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Tech today for a better tomorrow

AS A student, Mr Lee Chen Tong questioned what shape his career path would eventually take. While he knew that he wanted to use technology to come up with creations that would excite users, he also wanted to see value and purpose in his work. Inspiration came from his father, who previously worked with the Housing and Development Board (HDB). He often spoke fondly of the organisation’s meticulous and progressive attitude towards nation-building, which prompted Mr Lee to apply for the HDB Undergraduate Scholarship. The 26-year-old is grateful for his family’s support: “They are my pillars of strength and comfort, and they never fail to give me the reassurance that I am on the right track,” he says. Mr Lee studied information systems at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and graduated in 2015, before pursuing a one-year Master of Philosophy in Management at the University of Cambridge.

Reaching new heights

The scholar is a systems analyst at HDB’s Information Services Group, a position he has held since August 2016. He says: “There are not many jobs where your work affects the lives of more than 80 per cent of the Singapore population.” Mr Lee’s responsibilities include research, prototyping, and developing and managing projects related to Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and immersive technologies. Such technologies are essential to his colleagues, especially planners and architects, allowing them to visualise spatial data and analyse them effectively. This will provide the means for town plans to be envisioned and simulated before they are executed. The systems analyst says: “The greater clarity is important to achieve a thorough understanding of the implications that are brought about by the plans, and crucial in improving the planning workflow of our organisation.” Mr Lee likens the role he and his team play to that of a bridge. First, he has to understand business users’ requirements and translate them into a viable system design for the development team. He also monitors new trends in emerging technology, researching their applicability to HDB before piloting the ones that can help enhance the organisation’s processes. As part of GIS, his team also works with various application teams to fulfil segments requiring map services. One of Mr Lee’s current projects involves the use of virtual reality (VR) to facilitate the participatory design process of community spaces in HDB estates. The project came about after a casual discussion he had with a colleague. Mr Lee was given full autonomy to develop its use cases, scope, and even see through its implementation. The project culminated in a VR app that allows HDB residents to visually paint their design ideas and share them with their fellow residents instantaneously during engagement events. Mr Lee says: “This helps to align the public’s idea of what the proposed design will look like, and enables the design to be immediately submitted for implementation by contractors. This shaves months of processing time from the workflow.”

Keenness to learn

What Mr Lee enjoys the most about his job is its dynamic nature. He says: “Technological trends are mercurial and as practitioners of technology, we need to keep ourselves updated and relevant. My job allows me to experiment with new technologies and even propose ideas unfamiliar to management. “Such spaces for intellectual creativity provide a safe environment for innovation.” For Mr Lee, communicating effectively with users, while trying to understand their requirements and proposing solutions to them, is especially challenging. He says: “Bridging the communication gap with users requires a repertoire of effective interview techniques, lots of patience, and above all, empathy. Many times, users are new to system development and unfamiliar with thinking about their work processes in a structured, organised manner. “The key lies in looking at the issue from their perspective.” For those keen on becoming systems analysts, Mr Lee encourages the adoption of a growth mindset, and a willingness to pick up new skills — technical as well as presentation, relationship management and leadership skills. He says: “The job prospects for information and communication technology (ICT) professionals have expanded tremendously over the last two decades, and now include analysts, consultants, project managers and even senior management. “As ICT continues to extend its prevalence in our world, the ICT professional’s role will only become increasingly varied.”