A ride to excellence

After more than a decade of experience with different leading IT service providers, Ted Suen joined the MTR Corporation (MTR Corp) as Head of IT in February. He talks with Computerworld Hong Kong about continuing the company’s legacy and taking its IT team to new heights.   

Computerworld Hong Kong: In the past decade, your career focused mainly on the vendor side. How did you make the transition from vendor-rep to enterprise-user?

Ted Suen: People think I have a strong vendor background as I’ve worked in that capacity for the last 12 years. But I spent the first half of my career in a corporate IT environment. I started as a system programmer in late 80s.

Later, I tried different roles including database administrators and system analyst in different corporations including Chase Manhattan Bank. I started my career on the vendor side when fate brought me into EDS in 1998.

Since then, I took various roles -- from project management of different government-related projects to a management role for EDS’ regional and global clients of IT outsourcing. Before EDS was acquired by HP, I served as Managing Director of EDS Hong Kong. After the acquisition, I served as the Director of IT Outsourcing for Greater China region. Before leaving HP, I was managing the Global Service Desk for Asia Pacific region with a team of 2,000 people.

When I was approached by head-hunter for the MTR Corp Head of IT position, I was driven by the challenge of the role, thus decide to give it a try and applied for this position.

CWHK: How did your experience from the vendor side help in your current role?

TS: It’s been a tremendous help. My vendor background allows me to be more approachable by many local IT service providers. And understanding how vendors operate allows me to drive a more optimal deployment—and be in a better position for negotiation.

When I was on the vendor side, I always had to work out the best technical and cost-effective solution for clients and deliver a long-term strategy for them. The experiences of managing various government-related projects—the relocation of border control system to the Chek Lap Kok airport, the e-passport implementation and the development of ESDLife portal – were excellent learning experiences for my current role.

In addition, learning global best practices and methodologies from the vendors I worked for also enabled me to work with my team for further improvement.

CWHK: What directions and improvement do you plan to bring to the organization and your team?

TS: My major goal is to turn this department into a business partner and enabler to optimize MTR Corp’s business.

We’ve introduced a new role: the Business Relationship Manager (BRM). Seven BRMs are assigned to engage with different business units, aiming to proactively advise them on applying technologies in their operations.

One initiative from the BRMs is a tech-innovation section organized for senior executives from different business units in April. The section introduced the latest technologies and provided demonstrations of how they can be used to enhance customers’ experiences or operational efficiencies. We hope to inspire and educate business executives with innovative use of technology to help their roles.

Apart from users’ suggestions, the IT department has also set up an innovation team to explore the opportunities of adopting the latest technologies within MTR Corp.

CWHK: What emerging technologies are you exploring, and what are the latest initiatives at the MTRcorp?

TS: Recently we have launched several mobile apps for our passengers including MTR Journey Planner, MTR Next Train and MTR Tourist.

Internally, we have launched the mobile version of our Enterprise Information Portal, which provides information like staff directory and corporate publications to our internal users. We will also launch another mobile app called Material Testing System, for our employees to file reports related to testing and approval of construction materials. All these mobile apps aim to improve passengers’ experiences and improve internal efficiency.

We are also looking at cloud computing and have implemented a hybrid cloud service for MTR Corp Property Management business unit since 2009. The application leverages the Google Apps and MTR Corp in-house developed functions to build a single integrated portal service for communications with residents of our managed estates, particularly on the notification of management fee payment and building maintenance schedule. Regarding private cloud, we are exploring the feasibility to build a cloud IT infrastructure for testing and development environment to reduce the cost of hardware and software.

Early this year, we’ve launched the BYOD program, allowing staff with iOS or Android devices to access corporate emails. Currently there are no restrictions on application-access with device registered under BYOD program, but users cannot use “jailbreak” devices. There are about 1,600 people at the MTR Corp who are using devices registered under BYOD program, and we are starting to install mobile-device management software at each client-device to better manage them.

CWHK: Your predecessor, Daniel Lai, is known for his IT leadership and passion in talent cultivation. How does that legacy help or challenge your role as the new IT leader at the MTR Corp?

TS: No doubt that Daniel did a great job in cultivating IT talent at MTR Corp. The IT team at the MTR Corp has many talented IT professionals and I’m delighted to have such a great team to work with.

On the other hand, it is also quite a challenge to keep a team of 130 permanent staff motivated at all times. A sense of achievement is a big part of motivation, and many employees at the MTR Corp are very loyal and eager to bring significant contributions to the company.

Being new to the team, I’m in a good position to generate discussions that create these opportunities. I’m keen to challenge the status quo and encourage my team do so by commenting and suggesting new ideas for each other. Through these discussions, we are able to evaluate our own work with new perspectives and generated new ideas and projects for the team to improve.

Another challenge for us is the issue of aging. In the upcoming six to seven years, a few senior managers in my department will be retiring. I am hoping to fill these positions through internal promotion and this is the right time to start developing the next generation managers, thus succession planning is on a high priority.

Part of the plan for talent-cultivation is also to introduce a job-rotation program for key performers in key positions. It’s important that these next-generation leaders are able to expand their technical knowledge and business skills.