Mixing science with consultancy: promoting innovation and technology

12 July 2017

Dr Albert Wong (Croucher Scholarship in 1992) is an experienced management consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting, specialising in strategy development, policy formation and review, and business and regulatory impact assessment for the government and public sector. Before his role in management consultancy, he was an electrical engineering student with a research focus on single-phase electric motors and micro motors.

Research into electric motors and micro motors

Electric motor is a machine that converts electrical energy to mechanical energy through electromagnetic interactions, and is used in a wide range of devices from electric vehicles, robots, industrial equipment to fridges, water pumps, drills, vacuum cleaners, washing machines and hard disk drives, amongst others. But despite its enormous application, the maximum efficiency of single-phase electric motor is generally less than a three-phase counterpart.

In addition, for the type of single-phase motors he investigated, direction of rotation is random, i.e., the motor could rotate in either clockwise or counter clockwise direction, depending on the exact instance when the motor is connected to the electric source.

"Given that more than one billion electric motors are sold every year, I wanted to find a way to single-phase electric motor more efficient, which will help save a lot of energy. My research had thus focused on simulating the performance of single-phase electric motors through the application of time-stepping finite-elements approach," says Dr Wong who had also looked into possible way to make the performance of these motors more predictable.

Transition to management consultancy

Science and consultancy are all about identifying problems and proving or disproving hypotheses based from a data-driven approach.

While the choice of a career in management consultancy may not seem to be an obvious one given his academic background, the transition was mostly smooth for Dr Wong. The training and discipline acquired through his electrical engineering education proved to be crucial as he pursued his consulting career. To review policy for public sector, which are often complex and multifaceted in nature, he has to use fact-based analysis to systematically identify key issues and determine the appropriate course of actions.

He likens his job as a management consultant to that of a science experiment. Every time he has to identify a problem and find an appropriate solution for the challenge that his client is facing, he makes a hypothesis regarding the problem, collect evidence to support it, test it and eventually recommend a solution to his client, much like how students are trained in most science settings.

"Science and consultancy have been quite a good mix for me. The first reason why I moved to this field is because I have the necessary skills required for the management consultancy setting," says Dr Wong. "My science background gives me a robust and rigorous training in terms of identifying problems and proving or disproving hypotheses based from a data-driven approach."

"I think the hardest thing is to balance interests of stakeholders. Nearly every policy involves trade off and compromise. Dealing with these competing interests while maintaining the independence and objectivity of the consultancy has always been a challenge," says Dr Wong.

"Being a management consultant has also given me exposure to diverse fields due to the different nature of the clients' businesses and I get to work on a variety of issues beyond engineering," says Dr Wong. "Although I encounter very diverse issues in my consultancy work, the training I had in engineering helps me to overcome these challenges and come up with the solutions structurally and systematically."

Challenges and future plans

Hong Kong has yet to reach its full potential in terms of innovation and technology. Priorities are still given to real estate and securities.

Dr Wong has provided consultation service for a variety of areas, from economic development, infrastructure development, higher education, social services, innovation and technology to food safety and water quality, among others. Having the opportunities to work on projects of very different nature was both challenging and exciting for him. Currently Dr Wong is providing consultation to formulate the smart city blueprint for Hong Kong. The Blueprint aims to leverage innovation and technology to improve quality of life, sustain economic development and attract global businesses.

After spending years consulting clients on business and technology, Dr Wong believes that Hong Kong has yet to reach its full potential in terms of innovation and technology. Despite being one of the most competitive economies in the world, Hong Kong ranks below regional leader Singapore in terms of digital competitiveness and investment in research and development.

"The priority of Hong Kong is still very much real estate and securities, and overall R&D spending in terms of GDP isn't sufficient. This has to change. People need to be aware that innovation and technology need investment and be more risky," said Dr Wong. "The government can lead by facilitating innovation adoption in government setting and in private sectors. Public sector, business, academics and citizen need to embrace technology more."

Despite the challenges, Dr Wong wishes to continue as a management consultant. "I want to help promote the innovation and technology ecosystem in Hong Kong such that more people will have the motivation to improve innovation development in Hong Kong. And I've got a very solid engineering training which is most needed by today's technical advancement." 

Dr Albert Wong is a director at PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting. He received BEng in Electrical Engineering and PhD in Engineering from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology and the University of Cambridge respectively. He was later elected Junior research Fellow of Wolfson College. He received Croucher Scholarship in 1992.

To view Dr Wong’s Croucher profile, please click here.