‘Our innovations will enhance access to potable water’
Iheanyi Iwuagwu, popularly known as the Water Doctor is the Chief Executive Officer of I-Maconi Nigeria Limited, a firm that specialises in solving domestic and industrial water problems. In this interview, he talks about the business model and efforts made by the firm to ensure there is access to potable water by many, as well as measures to promote sustainable water usage. Excerpts.
Can you explain the business model driving your operations?
OUR business model is built on providing enhanced customer experience and satisfaction through consistent innovative technological water solutions, affordability, and professional services, getting rewarded in return. The Water Doctor Service is a service powered by I-Maconi Nigeria Limited. The firm commenced business in the field of water purification services in 2005 with a clear vision to provide quality end-to-end solutions in the field of water purification and allied services.
We have a Water Centre in Lekki phase 1, Lagos, that meets regulatory standards. We provide a water refill service for bottled dispenser water at a price that is 30 per cent less than the price one would purchase water in the supermarket. From the same location, we offer other water hygiene related services from design and construction of water treatment plants, disinfection of boreholes/wells, dispenser maintenance service, supply of different range of water treatment solutions, to filtration units for very small to large installations.
Water treatment is believed to be exclusive to industrial entities. Considering rising demand for domestic use, of what importance is this service to the nation’s economic well being?
We identify suitable water sources, analyse granularly, and treat the water from these sources by installing the appropriate treatment solutions to give your water the right balance of its components in its natural form.
We treat water like a doctor would treat a patient. We take samples of the water requiring treatment, analyse it by checking the parameters of the water. These parameters are measured against mandatory water standards set by the World Health Organisation or the Nigeria Standard for Drinking Water Quality. We take note of the result or findings got from the analysis done with help from our partner Scientific labs, and administer the appropriate treatment for the water. It is a standard policy for us as the Water Doctor to follow this procedure. We would not do it any other way. We have challenges sometimes with clients who feel analyzing the water samples is an additional cost and assume we should know the problems of the water through mere physical examination. There are microbiological elements that must be analyzed, which sight or smell cannot see or perceive. If these are not taken care of, these elements could seriously endanger family or organizational health overall.
Some people also say they do not drink water from their taps and only use it to wash dishes, clothes, vehicles, water gardens, and bath. Using untreated water for these purposes also has negative implications. You experience damage to your car paint over time; hardness in your water causes clogging in plumbing pipes. You also experience damage to your heaters, kettles, and sanitary ware when you constantly use untreated water. Also, not to forget skin problems that may develop in individuals who use untreated or partly treated water to bath. Some dermatological related problems arise as a result of bathing with unsuitable water.
Given the challenges of clean water supply, manufacturers and large scale corporations, particularly those in food and beverages spend a lot on clean water. How reliable and cost effective is your service to them?
Yes, they do. It is important for such organisations to think of their water source among other factors when deciding on where they want to locate their factories. This also helps in reducing high costs on the type of treatment system to be installed and post-installation maintenance on the water treatment solution.
The Water Doctor Service has supplied various manufacturers with filtration systems, one of which is the Reverse Osmosis system which a good number of manufacturers in the food and pharmaceutical industries use in as a necessity for manufacturing. Reverse osmosis is a more effective filtration process when it comes to removing many types of dissolved and suspended participles from water, including bacteria, and it is used in both our domestic and industrial processes as well as the production of potable water.
Reverse osmosis is a more economical option for concentrating food liquids such as fruit juices than conventional heat-treatment processes. Its advantages include a lower operating cost; less exposure of production personnel to chemicals, thereby eliminating such related health hazards; and the ability to avoid heat-treatment processes, which makes it suitable for heat-sensitive substances such as the protein and enzymes found in most food products.
We also train staff of some of these manufacturing companies on how to operate and maintain installed treatment systems, ultimately reducing their maintenance costs significantly.
What are the challenges the business is facing presently and what efforts are being made to surmount them?
Some of the challenges we face are the lack of awareness by many when it comes to water hygiene and wrong perception people have on possibilities of treating water. There is also the lack of expertise in this field which leads to such perception. Our vision is to provide Nigerians with affordable access to clean water through collaborations or synergies with the private and public sector. In the works right now is our plan to offer free training to 15 water technicians in the informal sector who work or are located around our community in order to promote professionalism and empower them with the right expertise for the job. We plan to replicate this nationwide once the pilot is successful. We are moving one step at a time to fulfill our vision.
There are concerns about the amount of chemical composition in potable water. Can water be made potable with very little chemical contents?
Yes, this can be achieved by following regulatory standards which are set to protect the public from harmful water quality. The reverse osmosis system is one solution that removes or reduces to the minimum most unwanted chemicals in water.
How do we handle issues of sustainability in water consumption?
First, the government agency in charge of water distribution in each state is responsible for treating and distributing municipal water. They have the responsibility to provide households, businesses and so on with treated water which should be metered. In Lagos state for example, an ever-expanding city with its population growing rapidly and development happening at a very fast pace; the State Government has taken steps in trying to cater to the water needs of the people, thus far gathering required data for the purpose of providing the right water infrastructure. I believe once the infrastructure is in place and people are metered on their water usage, we would be more conscious and thoughtful of our use of water. Some residential estates already do this and you see people are more thoughtful about water usage.
It is also the responsibility of everyone to make sure water isn’t wasted. We can all make sure by using only quantities we require for drinking, cooking, bathing and other domestic or commercial uses. Broken pipes and taps should always be fixed. Wash clothes only when needed and so on. At the Water Doctor, our slogan is “Treat water right!” We strive to share this message.
Affordability is a challenge to many small businesses and domestic users. How do you hope to address this?
We strive to give the right solution by also taking into consideration the client’s budget. We have come to realize affordability is also important to clients. Getting access to clean water shouldn’t be expensive.
We try as much as possible to educate people on treatment process and the long term benefits of having a working water treatment solution in place; this way, people tend to be more realistic in terms of their budget when thinking of installing or maintaining a treatment plant. An average home with an existing water treatment plant would spend between N15,000-N20,000 monthly on maintenance. This also includes some consumables such as chlorine, filters, system backwash and cleaning of storage tanks.
You also save money in the long term when you consider the cost of constantly buying packaged water to bath, wash; cook, so on and so forth. You also avoid that expensive trip to the hospital and damage to certain appliances and your car paint and radiator when using very hard water.
For fresh installations, the budget really depends on what the client requires the water for. Depending on location and size of installation the budget varies. We are always happy to give our clients a free quote.
Why did you have to venture into delivery of the 19L dispenser bottle water vast model considering the competition in the industry?
Before the Water Doctor Service, we packaged water in sachet, pure water as it is popularly known. The pack size product was targeted mostly to the masses and middle class depending on what they required it for. Seeing the fact that these plastic bags constituted a nuisance to the environment as most people didn’t dispose of it properly, we decided to venture into the 19L dispenser bottles because the bottles are reusable for a period, thereby reducing the negative impact to the environment. Dispenser bottles also contribute to cost effectiveness to customer and water sustainability by allowing individuals to consume only what they need. With pure water, you see some people drink and do not finish the content before it is disposed. At the time, it was also more profitable for the company than the sachet, 50cl and 75cl PET bottles.
We offer delivery and refill services for our 19L water dispenser. The product brand name is Murlite. It is purified using the Reverse Osmosis technology which removes 99.9% of impurities from water. Our treatment process is such that the water is pre-treated passing through 2 treatment plants before going through RO system to the filling and package system. And why are we able to provide this service at up to 30% less than market value? It’s in the fact that customers can also come to our Water Center to have their dispenser bottles refilled, also being able to see our processes with clarity. This has 100% of the time brought peace of mind to our growing clientele.
As a commitment to providing knowledge to our customers and the public, they are also being made aware of the importance of cleaning and maintaining their water dispensers. We had clients in the past that had never cleaned their dispensers since purchase. This leads to water related health problems. One must have his/her dispenser cleaned every quarter to avoid build-up of bacteria in the pipes and storage tanks of the dispenser. Most water delivery service companies offer this service for a fee. Customers should ask their supplier for this service. We also offer this service to our clients at a discounted rate considering the fact they have subscribed to our service.