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When you think of BHP, mobile phone app development probably isn't what springs to mind.

But that's exactly what's being created in the company's Mobility Competency Centre (MCC) in Shanghai.

Established in 2016, the centre’s aim is to deliver timely and effective mobility solutions across BHP as well as create game changing industry technology.

Centre Manager Wee-Leng leads a team of 50 technology specialists.

“Shanghai has a population of 26 million and about one third of them are supposed to be looking for work, so you’d think it would be relatively easy to find staff."

But in reality, he says getting young people normally drawn to start-up tech companies to join a mining business had its challenges.

“But once you explain the goal is to bring a large scale, 130 year old global company like BHP to the forefront of technology in the mobile app space, they get very interested," he said.

The technology being developed includes mobile phone apps, wearable devices and anything in the internet of things (IoT) space.

Products include anything from a travel management app for greater transport efficiency that runs on mobiles or Apple Watches, to a Leader’s Toolkit on iOS and android platforms which provides frontline managers with simple, actionable tips to make them better leaders.

A key component of the centre’s work is to look at any new technology that can be used in the field, from mine sites to offshore or in BHP offices.

I want this team to step up beyond the comfort zone, put forward ideas that have never been tried in the mining industry and be unafraid to test them without fear or favour.

Wee-Leng

As the technology needs of a mining company like BHP are incredibly varied, Wee-Leng said he needed to put together a team that matched this in its experience and diversity.

“Video streaming, automotive, supply manufacturing and financial services are just some of the areas our team have experience in," he said.

His vision for the team is to nurture its diversity into a Silicon Valley culture.

"I want this team to step up beyond the comfort zone, put forward ideas that have never been tried in the mining industry and be unafraid to test them without fear or favour," he said.

Encouraging this kind of game-changing thinking has created another challenge for the entire BHP team, Wee-Leng said.

“When it comes to explaining what we can offer, some people have trouble understanding the possibilities mobile solutions can present because obviously we don’t know what we don’t know," he said.

He admits taking full advantage of the unknown potential mobile technology offers requires a balancing act between timely delivery of today’s needs and time spent exploring possibilities.

"At a meeting recently we discussed vehicle safety and there’s a fantastic opportunity to improve light vehicle safety right now across the business," he said.

“The constraint is that existing technology doesn’t offer a solution capable of integration across our business needs.”

He strikes the right balance by assigning the majority of the team to look at solutions for today while a rotating team keeps an eye on the unknown needs of the future.

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