Leo Ng knows that change is constant because, every day, he is part of initiatives which not only reshape the business landscape, but also create the blueprints and infrastructure for the smart cities of the future.
“This is a very exciting time because a lot of transformation is going on,” says the CEO of Fujitsu Hong Kong. “In the digital era, with innovations in areas like IoT, AI and big data, the changes we are working on have a wide-ranging impact. We need to integrate all this in applications for customers, so they can deliver new services and solutions in their respective markets.”
As with any new generation of technology, he notes, there are some early adopters and committed pathfinders. More usually, though, it is necessary to reach out to clients, explaining the inevitability of change and sharing information from recent research reports.
These project, for instance, that by 2022 around 50 per cent of all business worldwide will be digitalised and 75 per cent of in-house applications will somehow incorporate AI.
“Of course, digital transformation poses different challenges for different companies,” Ng says. “But they all have to embrace and capitalise on what’s happening. And we too need to expand and accelerate because things are changing much faster than we could have expected.”
The company, he notes, works on the business and enterprise side, helping clients with things like cybersecurity, face and palm recognition systems for biometric access control, and the collection and analysis of big data.
But, importantly, there is also the social and community aspect, in particular devising ways to provide better care for the elderly. Forecasts show that, by 2036, one-third of Hong Kong’s population will be over 65 - and that will pose a major challenge in terms of resources and support.
As in Japan, Ng believes, the way forward is to set up a linked system of devices and call centres to monitor the movements and behaviour of elderly people in their homes. This makes it possible to detect if they have slept well, eaten meals, and taken medicines as prescribed.
“It’s a kind of IoT device with algorithms to detect signals and convert them into useful data to provide intelligent information to the call centre,” Ng says. “By analysing the data, it is possible to find patterns for normal and abnormal situations and then to alert the operator, close relatives or friends via a mobile app if personal intervention is necessary.”
“We are trying to pilot the service in Hong Kong, reaching out to different groups of stakeholders and potential users. It is part of our vision for building a human-centric, intelligent society, leveraging technology to help people create a place where they can live better and do better work.”
Ng grew up in a single-parent family in a grassroots area of Hung Hom and attended secondary school in Ho Man Tin. His mother worked in the civil service and, to help make ends meet, he took on part-time jobs from the age of 14.
There were stints assembling packaging for a watch company in Sham Shui Po and repetitive “coolie” jobs for a garment factory in Cheung Sha Wan. Sometimes, to earn a few extra dollars, he did overtime shifts up till midnight.
“It was a tough time financially,” he says. “I saw the adverse side of life and realised you had to take control of your own destiny. At secondary school, you had to work hard otherwise you couldn’t move up to the next year and might be told to leave.”
Though not a top student, he threw himself into sports and extracurricular activities and won a place at Chinese University. Graduating in 1986 with a degree in business and marketing, he found a job as a sales trainee with DEC (Digital Equipment Corp), which at the time ranked second to IBM.
The initial brief was to look after customers in the banking and financial services sector, converting the language of “bits and bytes” into terms that made sense for their business.
“With the rise of mini-computers, the mid-80s was a golden time for IT in Hong Kong,” he says. “As a salesman, I emphasised good communication, articulating the benefits and strengths of any product. Later, as an account manager, I always aimed to build relationships, and get win-win outcomes, and avoid the hit-and-run approach.”
A series of takeovers saw DEC acquired by Compaq which, in turn, became part of Hewlett Packard Hong Kong. Ng “survived” the two M&As and continued to advance, dealing with local conglomerates, utilities and major transport companies.
“As a salesman, you must be able to deliver what you promise,” he says. “And you must understand the importance of teamwork.”
Subsequently, the industry’s evolution and personal ambition took him to ATOS Hong Kong, Cisco Systems, Sun Microsystems and EMC, with progress only interrupted by the slowdown after the 2008 financial crisis when opportunities dried up.
Instead of fretting, Ng took a six-month sabbatical and used the time constructively to learn Spanish, help his son get through final school exams, and take an extended family trip to Spain.
“I also learned that life and career plans can take some unexpected turns,” he says. “But the experience ultimately proved enriching and helped me build up my ‘immune system’ to deal with any future challenges.”
A spell at NetApp paved the way to joining Fujitsu Hong Kong in 2016, where the aim now is to be agile, efficient and help customers take their “digital journey”.
In his free time, Ng does trail running and competes in ultramarathons of up to 100 km in countries like Mongolia, Nepal and Kazakhstan.
“I love the sport; it is very challenging, but the sense of fulfilment is just enormous,” he says. “A few days after completing a race, I’m already looking for the next destination.”