Case Study: Cochlear

ASEAN skills support Cochlear's global growth


Cochlear has blazed a trail for Australian medical innovators on the global stage. Established in 1981, Cochlear is a global leader in hearing-implant devices – and over the past 35 years their technologies have transformed the lives of over 450,000 people. Today, Cochlear is a $1.24 billion company, retaining over 50 per cent of the global market it created. The company's latest innovation is the world's first Made for iPhone cochlear implant sound processor that allows direct streaming from an iPhone®, iPad® and iPod touch®.

The Asia Pacific is a vital region for Cochlear and accounts for 17 per cent of global sales, or $216 million. Southeast Asia is also a growing support base for the company's global business activities. As these governments increase their focus on health services, and boost their healthcare budgets, the opportunities for advanced medical technologies are immense. Today, Cochlear's ASEAN team is based in Singapore, while its ASEAN-wide distributor network is supported by employees in Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand.

In 2012, the company began building an Information and Communication Technology (ICT) support unit in Malaysia to provide company-wide help-desk support, systems architecture and design, and database support. According to Greg Bodkin, Senior Vice President for Manufacturing and Logistics, the aim was to tap Malaysia's excellent pool of ICT skills and customer-focused business culture.

'Kuala Lumpur proved a great place to start a global, internal-support service,' said Bodkin. 'We easily recruited the ICT skills we needed. In addition, the legal and regulatory environment is pro-business, tax rules are transparent and English-language skills are abundant. What's more, the Singapore–Malaysia time zone is ideal as a base for global business support. After four years, we expanded our Bangsar South facility and moved part of our global procurement team there as well.'

Cochlear quickly reaped the rewards of the consolidation. Locally recruited staff delivered a high quality of service and staff turnover was low. In early 2016, the company expanded again, centralising global repair activities in Kuala Lumpur. External components of the Cochlear implant are currently all repaired in Malaysia, replacing multiple sites across Europe, Asia and America.

'Our experience at Bangsar South was sufficiently positive and we decided to build a global centre of excellence there,' says Bodkin. 'We hired local engineers and electronics technicians, and trained them onsite. In just 18 months, we built a team of local technicians who now repair the sound processor components of our implant systems for customers around the world. Their attention to detail is excellent.'

For Cochlear, investment also means building medical expertise. In May 2015, the company opened the Cochlear Training and Experience Centre (CTEC) in Jakarta, Indonesia. CTEC is a training centre for audiologists and speech therapists, so they can learn the skills to help people with cochlear implants gain maximum benefit from their technology. As a regional centre, CTEC is also delivering training programs to hearing specialists from other ASEAN countries.

'Our objective is to share knowledge, so that local audiologists can work with patients to build a critical learning path,' says Bodkin. 'Cochlear is a global company and Southeast Asia is a huge opportunity for us. The more we have a physical presence in these markets, the more we can transform the lives of people with severe to profound hearing loss – while demonstrating to governments that we are committed to the region and the people who live here.'