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THE INTERVIEW | DANIEL LAI, HONG KONG GOVERNMENT CIO

F.Y. Teng | Sept. 23, 2013
After an illustrious 45-year career in the private sector, Hong Kong's CIO opted for public service and is now leading the charge for ICT-enabled collaboration across borders and onto the Cloud.

My previous appointments at both HKJC and MTR provided me with the ability to lead large-scale projects and design very reliable, resilient and secure ICT infrastructures that can support large volumes of transactions. Those skills, again, are very useful in the government context, because most of our systems are pretty large systems and our ICT infrastructure is by necessity robust and secure. I recall my time with HKJC, where we at one point built very advanced, state-of-the-art ICT infrastructure and systems meant to withstand very high stress and volume. My experience there has helped me design systems that are very robust and secure for the public.

Then there's the way we ran projects at HKJC and MTR and the culture of both organisations-they are similar to the government context now. The two organisations were pretty institutional, after all, when I joined them. At the HKJC, we worked under very strict discipline and integrity was of primary importance. MTR started out as an organisation wholly owned by the government, and-even though it went IPO in 2001-is still majority owned by the government [with a 77 percent shareholding].

At these two organisations we worked through papers and committees-just as we do in government. In fact, the papers that we submit, the formats are very much similar. So I already had that sort of experience. Of course, before joining government I had already sat on quite a lot of government committees in an advisory role, and that made me even more familiar with how government works.

Talk about your first year as Hong Kong's CIO and your transition from MTR to government.
The job deals with a much broader set of issues because of the diversity. Consider the work involved in seeing through ICT initiatives. Of course, when it comes down to doing actual implementation work, I think it has not been different here. In terms of ICT implementation-dealing with the vendors, dealing with service providers-I'm handling more or less the same set of issues here as elsewhere. So it hasn't been too difficult with respect to that.

But you cannot simply conclude by saying that IT projects are after all just projects. The truth is the discipline can be very different when you're working in government. Within a company, you're essentially working with different parts of the same organisation, and each department or division is aligned with one albeit broad set of corporate goals. But the scale and complexities within a government setup makes that alignment work more demanding. Within government there are multitudes of departments, and their nature of work and cultures can be very different. So it's even more intensive work coming to an understanding of their needs and getting to know the people you're working with.

 

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