As part of its expansion in Asia, Rolls-Royce has opened a customer service center in Singapore, which means for the first time the engine manufacturer is basing critical, real-time support efforts outside of its headquarters in Derby, England.
Dominic Horwood, chief customer officer for civil large engines, tells Aviation Week that the move was driven by the volume of business in Asia and the realization that companies there want local, dedicated and culturally aware support—not instructions from an office halfway around the world and several time zones away.
With services providing 60% of the company’s overall income from its civil engine program, that makes sense. “Rolls-Royce is working on understanding and responding to our customers’ [local] needs better,” Horwood says. “And this new facility in Singapore is the beginning of those efforts to get closer to customers.”
The center will provide real time powerplant monitoring for a range of carriers, including key local customer Singapore Airlines and the expanding numbers of long-haul, low-cost carriers in the region, says Eric Schultz, president for civil large engines.
As well as the normal local support and parts functions, the center will help diagnose and mitigate potential problems by using predictive data analysis and localized fleet management, based on regional MRO availability and network schedule scope. Center staff are targeting a problem-solving rate of 80%, says Ewen McDonald, senior vice president for Asia-Pacific.
“This is our fastest growing region. So our big push is to generate local expertise, to make local decisions,” says McDonald. As part of this, the center will extensively use smart data analysis to solve issues, but it will also be hot-linked to the Derby headquarters for particularly tricky problem-solving.
“We have never done all this before in one place—engineering, service, sales and business, and data management operations. This is a real first for us, and it is vitally important to the company,” adds McDonald.
The center also will act as a testbed for the company’s drive to improve the skills of local and regional decision-makers. As the first in what the company is planning to be a network of dedicated service centers, regular working methods are not a given, says Horwood.
“People don’t have set desks and places they work from,” he explains. “We encourage people to gel together in spontaneous teams to sort out individual customer issues instead, not just sit there and look at a screen or email.”
“We want to think slightly differently here. We are pushing for behavioral collaboration, for deliberately short meetings, for a kind of ‘smart water-cooler’ effect.”
Horwood notes that the use of massive screens with real-time data readouts from all of the company’s local products worldwide encouraged teams to come together as needed on issues—not simply operate in a procedural way.
He says the center’s role as providing a learning exercise for the development of systems and problem-solving is also crucial. Lessons learned will be applied when the company opens the next of four planned new service centers; No. 2 will be in the Americas.
The new facility, situated next to the Rolls-Royce Trent engine manufacturing plant at Seletar Aerospace Park in north Singapore, will have a staff of around 50 by the end of 2015.
About 20% of all Rolls-Royce’s large engines are based in Asia, so trying to manage such a fleet from just one center in Derby raised operational and cultural issues. Most significantly, at least 50% of the new center’s staff will be Singaporeans or other Asian engineers or systems experts, says Horwood. All will be fully trained in engineering services and operational support.
“That means this new center is not about the money that we spend on it, it’s about the people we can put here,” he says. “Singapore is now a true hub for us in Asia. We do engine assembly, delivery and parts and service, all from the one location,” he says.
Schultz underscores the importance of the new center for the future of Rolls-Royce in the region.
“Years ago we were set to fail, but we drove back because we believed in the product and company,” Horwood admits. He says that drive to keep moving forward has helped the company to take a new look at the way it works.
“We thought recruiting the right people, who think differently, might have been a challenge here in Singapore—but it wasn’t,” says Schultz. “We were impressed with the number of young, agile, smart-thinking [local] applicants who accepted that commitment was more important than status.”
As part of that ethos, the CEO has an office, but rarely uses it. With the result, hints Schultz, SIA looked at Rolls’s new unstructured work processes and was considering introducing some into its workplaces.
“Our goal is to perpetuate the quality of our product throughout the entire life [it is in the air]. And service excellence, like we are pushing here, is part of that,” adds Schulz.