You could say Mr Ng Kok Siong is a man who bridges the present to the future. As the Chief Corporate Development Officer of CapitaLand, one of his responsibilities is to develop corporate IT systems and processes that enhance efficiency and productivity. He is also looking at how CapitaLand as group can better leverage technology as a business enabler to future-proof the organisation into the next decade. To do this, he has to have his feet firmly planted in the present while setting his sights on the future. One of his biggest challenges lies in winning hearts and minds to effect real change for the benefit of the group.
Asked how he reconciles these diverse demands in the face of the digital revolution, the Accountancy graduate from Nanyang Technological University of Singapore says, “I am a practical person. If I cannot stop something from coming, I would rather figure out what is happening and position myself to embrace the change.”
Making World Connections
Straddling differences is nothing new to the 44-year-old Mr Ng. Prior to joining CapitaLand in 2005, his stints in the oil and gas industry brought him to far-flung places where he has had to work with people of various cultures and backgrounds.
“I have spent extended periods and completed postings to many countries in Asia, Australia, Europe and America. Since joining CapitaLand, I have been exposed to many more Chinese cities as well as taken on postings to London and Moscow. I enjoy gaining insights to the cultural differences between different regions. People are all shaped by their historical, political and natural environments,” explains Mr Ng.
“Once you understand how politics, economics and anthropology shape people and their beliefs and behaviours, you understand their thought process and learn how to connect with them. To bridge, we need to empathise with each other, agree on the common objectives and the outcomes we all want.”
Mapping Tech Connections
Since being appointed to his current position a year ago, Mr Ng has had to tap on his experience to identify gaps. This includes identifying areas for improvement and areas where technology can be introduced to plug gaps. The other gap lies between CapitaLand’s business today and possibilities of the future. How technology can be leveraged to better position CapitaLand for the future is a question Mr Ng has to find answers to.
“To strengthen the core business, my team is assessing the company’s enterprise computing landscape which includes transactional systems, business operations and processes as well as employee collaboration platforms. The other part of the job is to develop new competencies for the company which could include smart building systems that optimise energy consumption, maintenance and operations and further delight the users of our real estate. As a group we spend a significant amount on electricity so there are potentially significant savings to be reaped. Moreover, the environmental and sustainability benefits are very appealing.” explains Mr Ng.
Mr Ng has two teams working under him for his enterprise computing coverage; Group Business Systems and Solutions and Group Technology. One team is involved in raising awareness, assessing user needs and returns on technology investment and getting buy-in to implement changes that positions CapitaLand for the future; the other looks into project management and maintenance and cyber security.
“For the last six months, we have been auditing the state of our affairs. We want to be nimble as an organisation so we have to ensure that processes are common, information is transparent, knowledge is shared easily and then there will be resource mobility. To achieve that, we will use technology to bring everyone together and shrink physical distance.”
To that end, Mr Ng and his team are looking at how to more effectively collect, store and mine the large volumes of transactional and operational data across its business units and geographies. When done properly, this process can lead to improvements in operations and engagement with stakeholders, contributing to better and faster decision-making.
Then, there is the task of bridging human inertia towards change to get everyone on board.
“Everyone accepts that change is constant and necessary. Yet many people resist change, hope it is avoidable or are fearful of change at the individual level. I guess most individuals like to be given the option of when and how to change. We will try our best to ‘mass customise’ change!” Mr Ng muses.
“We started a series of fireside chats where we invite industry experts to share about the tech landscape. From the engagement with these experts, it helps our people see the impact of certain technological trends and possible applications to the real estate business. Change is part and parcel of life. What we need is to get people to agree on the direction and pace of change and understand that change is critical to survival.”
Without a doubt, technology will influence the shape and form of real estate in the future; in particular the way people use and interact with real estate.
“These days, you can shop while sitting in your office. You can work from home, from a coffeeshop in a mall, basically anywhere as long as you have data connection or Wifi. Technology has made people mobile and made the use of real estate less segregated. Increasingly we have to look at how technology can help us differentiate ourselves from our competitors.
He adds, “Today, competition is coming from outside the traditional real estate sector. Look at the tech players - Google is building their own offices; Xiaomi is looking at residential property development. While they are learning our business, we should learn how to capitalise on technology to build better real estate and extend our value offerings.”
As an indication of how seriously CapitaLand takes technology, its wholly-owned service residence arm, Ascott, is investing in Tujia.com, China’s largest and fastest growing online apartment sharing platform. This joint venture will see Ascott operating and franchising serviced apartments in China - a new vertical which will augment the core strength of the world’s largest global owner-operator of serviced residences.
And this is just the beginning. Mr Ng shares, “In the next five years, if CapitaLand can be positioned as the most tech-savvy real estate company in Asia, that would be a big step towards ensuring the company’s relevance and sustainability in the future.”
Maintaining Personal Connections
Perhaps the fast-paced world of technology is something Mr Ng is perfectly suited to because, by his own confession, he likes to get things done quickly.
“Just get it done quickly; fix the fundamental and structural issues, install the guiding principles and move on. Don’t waste time and don’t revisit the same issue again if possible.” quips the former Anglo-Chinese School boy.
“As a child, I was lazy and wanted to get my chores over as soon as possible. Now, I tend to be forgetful with many things in my mind, so I try to do things quickly or they may slip my mind.”
For the man at the centre of all the connections, it is little wonder that to unwind, Mr Ng prefers solitary pursuits.
“I run when I am frustrated and need to de-stress - five, ten, fifteen kilometres.”
“I like the outdoors - mountains, forests and the sea; awesome masterpieces of Mother Nature created over decades and centuries” he adds.
He has passed his love of the great outdoors to his two children – Lauren, his 16-year-old daughter and Marcus, his 11-year-old son.
And how are precious weekends spent? “Besides the Sunday morning church and weekend dinners to fellowship with friends and families, I usually engage in a series of physical activities to clear my mind and recharge myself. These activities range from golf, soccer, badminton and jogging to boating and fishing. And if I play soccer, both my kids join me. My daughter is a very strong sweeper on her school soccer team.” he says with no small measure of pride.
Connecting people with technology and connecting CapitaLand with the future through technology. Mr Ng Kok Siong and his team have set their sights on leveraging technology to secure CapitaLand’s place in the future.