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Riding the digital wave

THE Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has always been up to speed with technological advancements. It started the first Geospatial Information System in Singapore with the Integrated Land Use Planning System in the 1990s. At the time, it was also one of the few agencies to have an Internet portal called URA Online, says URA scholar Goh Siow Chong, who joined the agency in 1995 as a systems analyst. He adds that URA Online was also responsible for introducing the first real estate portal, Realis to the public.

Clear choice

Mr Goh, 46, recalls that he did not have to deliberate much over which scholarship to apply for more than two decades ago. This was because URA was the only agency at the time that offered a Computer Science scholarship — which was what he wanted. “Computers and technology form the backbone of most businesses, and I believed then that with strong information technology (IT) skills, I would be able to get exposure to different business domains,” he says. Mr Goh took up the URA Scholarship (Overseas) and pursued a Bachelor of Engineering (Computing) degree at Imperial College London in the United Kingdom.

He says that the UK education system gave him a solid theoretical foundation in computing science. “For computer science, most of the knowledge gained is still relevant to my work now — for example, in the areas of agentbased simulation, data analytics and machine learning,” he notes.

Continuous learning

After graduating in 1995 with first class honours, Mr Goh began his tenure at URA in the Information Systems Group. But his learning journey did not stop there. In 1997, he pursued a Master of Technology (Software Engineering) degree at the National University of Singapore. He graduated from the part-time course, which he paid for, in two years. In 2004, he decided to attain certification for a Six Sigma Black Belt, which was sponsored by URA. Six Sigma is a set of techniques and tools for process improvement. Mr Goh also self-funded a specialist diploma course in counselling at Nanyang Polytechnic in 2006 so he could motivate his team members better. He finds that the course enabled him to coach his staff and help them cope with difficulties they faced at work. His hard work and penchant for learning did not go unnoticed as he worked his way up to become the deputy director (Information Systems, Applications) in 2009. Last April, he assumed the position of chief information officer. In his latest role, Mr Goh spearheads the use of technology to enhance business processes, especially the use of analytics and advanced geospatial or 3D technology for urban planning and design. He also oversees URA’s Digital Planning Lab, which promotes the use of data and advanced digital planning tools, and collaborates with various research institutes and technology leaders.

Staying Ahead

Mr Goh is particularly proud to have worked on two special projects — the Urban System Dashboard (USys) and Geographic Information System-Enabled Mapping, Modelling and Analysis (GEMMA). “These projects transform the way URA carries out its concept plan and master plan coordination,” he says. Both applications harness rich datasets for various agencies to access via a common platform, and enable them to visualise and work on complex planning issues collaboratively. “We adopted the Agile development methodology, advance geospatial technology and open source technology to perform new planning analytics and develop new planning functions,” he adds. To stay ahead of the technological curve, URA works closely with research institutes to conduct planning-related research, and regularly meets up with experts, researchers and top city planners to exchange new ideas. These are the parts of the job that Mr Goh enjoys immensely. He says: “The environment here encourages experimentation and promotes strong teamwork. “Applying geospatial technology for urban planning is a specialised field. IT professionals in URA are required to know more than those working with typical enterprise systems. “For that, we have to constantly experiment and be innovative.”