Back to Engineering! (Or Why SMRT Is Doing the Right Thing)

SMRT to refocus on its engineers, The Straits Times, 12 May 2012.

I – a loyal SMRT customer for the past 12 years – applaud SMRT chairman, Koh Yong Guan, who wanted to give more attention to the engineers. I think Mr Koh hit the nail on its head on where SMRT should be headed. Engineering excellence should be one of the organisational pillar of SMRT.

Under the leadership of Saw Phaik Hwa, SMRT seems to focus more on profitability than on engineering excellence. That’s probably one of the reasons why Ms. Saw brought retail shops to MRT stations. Unfortunately this new initiative has yet to yield some profits.

However, I sympathise with Ms. Saw. It is easy to cast aside the boring engineering matters when everything went well. Furthermore, talking about technical stuff has long been considered as “operational” and thus the “strategic” management executives should focus more on the sexy profitability – especially when this is what the board wanted.

What Mr Koh did, consciously or not, is elevating the importance of engineering matters in the top management’s agenda. By doing so, engineers can have the top management’s attention whenever they  brought up concerns about engineering stuff or whenever they have ideas on how to improve SMRT’s engineering excellence.

The top management’s attention is like a premium fuel that would energise (read: motivate) the engineers to put forth their ideas and to speak up about possible engineering problems. At last, the engineers are being heard by the top management. At last, they can feel good about doing a good job.

The top management’s attention is like a premium fuel that would energise the engineers

Without the top management’s attention, the engineers will feel unappreciated and become demotivated over the long run (why bother bringing up ideas when the bosses are more interested in sales?). Under this situation, if I were SMRT engineer, I would either join another engineering company, or reinvent myself to be a retail sales expert.

Credit to Mr. Koh for bringing SMRT back to its engineering roots! Mr. Koh also shows that leadership matters* because leaders have the power to shape the organisational culture by giving appropriate attention to key focus areas and the people who have the right expertise.

I’m looking forward to the transformation of SMRT.

Note: I can empathise with SMRT’s engineers not because I’m one of them (I’m not an engineer and I have never worked for SMRT), but because I’m an intranet / information professional and a Knowledge Management (KM) practitioner.

Getting the management’s attention on intranet excellence is, I guess, an uphill battle that every intranet professional have to go through many times in the life span of the intranet.



*A former US secretary of state, Madeline Albright, spoke about the importance of leadership in her excellent book, Prague Winter. Read her thoughts in a recent Forbes interview transcript.

Barcamp Singapore 2012 Through My Eyes

I attended Barcamp Singapore 2012 on 12 May 2012 at Tembusu College, NUS.

It has been a while since I last visited NUS campus. And boy, what a tranformation NUS campus has gone through. I’m disoriented when I didn’t see the university hall, and instead I saw a big sign, that says university town. The signs pointed to Science faculty direction. I was like “Huh? What’s going on?”.

Thankfully, the perennial landmark, Yusof Ishak House is still there. So I boarded an internal bus service, D1. And then the bus went to a flyover and stopped at new modern buildings named CREATE. That’s where I alighted.

I made my way through, to Tembusu college. The clear signage along the way clearly helps. Here, look at the impressive buildings. (I can’t help but feeling envious to the current batch of NUS students. I wish NUS campus was this beautiful when I was a student).

University Town, NUS. This is where I alighted from internal shuttle bus. (Impressive, eh?).

University Town, NUS. On my way to Tembusu College

Education Resource Centre, University Town, NUS

Tembusu College, NUS. (Finally, I reached the barcamp venue).

Once I reached Tembusu college, I knew I was at the right place when I saw these.

The Singapore Barcamp logo

Topic Board at Singapore Barcamp


Event schedule of Singapore Barcamp

I was in Barcamp Singapore between 11am and 12.30pm. As any typical barcamp session, there were talks about programming (heavy stuff). I don’t think I can understand those technical talks. So I chose the less technical ones, i.e. Singapore mini maker faire by William, lightning talks, and my adventures in the Balkans and Hungary by Sayanee.

I learned quite a few interesting information / insights.

1. Singapore mini maker faire is just around the corner! It will be held on 4 – 5 August 2012 at Science centre.

2. During one the lightning talks titled Our Robotic Future, I learned that the world has 18 million robots today. The speaker added that robots will allow human to build things at a much faster rate. This implies, people have to make the right decision faster since robots can do rapid implementation of ideas. So making the right decision will be a competitive advantage – which means the decision science and the decision-support system will gain more prominence in the near future.

3. In another lightning talk, I learned about the power of HTML5 and CSS3 in transforming how we present ideas. Good bye static presentation-slides deck! (Yes, I’m talking about Microsoft Powerpoint). The future belongs to people who can visualise their ideas using dynamic presentation tool such as impress.js

4. Sayanee talked about her adventures in the balkans (Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia) and Hungary. Throughout her talk, I kept thinking that I should visit eastern Europe one day. I love medieval castles and churches. She also talked about Gavrilo Princip – a man who was considered as a patriot by the Serbians and a terrorist by Austrians. The difference between patriotism and terrorism is a matter of perspective.

Did you attend Barcamp Singapore? What did you learn?

5 Things All of Us Can Learn From Margaret Thatcher

Iron lady is a great film about the life of Margaret Thatcher – the longest serving British Prime Minister. I admit, I didn’t know much about the UK iron lady (a.k.a. Margaret Thatcher) before I watched the film. But wow, I’m impressed with her personality.

No doubt, there are a lot of things that we can learn from her. For a start, I think all of us can learn five good lessons from her rise to (and fall from) the summit of UK government.

1. Get a meaningful job

“Do the job that you love” mantra is a time-and-tested way to be successful. In the movie, Thatcher told her soon-to-be husband that she did not want to waste her time washing dishes. And she insisted that “one’s life must matter”.

The lesson here is not so much about washing dishes sucks, but rather you should define what kind of job that excites you and go for it. (I’m sure there are people in this world who are passionate about washing dishes. But to Thatcher, washing dishes is a meaningless activity.)

2. Surround yourself with people who believe in you

No one is perfect and this is a fact of life. But why should you make your life harder, by hanging out with people who think that you have 1,001 things to improve? Stay away from these people because they will suck your energy and hurt your self worth. Instead connect with people who believe in you.

Thatcher surrounded herself with people who believe in her potential like Airey Neave. They encouraged her to lead the conservative party and offered help/advices on the few things that Thatcher has to improve, to fulfill her potential.

3. Use your own criteria to decide what to change about yourself

Who has the right to tell you on what to change about yourself? Nobody but yourself and someone whom you have deep respect. The truth is, we know ourselves better than anyone else. And thus, we should be the worst critics of ourselves – not someone else.

In the movie, Thatcher insisted that she wouldn’t be persuaded, not to wear her pearl necklace. And she brushed off the doctor who seemed to know what her feelings were.  She believed thoughts and ideas were more important than feelings.

Watch your thoughts for they’d become words. Watch your words for they’d become habits. Watch your habits, for they’d become your character. And watch your character, it would become your destiny.

- Margaret Thatcher

4. To change things, lead the change initiative

In the movie, Airey Neave told Thatcher to lead the party if she want to change it. I totally agree with Neave on this, i.e. to change things, you need to lead the change initiative! (apparently, this view is not uncommon). Napoleon Bonaparte seems to share this view too.

I love power. But it is as an artist that I love it. I love it as a musician loves his violin, to draw out its sounds and chords and harmonies.

- Napoleon Bonaparte

Who else can do a better job in communicating change and determining how to get there, than the person who fervently believe that change must be done? It makes perfect sense to be the leader of the change initiative when you are the most passionate advocate of change.

5. Be gentle when giving criticism

In the movie, Thatcher was warned, “…not to test one’s colleagues loyalty too far”. Unfortunately, she didn’t listen.

In her last days in office, Thatcher alienated many of her colleagues by easily dismissing their views and acting like a dictator. She brutally criticised Geoffrey Howe in front of other cabinet members – prompting his resignation from the cabinet and eventually this leads to her own downfall.


Have you watched the movie: The Iron Lady? What life lesson did you learn?