It's easy to joke about the complexity of government bureaucracies, but the task of re-engineering and streamlining the information technology (IT) systems throughout a national government is a serious challenge that calls for systems thinking.
Ming Fai Wong, SDM '12, chose MIT's System Design and Management (SDM) program in part to better prepare himself for just that task when he returns to Singapore. "SDM's focus on systems thinking is crucial, because these are extremely complex systems spread across many different agencies," he says.
Wong's experience and interests place him firmly in the space between technology and business. He has already had a successful career in IT, culminating in a key role designing and implementing Singapore's National Electronic Health Record (NEHR) system. Initially, he was part of the pioneering team that conducted the project's visioning and architecting. Then, when the project entered its implementation phase, he led the Clinical Information Assurance Workgroup, a diverse team of clinicians and architects that analyzed clinical data from numerous hospitals and recommended changes to NEHR's design where needed.
Wong's work in IT for the Singapore government began with a role as an IT security consultant to the chief information officers of Singapore. He wrote a monthly security brief and used his artificial intelligence training to develop a data-mining application for identifying possible attacks on the government. Wong was also involved in coordinating IT requirements for the 2006 International Monetary Fund–World Bank meeting in Singapore. "That was the largest event that the Singapore government had hosted at that time," he says.
Wong also spent time in industry as a product manager at Oracle Corporation, where he served as the liaison between product development and marketing and sales departments spread across Asia, Europe, and the United States. He holds a computer science undergraduate degree from Carnegie Mellon University and a master's degree in computer science from Stanford University.
The government of Singapore is sponsoring Wong's participation in SDM, and after graduation he plans to apply his systems thinking training to the task of improving Singapore's already advanced IT systems. "The issues that I'm examining at SDM include how to better manage the government's IT systems and help derive more value out of its IT assets," he says.
Wong is facing one problem familiar to IT professionals everywhere: inefficiencies caused by having data siloed within individual departments and agencies. He says it will be important to take a business processes perspective to address this issue. Many processes in Singapore's government are very tightly coupled to IT systems, so improving the government's IT systems will necessarily include business process reengineering, Wong says. Identifying synergies and avoiding the duplication of effort will be critical.
Wong says he expects to gain traction on these issues thanks in part to one key advantage of the SDM program: the depth and diversity of his fellow students' experience. "I believe a lot of learning comes from learning from the experiences of other people," he says. "It's interesting and useful to learn firsthand what professionals in other industries and domains do to manage both the engineering and management components of complex IT and business systems."