Speed thrills telecom executive
Doctor Ivan Tam Ming-chit, chief technology officer at Hong Kong Broadband Network, is responsible for developing the group's information systems and network operations. This includes broadband expansion, Internet Protocol television, wireless applications and Voice over Internet Protocol networks. Before joining the group in 2008, he held a series of positions in Hong Kong and overseas, with companies such as Alcatel-Lucent, Citibank and SRA. Tam holds a degree in computer science from Imperial College, London, and a doctorate in the same discipline from the University of Pennsylvania. He has more than 16 years' experience in the information technology and telecom sectors. He talks to Jan Chan
Which achievements have given you greatest personal satisfaction?
It is being able to design and build networks that let the public experience the benefits of advances in telecommunications technology. For example, last month we launched a 1Gbps broadband service that made ultraspeed broadband the new standard in Hong Kong. The prospect of continuing to build one of the world's fastest networks gives me great satisfaction and a real thrill.
What is most difficult about your role?
I have to explain technology in layman's terms. Most users just want to know what certain applications can do for them, but technical people love explaining how the technology works, what makes it different and how it will perform under various conditions. This tends to make things a bit complicated. I have to strike a balance to be just technical enough while explaining the business advantages in relatively simple language everyone can understand.
Which qualities are essential to be an effective corporate leader?
The most essential is to strike a good balance between planning and reacting to changes in the telecom market. In every business environment, it is important to articulate a clear direction for the organisation. This helps you to evolve while catering for client needs and striving to be the best in the sector. Also, every leader has to communicate well to get buy-in from the team and encourage them to contribute ideas on how to realise the corporate vision. In the more technical areas, you need to 'smell' the potential of new technology.
How do you enhance your own abilities?
In a rapidly-evolving industry, someone in my position has to focus on three things to remain competitive. One is continuous learning because the internet and so many other applications are developing so quickly. The next is to be business-minded because great technology counts for little if it doesn't give a good return on investment. The third is to make time to reflect regularly on new technical applications and the execution of daily management tasks.
In practical terms, how can you help people enjoy their jobs?
It is all down to empowerment and engagement. People aren't robots; job satisfaction comes from achieving goals and acquiring skills. As long as you can make employees feel they are contributing and advancing, I believe they will enjoy their work, regardless of the challenges.
What are your major ambitions for the next five years?
The company has one big, hairy, audacious goal, which is to be the largest IP service provider in Hong Kong by 2016, and my personal ambitions align with that.
What do you advise young people interested in joining the IT sector?
IT professionals should be interested in finding out as much as possible from users. Only then will they be able to devise the best solutions. Since technology moves so fast, it's also important to keep learning in order to broaden one's horizons and be fully up to date. It is not enough to do work that is simply adequate.
Tam still gets a buzz from finding new ways for technology to improve people's lives
He sees no logical limit to the scope for discovering more efficient and cost-effective hi-tech solutions