How can technology improve societal impact and working behaviours using big data?

How can technology improve societal impact and working behaviours using big data?


Warren McCormack

Warren McCormack

Client Manager



5 minutes

27th July 2022

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The festival season is upon us and for me the highlight so far has been the Northumbrian Water Group (NWG)’s annual innovation festival which took place on 12th to 14th July in Newcastle. Why? Because every year it seeks to find answers to tough questions for the greater good of our environment, consumers and businesses. This year was no exception as the event was based around how we create a smarter world for our collective future.


Highly attended by a range of schools, universities, business and consumers, it had a real community feel, and it was great to be able to join in person for the first time since the pandemic.

The Design Sprint and Hackathon challenge

We joined forces with NWG to run a hackathon alongside our design sprint at this year’s event. The hackathon was a timed activity in which teams from UST, NWG, Liverpool University Consumer Data and Virgin Media O2 Business came together to collaborate intensively on significant tech challenges. Teams included data experts, programmers, software developers, digital graphic designers and domain experts.


The aim was to design, build and present the most innovative solution to the problem of how tech can improve societal impact and working behaviours using big data. And then pitch a final concept, prototype or presentation to the judges.


We supplied anonymised and aggregated O2 Motion data from our mobile network and NWG supplied an anonymised subset of their data too for all teams to use. Teams were free to add public sourced data and Liverpool University Consumer Data team directed teams to the public data they had. RNIB provided invaluable advice throughout on the importance of accessibility when developing new applications from idea to design.


Judging was done by a combination of Virgin Media O2 Business’ Innovation Board community and four senior leaders from the community and the standard was high. As one of the judges commented:


“Having not been involved in the event before I was so impressed with the amount of innovation shown across the teams and the mix of solutions presented by those physically in the tent at the event and those remote to it! We saw a smart transport engine that ensures hireable bikes, Ubers and the like are in the right place at time of demand (B2B and API based), an app that ensured water usage was optimised based on supply and demand by turning up and down water pressures and an app to help children in deprived areas see opportunities within the job market. A thoroughly brilliant afternoon doing something completely different with a whole new group of people left me feeling re-energised.”


Melissa Werry, Head of Technology Services, RSPB


Festival outcomes

“Virgin Media O2 Business brings a wide range of expertise to our Innovation Festival — from the team in The Lab who have planned, crafted and ran the design sprint, to the various subject-matter experts from across Virgin Media O2 Business who have injected their specialism and helped bring the sprint topic to life. We have some very exciting ideas from this year's event, and we are looking forward to working with Virgin Media O2 Business as we seek to develop them into innovative new services for our customers.”


Martin Jackson, Head of IS Strategy and Product Management, NWG

Festival outcomes

This was our fourth year in supporting the event and, we pushed the boundaries by running a virtual hack alongside the on site design sprint. It was a first for us and a first for the festival organisers!


Four entries went into judging, and we were delighted to announce our winner as ‘Web for Voice’. Created by Alistair Macdonald of Fab Lab Sunderland, his solution enables organisations to easily develop accessibility or voice services across all digital channels. A common voice standard does not currently exist, and RNIB and the judges felt this could be a game changer for accelerating the development of accessibility services.


‘Team Tomorrow’ also did a brilliant job as runners-up with teenager Matthew Rutherford, Virgin Media O2 Business and Newcastle Council creating a fun Pokémon Go style game / app where children select and share careers with friends and earn in-game rewards. Nothing like this currently exists to engage young people in career opportunities and skills, and the concept was made even better by being designed by a member of the target audience.

Challenging more all year round

Challenging more all year round

It takes big partnerships to tackle big world challenges like how we make a smart world for the future. Our partnership with NWG exemplifies a joint ambition to challenge more and do things differently for the benefit of our customers and communities in which we work.


We have been working with NWG for over four years providing all their communications services, this includes, Mobile, Fixed Line (Voice, SIP, MPLS) to nearly 500 sites and we also take care of their security and cloud services.

“The partnership forged between Virgin Media O2 Business and NWG is born out of shared values and a continuous pursuit of innovation. Virgin Media O2 Business is our incumbent communications provider but has also remained a close partner on our innovation journey over the past 3-4 years. We have seen some great outputs from our innovation partnership over this time, including their new Remote Expert product that we developed together. This product started life as an idea from a joint 'design think' workshop and is now being used by our field teams. The outputs from the Innovation Festival 2022 provide a healthy pipeline of future opportunities to collaborate on across a wide range of business areas. I am excited to see where our partnership goes next.”


Martin Jackson, Head of Strategy and Architecture, Northumbrian Water Group


As a forward-thinking water company looking to disrupt the market with innovative new ideas and technologies, NWG has also worked with us to find ways our 5G network could enable four key pillars of innovation for trial: employee safeguarding, operational improvement, empowering employees and improving customer experience. Read more about the trials.


Interested in how tech can help you transform your workplace or local community? Get in touch.