In just a few short decades, Hong Kong's culture and economy have transformed dramatically as a result of IT advances.
"As in the rest of the world, Hong Kong's transition to a change-driven and knowledge-based economy depends tremendously on our ability to master information technology," says Sunny Lee, executive director of The Hong Kong Jockey Club's information technology department.
Mr Lee began his career in IT after obtaining a master's degree in operational research and industrial engineering from Cornell University in New York. "This unique degree that incorporates the technical knowledge of mathematics and IT, as well as business management skills, has played an important role in shaping my career. Since my expertise is not solely limited to computer science, I had varied opportunities to work for organisations in different industries, such as banking and manufacturing, after graduation," he says.
At different stages, Mr Lee learnt valuable skills, including communication and management that enabled him to advance to the next position. He is grateful to have had the chance to participate in and develop many significant IT projects in large organisations throughout his career so far. "Information technology is a wide field. There is always new knowledge to master," he adds.
"Mastering technical and analytical skills will get you nowhere without accompanying communication, leadership and people management skills"
Mr Lee's responsibilities are immense. "My department is directly responsible for the smooth operation of all the software and hardware systems of our organisation, ranging from repairing damaged telephone lines to creating computer programmes and tools to strengthen our business capabilities," he says.
Apart from using IT to increase productivity and enhance efficiency, one of Mr Lee's main roles is to facilitate effective communication, both internally and externally. "Team building and governance are crucial elements of my job. It is my responsibility to manage my team's performance and lead them in accordance with our organisation's vision and beliefs," explains Mr Lee.
"It is challenging to help team members to understand business principles so as to look wider than their daily IT duties, and to also understand our customers' expectations and needs. My job is more like operating a business than pure IT," he explains.
Strategic planning and business development are also an essential part of his duties. He regularly attends meetings with managers from other divisions to find and discuss new ways of improving the quality of their services and explore opportunities to export their products to other parts of the world.
"Besides company meetings, I also attend conventions held by other organisations in the IT industry or government departments. Considering the Jockey Club's contributions to a diverse range of charitable organisations, I also make time to serve the community. Being involved in all these activities helps me to increase my network of contacts, while at the same time building and promoting the image of The Hong Kong Jockey Club," explains Mr Lee.
Hong Kong will continue to stress the importance of information technology to ensure its overall competitiveness, resulting in tremendous opportunities for fresh university graduates.
"An individual does not need a high level of expertise in information technology to become a chief information officer (CIO). In the past, I have seen people in the sales and marketing discipline and even in finance entering my field," Mr Lee points out. "However, we look for specific attributes when recruiting people. It is essential that candidates possess the relevant skills and academic knowledge. They must also have a certain degree of work experience, a good appreciation of how IT can be applied to business, and be good communicators and team players. Most importantly, they should possess a strong passion for IT," Mr Lee stresses.
He believes it is vital for someone who is determined to succeed in the industry to understand IT in a business context. "Mastering technical and analytical skills will get you nowhere without accompanying communication, leadership and people management skills. If you possess these qualities, you can be sure of rapid advancement into a management position," notes Mr Lee.
Since the IT industry is such a dynamic and progressive field, Mr Lee does not encourage his employees to advance vertically up the ladder as in many other careers. Instead, he advises them to move "diagonally" to rotate horizontally back and forth to different IT departments and even to business departments to gain extensive experience and knowledge. By doing so, individuals will be well equipped when the opportunity to advance to a chief information officer position arrives, as apart from managing the IT department, a CIO's duties also includes managing business affairs.