Interviewed at Innovation Day, Neil Upton of Park Air Systems discusses their remarkable three-decade relationship with Cambridge Consultants, including his perspectives on how to integrate external innovation partners with internal R&D and ensure that breakthrough developments achieve their full, transformative potential.


Richard: I'm here at Innovation Day with Neil Upton, Technical Director of Park Air. Neil, welcome. First of all what are your impressions of the day so far?

Neil: Every year I'm impressed the way you step up, you add new themes, and so again you've done it again this year and it's been very interesting so far. 

Richard: I think we all feel that this is the best of us when we put all these things together. So you're a technologist, which areas of technology innovation are interesting to you, personally or in your professional role, what's interesting? 

Neil: AI always floats to the top, it's something that's interesting. We don't currently use it in any of our products at the moment, but I have spoken to Cambridge Consultants over the last year or so about some of the things that we're doing, and maybe that could be applied with AI, so that's something that's always interesting.

Richard: Right that's interesting. 

Neil: I'm also interested in the structure of teams, and we've touched on this a bit this morning in some of the presentations on how a team moves through different phases of a project, so I'm interested in that as well. 

Richard: OK, so Park Air has been working with Cambridge Consultants for a number of years I know, what's that work been? What have we delivered for you?

Neil: We've worked with Cambridge Consultants for probably almost 30 years now. 

Richard: More than my entire career.

Neil: Almost all of mine! And what we generally do is where we want to bring a new technology or a new facet to a product line, we engage with Cambridge Consultants to help us come up with a new way of doing something, or a product that we can import into our portfolio. So it's really about that. The thing that works very well for us in Cambridge Consultants is that we don't we develop our own products and what we don't want is somebody just to come in and provide us with a completed thing and say ‘there you are.’ What we want to do is work with somebody who can help us to get to the next step, but also improves us so that we understand the technology, and we can take that forward. And that's something fairly unique with our relationship which I haven't seen with other people that we have worked with.

Richard: You work with us as an external innovation partner, and you have your own R&D, your own expert teams and make sure that those work in harmony. How does that actually work and practice?

Neil: It works pretty well. It's about bringing the teams together, and as I said, our team is not just taking what Cambridge Consultants can deliver, but also understanding it, bring it into our way of doing things. Some of the processes that we've been through on a project working with Cambridge Consultants we've adopted within our own business, and moved them forward in terms of the prototyping of a new product. So it is very much about learning, adopting and taking that on too.

Richard: I'm fascinated by this 30 year history. I think that's amazing. What's changed in our business? I feel like I know our business brilliantly well today, what have you seen change over 30 years? 

Neil: This building is a different building. 

Richard: This is true, we've built buildings, and here we are. 

Neil: Even the building today from six months is different. I think for us and the niche market that Park Air is in, it’s the skills that the radio team that you have here bring. It's more about working with those teams, so, in some respects, we've got some very long-term relationships and those relationships haven't changed. Obviously, the capabilities of Cambridge Consultants technologies you bring in to that team, that support us, has driven us in different ways. 30 years ago we wouldn't have been considering how AI can help air traffic control comms systems, but we're doing that now. So just that diversity within your organization, I think is what has changed. 

Richard: That's great, I love that you have a greater knowledge of the history of the business than I do,  it really pleases me. Neil, thank you very much, we appreciate it. 

Neil: You're welcome.

Richard Leyland