ST Engineering has more than 700 smart city projects deployed in over 130 cities around the world. Its head of urban solutions explains why every day must be a learning day.
Kurrant Talent: ST Engineering is a major technology, defence and engineering group in Singapore. Can you tell us more about the group’s businesses and its international presence?
Men Leong Chew: ST Engineering started with roots in the defence business, serving as a strategic partner to the Singapore Armed Forces during Singapore’s nation-building years. Over the decades, we have grown and diversified to become a global technology, defence and engineering group with a portfolio of businesses across the aerospace, smart city, defence and public security segments.
Our global network of subsidiaries and associated companies spans Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the US, serving governments, defence forces, and commercial customers in more than 100 countries. ST Engineering is listed on the Singapore stock exchange and one of few companies in the world with a Triple A credit ratings.
The capabilities required for smart cities lie in the intersection between urbanisation, digitalisation, and sustainability
We have 23,000 employees globally, of which about two-thirds have an engineering or technical background. This gives us an extremely strong base to develop, design and build systems to solve customers’ problems. Smart cities is a key focus area and growth pillar for ST Engineering and we have been in this business for many years. The global trend of rapid mass urbanisation has burdened cities which are struggling to cope with increased demands for services.
At the same time, digitalisation and the need to be more sustainable to mitigate the effects of climate change are changing the way that cities operate. With our strengths in technology and engineering, we believe that we are in a strong position to help cities tackle their urbanisation challenges.
KT: You are heading the Urban Solutions global business area within ST Engineering. What is your division’s scope of offerings and flagship projects?
MLC: The Urban Solutions global business area brings together all of our smart city solutions into one integrated portfolio. It means we can go to our customers – cities and municipalities – with a more comprehensive and compelling smart city offering that includes rail and road management, autonomous and electric vehicles, mobility payment systems, building security and management systems, as well as Internet of Things (IoT) solutions for lighting, water and energy management.
My team comprises about 2,000 employees based around the world. Besides Singapore, we have presence in Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China and the Middle East, specifically, UAE (Abu Dhabi and Dubai) as well as a small presence in Rio de Janeiro.
We have a strong global track record of more than 700 smart city projects deployed in more than 130 cities all over the world. Our customer-centric approach aims to offer a comprehensive and integrated suite of solutions, powered by digital connectivity, big data and analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. These solutions can be categorised into three areas: smart security, which covers both physical security and cybersecurity; smart utilities and infrastructure where we use the IoT to optimise utility management in buildings, estates and ultimately cities – we have, for instance, deployed more than 15 million wireless sensors in smart street lights and water meters around the world; and smart mobility, which includes smart public transportation systems and traffic management systems to address issues such as congestion.
While my experience helps, it is important to remember that every day is a learning day, and that learning never stops
We are also a leader in healthcare autonomous mobile robot solutions in the US, with more than five million deliveries a year to healthcare, hospitality and manufacturing organisations globally.
Some of our flagship projects in mobility include various intelligent traffic management systems and solutions for Singapore’s transport authorities, Dubai’s Intelligent Traffic Systems Centre, and a smart highway management platform in Chengdu, China.
In the area of smart utilities and infrastructure, we have provided a smart lighting system for the Housing & Development Board (HDB) in Singapore to reduce energy consumption, improve cost-efficiency and safety for residents. The smart lighting system comprises smart motion sensors that are wirelessly connected in secured networks, as well as analytics capabilities that automatically adjust the luminosity of around 10,000 LED lights. This provides 60 per cent energy reduction compared with conventional lighting systems. We have also deployed smart lighting control systems in Auckland, New Zealand, as well as the US cities of Cleveland and Georgia, and Montreal in Canada.
We are also actively involved in shared autonomous transport projects. This includes being part of an Alliance for Action on Robotics (a programme under Singapore’s Emerging Stronger Taskforce) and serving as its programme lead for Singapore’s first pay-to-ride autonomous bus pilot on public roads.
KT: Singapore is regularly rated as the smartest city in the world. Is the Singapore smart city model able to be replicated worldwide and does this help ST Engineering to penetrate other markets in Asia-Pacific, Europe and the US?
MLC: In Singapore, the focus is on digitalising the city-state and various public services to improve quality of life for residents. The Singapore government takes a highly integrated approach to lay the foundational infrastructure and drive the adoption of smart technologies that lead to better quality of life.
In this regard, and given that Singapore is a key market for us, we have been developing solutions that are catered to Singapore’s environment and context. The solutions can certainly be adapted or customised for other cities, especially those tackling the challenges of dense urban living.
With the ongoing pandemic, building team engagement is also key at this particular moment.
That said, cities face both similar and different challenges because of localised issues. Some cities start off at a lower base focusing on the basic infrastructure, or solving urbanisation issues such as reducing traffic congestion, or improving public transportation efficiency and reliability. On the other hand, the focus of other more advanced cities may be on enhancing the delivery of government services by ways of digitalisation, or on embedding more sustainable solutions.
Our role is to understand what their priorities are, and based on these, determine which of our smart city solutions is best suited to help solve these issues. ST Engineering sees itself not as a vendor of smart city solutions but more as a strategic partner that understands what the city’s challenges are and what they need. Most importantly, we take a long-term view to help them transform, and achieve their desired outcomes.
KT: After a successful career in the army as a Chief of Navy, you took key roles in Singapore’s utilities as CEO of Singapore Power and PUB (water utility) and now president of ST Engineering Urban Solution. How did your military career help you in your corporate roles? What adjustments did you have to make?
MLC: The military has its own unique set of experiences, and you learn to lead teams under difficult and adverse conditions. This teaches you how to build commitment and teams that can rise to specific challenges. This has benefited me in taking on some of my corporate roles, but the challenges are, of course, different. Nevertheless, the ability to build motivation and commitment in teams remains essential. With the ongoing pandemic, building team engagement is also key at this particular moment.
Some cities start off at a lower base focusing on the basic infrastructure, or solving urbanisation issues
While my experience helps, it is important to remember that every day is a learning day, and that learning never stops. The most important takeaway is that you must be ready to learn, in order to understand what it takes to solve challenges in a new context. You also need to figure out the necessary team dynamics in any new situation. At the moment, I am continuing to learn about smart cities, which is obviously an exciting subject for many.
KT: Considering your career path and having graduated from UK & USA’s top-rated Universities (Imperial College London & Stanford and Wharton Universities), what skillset, mindset and education are you looking for when hiring new team members?
MLC: The capabilities required for smart cities lie in the intersection between urbanisation, digitalisation, and sustainability. But beyond technical and engineering capabilities, the number one factor is having the passion and motivation to want to make a difference, to help cities transform. That is something that we look out for when recruiting.
KT: What are the type of roles you are looking to fill in your new organisation? In which geographies?
MLC: We are always on the lookout for the right talent who can bring unique capabilities and strengths and value-add to our team. Specifically, due to the nature of our smart city work, we are looking for people with capabilities and skillsets in engineering, technical work as well as emerging digital technologies. This is not only in Singapore but also in other parts of the world where projects will be taking off, especially Asia and the Middle East.
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