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By making some quite complex water engineering software freely available to its clients, AWT is attempting to get away from selling consultants’ time, and instead sell solutions.

The staff-owned Auckland-based water technology services company is basing a new strategy, introduced 18 months ago, on being the go to guys when the same clients want assistance designing or modifying their water equipment.

“We’re looking to create a future around internet tools, where our technologies will assist people in finding, using and disposing of water efficiently and effectively,” says AWT managing director, Steve Couper.

The move to freely providing water management tools online for its customers through a secure logon is a calculated risk for the company whose New Zealand and Australian team members specialise in monitoring and modeling, treatment plants, waste water and environmental management.

Water management is by its nature quite conservative, with most being run by public entities, and not necessarily as profit driven as cost driven. The concept of services as products changed other industries and sectors in the early 1990s Couper says, and engineering is going through it now.

Proprietary hydraulic modeling software for example costs up to $40,000 installed on a company network, with another $10 – $15,000 to keep annually updated. Because some of this software may also only be used occasionally by consultants, they often have to retrain themselves to use it.

By, at least initially, providing such software for free on its own AWT website, and allowing its clients to model different scenarios by using these tools, AWT is reaping the consultancy, and providing of solutions business from those same people Couper says.

“We’ve put ourselves as the most likely engineers that people will come to,” he says. “For us, it’s a whole new way of doing business.”

The free on-line water management tools have also been a good point of difference, particularly in first-up tender type processes that dominate the water engineering world.

Couper says the on-line tools are a something that competitors don’t have, and from that point of view an opportunity to further develop another non-consultant side of the business.

“We can take this globally,” he says. “There’s other consultants who can use these tools as part of their engineering model. We can charge for the use of that.”

As for its protection, patenting was disregarded for being so expensive, so AWT’s philosophy has been to “have a smart team that stays ahead of the game.”

The web-oriented changes about to hit engineering will change the game Couper says, “and we want to be leaders in developing its techniques.”

As one of 10 companies up for a share of $1 million funding from the University of Auckland Business School Entrepreneurs’ Challenge for 2010, any winnings would be applied to expanding its IT infrastructure he says.

“We’d employ another senior programmer,” he says, on top of the one and a half currently employed. “That would enable us to be different with something off the wall, and we could kick it off properly.” Up to now the company’s been relying on cashflow to pump its research and development.

“Winning would take some of the financial stress off that,” Couper says.

AWT’s five year mission is to be the leading water technology provider in the Asia Pacific region, by providing tools and engineering for planning and operating water infrastructure.

Couper says it’s an aspirational goal, “but why not, every country has its water issues.” While as much rainfall may fall in New Zealand as in all Australia, and twice as much as in Britain, “our issues are around pollution control and quality, especially around dairy farming and urban areas.”

Providing free water tools for clients, drives development of higher value consultancy and solutions (AWT)

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