Tech’s appeal: ASL CEO Simon Leung aims to make IT sexy again
Head of IT services provider hopes to lure Hong Kong’s brightest back to the industry
Thanks to Hong Kong's first-rate telecommunications infrastructure and initiatives such as the government's ambitious Digital 21 Strategy - which aims to turn the city into a globally competitive digital hub - the local IT sector may be among the most advanced in the world. The industry, however, is apparently suffering from something of an identity crisis.
"It's just not seen as sexy anymore," says Simon Leung, chief executive of Automated Systems Holdings Limited (ASL), which has been providing IT services in the region for more than 40 years.
Leung says there are some issues hampering the industry in general. "The challenge we have in Hong Kong is that technology is no longer the most popular industry - banking, finance and property are seen as the sexy professions," Leung says. "Therefore, students here have not been choosing to major in computer science and technology in recent years. It's a different story in Singapore, Korea and mainland China, for instance, where technology is valued very highly. They reap the rewards for that - just look at Alibaba and Tencent."
Leung attributes the achievements of these online companies in part to the support they have received from their governments and from private enterprise. He is hopeful that the attitude of Hong Kong's undergraduates may be changing due to their success.
Leung has been working in the technology industry for 30 years, with the past five years at ASL and as CEO of the company for one year. He says he is as passionate about the sector now as he has ever been.
"Technology is something you never stop learning about because it is changing so rapidly and it is complex. By 2020, the internet of things will [mean connected devices] outnumber human beings by five to one. That means everyone will own five items to connect with the web.
"It is an industry that links so many others. Who can run a business these days without using technology?"
With 41 years of industry expertise, ASL has evolved into an award-winning company with 70 global partners and around 3,000 customers - about 80 per cent of which have been with the company for more than five years - including the Hong Kong government and universities, as well as big names in commerce.
Leung is proud that each brand that his company works with has distinct individual characteristics that ASL supports, which allows them to "choose and recommend their requirements". He adds that the company has more than 500 applications with its own intellectual property, meaning it is "genuinely innovative".
The company places emphasis on the career development of talented individuals, as well as their working environment. "Our environment provides a multi-platform for learning, as our employees are not limited to a single brand," Leung says. "We are not just working with airlines or hotels, for example, so employees are exposed to different industries, technology and solutions - and we've got multinational technology."
With such large demand for IT services - ASL worked on close to 400 projects last year - the company is always on the lookout for flexible talent. "We want people constantly and we are constantly changing. You can't afford to stay in your comfort zone: you must keep changing and evolving."
The company has a pro-active recruitment process, which includes working closely with local education institutions to attract new graduates. "We have a programme with colleges and universities, we have campaigns and talks with them and also for some, like Chinese University, we are engaging with their master's programme for the internship," Leung says.
Last year the company recruited eight interns who worked as team members for its cloud deployment project for periods of six to nine months, two to three days a week. The expectation is that after the students have completed their master's degree, they will go on to work with ASL.
ASL currently has vacancies in the technical and engineering section for a network consultant, while the sales department is seeking a manager and a sales specialist. In operations and support, there is a vacancy for a procurement officer and two project managers of different levels.
For individuals considering a career in IT, Leung points out that business development often starts with technology, and a company that does not have a good IT strategy will lose business.
"IT may not be Hong Kong's darling industry, but there are a lot of success stories in it," he says. "In this industry you will never be bored."
Simon Leung shares five things you need to succeed in the industry
Flexibility “You must be able to adapt to a fast-paced environment.”
Thirst for knowledge “You need to have the agility to be constantly learning new and complex technology”
Enjoyment “You have to enjoy this industry to become successful, but once you do the rewards are great.”
Initiative “You need to have the courage to change and innovate and not be afraid of making mistakes.”
Tech awareness “Over the next five years, big data will grow by 800 per cent.”