Chief Technology Officer, CapitaLand Limited, Leong Soon Peng, debunks many misconceptions about what to expect of an IT (Information Technology) expert. For one, Ms Leong is a woman; a happily married mother of two, in fact, who recently became a mother-in-law. For another, she is no slave to the whims of tech trends.
“I keep in touch with trends; I go to seminars, I talk to people, I look at the hype and then I see if they are practical or not. Personally, I don’t indulge in the latest gadgets and apps [just because they are new],” confessed Ms Leong. “My buys are more practical. I make sure it is something I can use, something that makes sense.”
Ms Leong readily admits that while she understands and is interested in the science behind technology, her job demands that she also has a firm grasp of how technology is applied for practical use.
“My job has more to do with combining technology with other disciplines to bring value to the business,” said Ms Leong. “So what you need is a logical mind.”
Logical-thinking is something Ms Leong values, lives by and expects of others.
Her logical mind is what makes Ms Leong such an asset in her area of expertise. The ability to grasp a situation, the resourcefulness to seek out solutions, the ability to analyse the options available, and the clarity to zero in on the best – these are skills that Ms Leong has honed over the years.
In her five years with CapitaLand, those were the same skills that has enabled her to put in place several technological changes that have made the Group more efficient, productive and integrated.
“CapitaLand’s core business may be real estate development, and management. But in any operation, there is always the need to process information and manage business processes. As long as these exist, there is always a role for technology,” explained Ms Leong.
Technology has certainly been used to build people-to-people relations within CapitaLand. Business applications that Ms Leong has worked on have brought renewed synergy to the Group.
A global, more transparent Human Resource system called CHRIS that links the entire organisation was also introduced as well. Leave application, management of payroll, HR policies and resources are now available on the intranet. I-Campus for example, allow employees across more 110 cities from different time zones to tap into the same set of training materials and courses. The company also has benefitted from streamlining of recruitment and performance management processes.
What has gotten the staff particularly excited is the introduction of the latest internal email and messaging system that Ms Leong spearheaded. The upgraded system has features like Instant Messaging via a platform called Lync. Colleagues on Lync can chat easily with each other online although one can indicate that they are in a meeting or if they did not want to be disturbed. These features give CapitaLand employees, who are spread throughout the world, quicker and easier access to one another.
“It has changed the way people interact with one another [within CapitaLand] as technology is being used to connect people,” shared Ms Leong. “We have more features planned such as posts and social networking.”
At the level of core infrastructure technology, Ms Leong has pushed for CapitaLand to adopt practices and programmes that facilitate greater efficiencies and cost effectiveness in information processing, storage and network access.
Contrary to the notion that IT experts innovate in private, Ms Leong’s creative process requires her to be around people because at the end of the day, technology has to be used by people and it has to benefit them.
“I talk to vendors, I talk to my IT managers at least once every fortnight, and also representatives from our businesses.”
Even as she is adventurous in trying out new technology, her logical approach to things helps her to clearly manage security risks.
“Risk is a balance. There is no such thing as a risk-free environment. We have to weigh security versus productivity and cost as well. Of course, with changing perceptions and regulatory environments, risk appetites do change and we need to constantly adapt.”
Logical thinking has played a central role in Ms Leong’s life as well. It was what motivated her as a child to study hard.
“I come from humble beginnings. My sister and two brothers were brought up by our maternal grandparents because our parents worked and lived in a garment factory. Life was simple and we were all very motivated to do well in school. We seemed to realise that the secret to a better future was through education,” said Ms Leong who studied at Fairfield Methodist School before going to Tanglin Technical School and then to National Junior College.
Logic led her to a career in IT even though she graduated with a degree in Statistics from the National University of Singapore (NUS). She was earning her Honours degree in NUS after having worked with the Monetary Authority of Singapore for two years at its Economics department when IBM visited the university on a recruitment drive.
“This was in the 1980s. The future was looking bright for the IT industry. It was a logical choice,” said Ms Leong of her decision to take up an offer to work with IBM even though she did not have a background in IT.
“I was also prompted by a sense of adventure. I like to learn new things.”
The decision to go into IT certainly brought Ms Leong many adventures. She worked in IBM Singapore for two years and then IBM Hong Kong after she married her husband who was from Hong Kong. From there, she went on to work with a Hong Kong company that gave her the opportunity to see IT from the end user’s point of view and to flex her muscles in a managerial role.
When it was time for the older child to begin formal education in 1993, she assessed her choices and returned to Singapore where she worked with a major bank for the next 15 years, with 3 of those years being spent in Tokyo, heading Technology within a business function.
“Singapore is a good place to raise a family,” said Ms Leong of her decision to come home.
Today, her elder son, who is 24, is married and pursuing a Master degree in the United States while her second son, three years younger, is in an Australian university.
Her logical bent guides her in the way she deals with people as well. At work, she is a leader who prefers to lead by example but is willing to let her employees think things through before jumping in.
“They know it is alright to get me involved. But they also try to resolve the matter on their own first. In that way, they are rather protective of me and my time.”
At home, she calls herself a “non-interventionist mother”.
“When the children were young, I gave them both piano lessons. But I told them that they could tell me when they did not want to carry on,” said Ms Leong who prefers to let her children think things through logically and come to their own conclusions.
“My job was to give them the opportunities.”
That kind of logic led her children to determine their own levels of interest. So while her older son stuck to the piano lessons and now plays the keyboard very well, her younger son chose to take up the drums and is now an accomplished drummer.
Logical thinking may sometimes be panned for being too clinical an approach. But Ms Leong has managed to marry logic with the human touch and her logical mind has certainly sustained her and taken her on adventures both at work and in life.