Computer science and engineering graduates should brush up on their soft skills if they want to land a job in a world-class company like Gamuda. “A lot of the time when I go and meet graduates, whether it is IT or engineering, many are trapped in their own silos of skills and don’t see the need to go beyond those silos,” says Wong Tsien Loong, Gamuda Berhad’s Chief Information Officer (CIO).
In his many years as the top tech person in Gamuda Berhad, Wong Tsien Loong knows that it takes more than raw skills in engineering or computer science to help the firm get the best out of its technology.
It requires the ability to think strategically, understand the business and communicate well with a variety of people, says Tsien Loong. Unfortunately, many of these skills or the desire to acquire them is missing from a majority of graduates.
“Whether it is an IT graduate or an engineering graduate, you need the technical skills which you learn in university. Then you need to understand the business, which you pick up along the way. Also to be able to interact and work effectively in a team requires people skills and that is what we find lacking in local and foreign graduates,” he says.
Often the lack of these skills or the drive to improve them cripples a fresh employee’s chances and ability to move up in the company, especially in this era of ever-changing technology. It’s a mistake for IT people to think that just knowing what technology there is out there and being good at it, a person can bring value to a company.
“That’s not the type of people we want. We want all-rounders, who can think critically, express themselves well and look at a complex thing and make it understandable. Those skills are crucial to advancing your career,” says Tsien Loong, who is also Executive Director of Gamuda Engineering.
The key term here is “information relevancy”, which is determining what kinds of information are critical for a company to know and consume, and to use technology so that information can be used effectively and to make decisions in a timely manner, he says.
“Technology is just a means to an end. So my role is to see what the business needs are in terms of information for business and corporate strategy, and making sure we provide the right types of solutions to enable the business to have that information in the most cost effective way,” says Tsien Loong.
In his view, effective tech people do not try to get their companies to adopt the latest technology just for the sake of it. They first identify what kinds of information are important to the company and only then go out to find the technology that can best organise and disseminate the information.
And to be able to do that, good IT people need to be able to work with others from non-IT backgrounds and be able to think strategically, he says.
The combination of these traits has helped Tsien Loong and his team, together with other senior managers of Gamuda, to improve on the firm’s technologies to boost its sterling track record in building infrastructure.
For instance, its its Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) project using improved tunnel boring machines to tunnel through some of the most difficult terrain underneath dense neighbourhoods, such as the Bukit Bintang area in central Kuala Lumpur, for better results with fewer incidents. This new tunnel system won an award for technical innovation at the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Awards 2014.
Another example of using technology effectively is the complaints management system (CMS) Gamuda implements at all its big project sites, especially the MRT, to deal with public feedback. “The system is mobile and cloud-based, and we track all complaints and the progress in resolving the complaints, as we know who is responsible for dealing with them,” says Tsien Loong. “And this system has its own KPI (key performance indicators) in place to make sure that our contractors, sub-contractors and employees are on their toes to ensure that non-compliance is dealt with and public safety is protected.”