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Speed thrills telecom executive

Published on Thursday, 20 May 2010
Dr Ivan Tam Ming-chit
Chief technology officer of Hong Kong Broadband Network

Dr Ivan Tam Ming-chit, chief technology officer of Hong Kong Broadband Network, is responsible for developing the group’s information systems and network operations. This includes broadband expansion, IPTV, wireless applications, and VoIP networks. Before joining the group in 2008, he held a series of positions in Hong Kong and overseas, with companies like Alcatel-Lucent, Citibank, and SRA. Tam holds a BSc in computer science from Imperial College, London, a PhD in the same discipline from the University of Pennsylvania, and now has more than 16 years’ experience in the IT and telecom sectors. He talks to Jan Chan.

Which achievements have given you greatest personal satisfaction?
It is being able to design and build networks that let the public experience the benefits of advances in telecommunications technology. For example, in April this year, we launched a 1Gbps broadband service, which made ultra-speed broadband access the new standard in Hong Kong. This process and the prospect of continuing to build one of the world’s fastest broadband networks gives me great personal satisfaction and is a real thrill.

Which part of your role do you find most difficult?
One of my responsibilities is to explain technology in layman’s terms. Typically, most users just want to know what certain applications can do for them, but technical people love explaining how the technology works, what makes it different, and how it will perform under varying conditions. This tends to make things a bit complicated. I have to strike a balance to be just technical enough, while explaining the business advantages in relatively simple language everyone can understand.

Which qualities are essential to be an effective corporate leader?
I think the most essential is to strike a good balance between planning and reacting to changes in the telecom market. In every business environment, it is also important to articulate a clear direction for the organisation. This helps you to evolve, while catering for client needs and striving to be the best in the sector. Also, every leader obviously has to communicate well to get buy-in from the team and encourage them to contribute ideas on how to realise the corporate vision. In the more technical areas, you need to “smell” the potential of new technology. That means being able to sense how it could facilitate possible new services we could offer to customers.

What techniques do you use to motivate and inspire staff?
One of our core corporate values is to make continuously striving for the best a way of life. We want to embrace change and encourage people to push themselves to reach their potential. In line with this culture, I often present the tasks we have to perform as challenges rather than duties. Most people find it more rewarding and satisfying to overcome a challenge than to merely complete a duty. This also brings to life the concept of self-actualisation, which is something we always promote.

How do you enhance your own abilities as a CTO?
In a rapidly evolving industry, someone in my position has to focus on three things to remain competitive. One is continuous learning because the Internet and so many other applications are developing so quickly. The next is to be business-minded because great technology counts for little if it doesn’t give a good return on investment. The third is to make time to reflect regularly on new technical applications, as well as the execution of daily management tasks.

In practical terms, how can you help people enjoy their jobs?
I think is all down to empowerment and engagement. People aren’t robots; job satisfaction comes from achieving goals and acquiring skills. As long as you can make employees feel they are contributing and advancing, I believe they will enjoy their work, regardless of the challenges. The most effective way is to give responsibility and encourage them to contribute.

Which are you major ambitions for the next five years?  
The company has one big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG), which is to be the largest IP service provider in Hong Kong by 2016, and my personal ambitions align with that. I think we can achieve this by constantly improving operational efficiency and reliability, and introducing service innovations. That will mean making our IT and network teams among the best in the industry.

Are you a fan of high-tech gadgets?
Definitely. I keep myself up to date with all the latest information on products, equipment and networking technology. The best way to understand market needs is through personal experience.

What do you advise young people interested in joining the IT sector?
IT professionals need good communication skills and should be interested in finding out as much as possible from users of the line of business they support. Only then will they be able to devise the best solutions. Since technology moves so fast, it’s also important to keep learning in order to broaden one’s professional horizons and be fully up to date. It is not enough to do work that is simply adequate. We must set high standards, constantly improve our skill sets, and develop a good business sense, so we can translate developments in technology into practical and profitable applications. 

No limits

  • Tam still gets a buzz from finding new ways for technology to improve people’s lives
  • He sees no logical limit to the scope for discovering more efficient and cost effective high-tech solutions
  • Likes to try out new day-to-day applications at home before a commercial launch

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