remain driven by the consolidation of its position as a trendsetter, preferred partner and preferred employer, while the business will further expand into new areas, emphasising anything from substantiated CSR to profound tech developments, retaining its status as a pioneer of change.
Cosaert concludes: “Here at water-link we are ready to play our role in changing the water landscape of Flanders.”