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Business

Taking the public route

newsmaker Working with governments is no stroll in the park, but NCS is confident its experience in the industry will take it farther, says CEO Lim Eng.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor
Lim Eng, NCS
newsmaker NCS CEO Lim Eng is a mobile man on many fronts.

He has studied in Boston, worked in Taiwan and now flies around the Asia-Pacific region for work.

Even when he's not overseas, Lim does a lot of walking. "I learn by walking around and listening to people," the 52-year-old said of his management style.

The former group director of human resources at SingTel assumed office last December, after his predecessor Chong Yoke Sin decided to step down for personal reasons.

In an e-mail interview, Lim discusses the company's push in overseas markets, as well as opportunities in the Singapore's government ICT spending including the standard ICT operating environment (SOE) project for schools under the Ministry of Education.

Q: What do you envision NCS to be five years down the road?
Lim: We aim to surpass the S$1 billion (US$730 million) mark in annual turnover in the next three to five years. We will continue to lead and shape the IT market in Singapore and strengthen our position in the Asia Pacific Region.

We also aim to become an employer of choice in the region to attract and retain the best talent. To achieve this, we believe in creating a company culture of openness, trust, teamwork and belief in excellence. We also focus on improving work environment and providing growth opportunities for our people.

NCS, under the leadership of former CEO Chong Yoke Sin, broke into new markets including China and the Middle East. What role does regional expansion and business play in your game plan?
Today, our overseas revenue contributes more than 25 percent of our total revenue.

Going forward, we want continue growing our global business strongly while strengthening our Singapore business. We will continue to focus our overseas expansion in three key regions--Australia, Greater China (including Hong Kong), and the Middle East--and grow these markets to be a significant contributor to NCS' top and bottom line.

In a recent IDA briefing on Singapore’s infocomm investment, we learned that NCS ranked third for total contract value for public sector projects last financial year, after coming in tops for the last preceding three years. How do you feel about that, and where do you see NCS for this year’s contracts?
NCS has been expanding into the commercial space, and we have gained inroads in sectors such as communications engineering, the financial services and telco and utilities.

But the government or public sector remains a very important market to us. The ranking was based on the total contract value of projects which may be amortized over multiple years. Moreover, there were mega-size projects awarded by the public sector during the year.

We will continue to work hard in maintaining our leadership position in the Singapore IT market even as we strive to make it to the Top 10 list for the Asia-Pacific region.

What do you think of this year's S$1.14 billion (US$832.5 million) infocomm budget, and where do you see the most opportunities?
NCS has a long history of serving the breadth of the government and we have been an integral part of Singapore’s IT landscape. We have successfully implemented some 2,000 large-scale, mission-critical projects for government ministries and agencies over the years.

Our opportunities are evenly spread across our IT and engineering offerings. We will continue to bid for projects that leverage our intimate domain knowledge and expertise to benefit the population at large.

NCS just bid for the SOE Schools phase, along with three other consortia. What would you say your chances are?
NCS is familiar with the significant demands and challenges facing the education sector today, having implemented numerous large-scale, mission-critical government projects in the education sector over the years in Singapore and overseas.

We have been providing IT support for schools in Singapore for more than 10 years, as well as developed and implemented the Web-based School Administration & Management System (WebSAMS) to 1,200 primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong.

We are also very much involved in many of the backend facilities management, applications development and maintenance for governments in the region.

With our intimate domain knowledge and in-depth understanding of the local environment and its needs, as well as our strong track record of managing IT outsourcing projects and desktop services, we are confident that we have the ability and expertise to support the Ministry’s focus to provide schools with a robust, connected, innovative and agile infocomm infrastructure while at the same time creating an interactive, collaborative and participative learning environment.

Unlike in the last round of SOE, NCS is signing up solo at the start and planning to rope in partners later. Why?
We do not rule out the forming of a consortium in the future.

NCS has worked on numerous public sector projects not only in Singapore but also in Asia and beyond. What are the top three things that IT services providers fail to realize or execute when dealing with governments?
The need for a holistic approach in meeting user [requirements] is important. Firstly, government systems have many interdependencies and are highly complex, thus users' needs must always be considered and the application [should be] fully tested.

Equally important is the need to assess the country's level of 'IT readiness' in terms of its people, infrastructure and agencies and then apply the [appropriate] IT technology accordingly. This is especially applicable to developing countries--it does not make sense to build a highly sophisticated system when the basic infrastructure is not available for the people to effectively use the system.

Change management or addressing the 'human side' systemically is another factor to consider. IT service providers need to appreciate cultural differences, and exercise good communication and persuasion skills in encouraging mindset change among the key stakeholders.

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