Customised innovation programme

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Inspired by the methods of technology start-ups and the software industry, innovation was a key focus area at Witteveen+Bos in 2017. The Plus+ Innovation Programme has unleashed a massive innovation drive that is radically transforming the company. It truly serves as a platform for people to turn their dreams into reality. Otto Schepers initiated Plus+, and developed and implemented the programme together with an enthusiastic and dedicated team.


  • A total of 169 ideas were submitted in 5 campaigns

  • 412 participants worldwide, 16 teams of finalists

  • Over 400 reactions in 19,000 visits to the HYPE platform

  • 5 'innovation hubs' coordinated by 5 hub managers

  • Over EUR 350,000 invested in talent development hours

Fire safety engineering

If you assume that Virtual Reality (VR) is mainly used in games and other forms of entertainment - think again. An innovative tool called ‘Fire Safety Engineering in Virtual Reality’ (FSE in VR) is now being applied to simulate the effects of fire in a new metro station in Brussels. The tool  sets new standards in fire safety research.‘We are currently working on the calculations for the Grondwet metro station in Brussels. The trick is using VR techniques to visualise our expertise in evacuation planning and complex fire and smoke propagation’, says engineer Tamara Dolle, who took the lead in developing this innovative solution together with fellow engineer Marina Fragkopoulou.

'You can be surrounded by virtual smoke in the VR simulation, so you can check if the emergency exit sign is actually visible'

Smart factories

Creating a truly ‘smart’ factory by optimising the industrial brewing process for a well-known Belgian beer brand, using Big Data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) - this is how a team of Witteveen+Bos engineers is using the Digital Process Operator (DPO). ‘The idea of applying AI and Big Data has been floating around for some time at Witteveen+Bos. The combination of these technologies has great potential for the sectors in which we operate. We initially developed the concept outside regular working hours. By participating in the Plus+ Innovation Programme, we were able to invest more time in development, and that really speeded things up. We have now applied our innovative solutions for multiple clients, and we’ve noticed that there is enormous demand’, says engineer Bram Bloks. ‘We have visited breweries, water treatment plants and wasteprocessing facilities. In fact, we are now ‘training’ our AI system at a waste-processing facility, to help it recognise and predict odours so nuisance can be prevented. This process is very different from the way we as humans perceive smell, but that is precisely the strength of AI. The results benefit our clients, the environment, and local residents.’ In almost all projects, significant savings are realised in terms of costs, energy consumption or use of raw materials. Too good to be true?

'We can probably achieve even better results, since our AI is getting smarter all the time.‘

From AI data analyses that optimise the brewing process of  a Belgian beer brand, to fire prevention in the Brussels metro system using Virtual Reality, and from CO2 capture and storage using mud to automatically designed quay walls - the innovations developed by Witteveen+Bos have immediately resulted in new business. But the transformation that has been set in motion is even more important than the boost to revenue, says programme manager Otto Schepers. ‘The innovation process has truly gained steam. Almost half of all Witteveen+Bos employees worldwide are or have been involved in the Plus+ programme, particularly the operational staff. We have found that many people have great ideas, and that there are opportunities for the professional development of all our colleagues. The success of the programme makes sense in hindsight, but we had not expected it beforehand.’

The Plus+ Innovation Programme is based on experiences gained in the software industry. For instance, social engineering techniques were applied using a so-called ‘hub structure’. In addition, a special online collaboration platform was set up based on the HYPE format, which is also used by major companies like Airbus, Siemens, Fujitsu and NASA. ‘We made one important adjustment. Where other programmes take individual effort and concept development as their starting point, we deliberately created multidisciplinary teams, because at Witteveen+Bos we believe that collaboration is essential. It is part of our ‘corporate DNA’. And that turned out to be a key factor for success.’

Four ‘innovation hubs’ were defined in line with the four business lines of Witteveen+Bos and the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations: Smart Cities, Smart Cycles, Smart Deltas, and Smart Infrastructure and Mobility. A fifth hub called ‘Smart Company’ was deliberately added.

No fewer than 169 ideas were submitted by the teams in a very short period of time. In the five hub campaigns, sixteen teams of finalists were selected with input from clients. These teams proceeded to a three-month ‘accelerator phase’ with additional support and supervision. Otto Schepers: ‘The competition element is mainly intended to encourage a sense of pride and a desire to win. Plus, engineers simply love to develop solutions for problems. In this programme, we harness that energy for innovation by providing room for their talent. The initial ideas were elaborated in the accelerator phase, which focused on all the non-technological aspects. After all, engineering is our strength. Developing a technical solution into a sound business case and putting it into practice - that is much harder for engineers.’

‘Feedback from the market and our partners confirms that we have  an excellent reputation for innovation. We believe that this is due to our company culture and the attention we devote to employees. Staff at Witteveen+Bos feel sufficiently free to devote time to participating in a programme like this. They are also quick to coordinate with other disciplines, and our relatively flat organisation structure makes it easier to ask for help. We are quite strong-willed, so we customised the programme and implemented it with a dedicated team to ensure that it is perfectly geared to our wishes and requirements.’ The innovation programme will be further developed and continued in 2018. It will also provide support for colleagues who are working on promising innovations parallel to the programme.