In Focus Interview: Kok-Leong Lim, Regional Director APAC, McLaren Applied Technologies

McLaren’s “learn fast in order to succeed” innovation culture, developed through 30 years in the motorsport industry, is now feeding into new technologies, with the McLaren Applied Technologies organisation working on highly complex problems. Regional Director for APAC, Kok-Leong Lim, sat down with Orient magazine Editor Lucy Haydon to discuss their corporate culture, constant drive for progression, and more

This article was originally published in Orient Magazine, 27th June 2017

 

By Lucy Haydon, Editor, Orient Magazine

 

Having originally trained as an electrical engineer and focused much of your professional career in the IT and communications space, it must be inspirational to work on innovative projects that can reach a much broader scope. Can you give our members some examples of how McLaren Applied Technologies has been able to take the learnings from McLaren’s Technology Group’s motorsport division and other projects to drive improvements in other industries?

 

The nature of Formula 1 is to constantly innovate, test, and run scenarios for micro-seconds in performance improvement. Because of these constant changes, we always say the car is a prototype, never a finished product. Having been in the motorsport industry for many years, the use of a “learn fast in order to succeed” approach has been the main learning for us to bring into the commercial world – being flexible enough to come up with new concepts, rapid prototyping, and distil from these the concepts that will and will not work. In a commercial world, this fast approach is quite abnormal. This innovation culture is ingrained into us with a continuous improvement cycle, driving performance. Our experience in the use of sensors leads to real time data which can be applied in a multitude of solutions across many verticals. We use models and simulations to drive decisions. What comes out of these decisions is the precision engineering and control systems that drives the solution on the particular project we are working on. It is a constant feedback loop.

 

We have been concentrating on two main markets in Singapore, health and public transport systems. We have already started collaborating with local transportation bodies in Singapore to explore how we can use data, modelling, and simulation to predict peak performance parameters. The desired outcomes for intelligent transportation have great synergies with competing and operating in F1, the vehicle needs to be high performing, reliable, low maintenance and the operation needs to timely, compliant and seamless. With targeted data acquisition, you can provide insight to design systems, driving everything from predictive maintenance to efficient operations of a whole transport system.

 

In digital health we are already collaborating with one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, monitoring the human as well as just physical assets. The problem here is measuring the effectiveness of a drug, and whether patients are even using them according to the doctor’s prescription guidelines. In the past, pharmaceutical companies would do clinical studies, but this has limitations in terms of the resulting data. The use of sensors allows can allow us to use a digital wrapper around a pill box, for example, to gather data without making it an intrusive process.

 

 

This data holds potential applications both for the pharmaceutical companies and for the wider health industry. Population data is required to personalise healthcare; stratification is required to model the data before personalisation. The vision is to use health records to build models around population health data, with the hope of optimising the “care pathway”.

 

These are just two very different examples of how McLaren Applied Technologies can use data-driven insights and decision science can be applied across diverse markets.


When McLaren Applied Technologies looked to expand into Asia from the UK headquarters, what made Singapore the most attractive option?

 

Singapore is of course strategically located for travel within the South East Asia and Pacific region, and with its stable politics, pro-enterprise Government and infrastructure, it was a simple decision when we considered expansion into the region. Singapore has proven to be a magnet for quality talent from our perspective, including those relocating to the country to progress their careers. The corporate ecosystem, supported by various Government schemes and grants, lends itself to further future expansion.

 

At the time of expansion, our pharmaceutical work was a factor, as many top pharmaceutical companies have a regional headquarters in Singapore. This decision was further compounded due to Singapore’s wide concentration of innovation and technology companies. The transportation landscape is also globally unique - the perfect proving ground for Intelligent Mobility. For McLaren Applied Technologies right now the focus is heavily on innovation, incubation, and proximity to likeminded visionaries, so for us, Singapore is a natural home.


Are there specific industries which McLaren Applied Technologies focuses on for the application of new technology, and how do you nurture that important culture of constantly generating ideas within the organisation?

 

When McLaren Applied Technologies started, almost 30 years ago, we were providing equipment and electronics to the motorsports industry. Around 10 years ago, we began to move out to other industries, taking a wider approach to solving complex problems. The focus remains on core capabilities, we are not consultants but solution providers, through long-term partnerships and collaborations.

 

The business is focused on key verticals such as public transport, health & wellness, motorsports and automotive. With this way of working we are able to continue to push the boundaries of innovation in a targeted, meaningful way.


In motorsports, the drive is to win. Commercially, you have to consider what would winning look like? We aspire to provide solutions to the end user for some of the world’s most complex problems, and that drives our employees - to improve lives through our data-driven design approach. We collaborate on challenges with likeminded visionaries, and ensure that we all buy in to the idea that we have something to contribute. What problem are we actually solving? We must think beyond the commercial to the end user. This is why working for McLaren Applied Technologies is so exciting; as a team, every challenge is new and fresh.

 

Have you witnessed any issues with building a regional pipeline of expert talent? How are you working with the local government to encourage future generations into this area and particularly within McLaren?

 

When I started hiring, I transferred a small number of staff from the UK, partly because of their skill levels but mostly to introduce and maintain the culture of innovation that we need to cultivate. When I began to hire here, it was a difficult challenge – which industry should I draw from? I went to the research institutes to look for the broader skillsets and hired from there, and then as I built the team I introduced people who were more commercial in translating the data into a solution. There is no perfectly matched resume for McLaren Applied Technologies, it is about the transferable skills.

 

The team is going to continue with rapid growth over the next few years and will need a sustainable local talent pipeline. To feed this, we have already started an internship programme with the local universities for engineering and computer science students.

 

As part of this they will experience six months in McLaren Technology Centre’s UK base before returning to take their learnings forward in their final year research project, with the potential to join the team here in Singapore. We are also beginning to look at hiring post-graduate students, working on research which is relevant to us. Eventually we hope to introduce local internship programmes.
 

Our members share a keen interest in companies which demonstrate the benefits of collaboration between the UK and Singapore. Can you elaborate on how your team in Singapore is able to leverage on the experience and expertise within the UK operation to benefit the company here in Singapore, and vice versa?

 

We work on common projects, regardless where the project started, so it is part of our everyday culture to collaborate with our UK colleagues. Within McLaren, the mind-set is not that Intellectual Property sits solely within the UK headquarters, the culture is that wherever we can progress further, and faster, is where the initiative should be driven.


What do you see as the main obstacles and opportunities for progression in technology over the next few years, particularly in our region?

 

I am hoping that the adoption rate for new technology will improve, particularly as there are less obstacles to progress here and many learnings to take from others. The drive for innovation is there from the Government, so I see plenty of opportunity for the future.

 


 

About McLaren Applied Technologies

 

For more information on McLaren Applied Technologies’ projects and services visit http://www.mclaren.com/appliedtechnologies/

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