Shih Jih Yao, Executive VP & General Manager Info-Comm Systems at ST Engineering Electronics

- Posted on September 26, 2019

ST Engineering Electronics (STEE) is part of ST Engineering, a large technology group, owned by Singapore’s sovereign fund Temasek, with entities in Europe and in the US. Can you tell us a bit about the group and its involvement in IoT and Smart Cities?

Internet of Things (IoT) is an important part of Smart Cities and we have historically focused on Water Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) and Smart Street Light control. We have deployed more than 15M sensors worldwide for these two use cases through our subsidiary Telematics Wireless and our strategic partners in Europe and US mainly. More recently we have also developed and brought to the market connected elevators and smart waste collection solutions as we strongly believe in the potential of these verticals.

We also go beyond IoT when it comes to Mobility & Transportation projects, including Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) to manage traffic, congestions and carpark management as well as smart street junctions’ solutions that uses AI & machine learning to dynamically optimize conditions at traffic junctions and decide whether we need to change traffic light timing. STEE is also one of few companies in Asia that provides a full suite of metro rail solutions such as fare collections, passenger information system, command center as well as all rail communication systems.

Finally, mobility & transportation requires safety & security which is another strong area for STEE with police enforcement, command centers, dispatch systems, incident management and cameras installed on different roads to enable the use of video analytics.

Which are, in your opinion, the major IoT & Smart Cities geographic markets? And based on your experience at STEE, how can a Singaporean or South-East Asian company succeed in these markets?

Singapore is quite advanced when it comes to Smart Cities and we are of course addressing actively our domestic market. However, US, Western Europe and China are the leading markets with the deployment of large-scale projects and high-level technical requirements. What also makes these markets interesting is that availability of funding and of viable legal structure for Smart City projects including public-private partnership (PPP). We engage these markets with proven streetlight control and Water AMI solutions through Telematics Wireless and our US and European entities and in partnership with large contractors and service companies.

On the other hand, in developing countries in particular South East Asia and the Middle-East, which are still very much our focus as a Singaporean company, projects takes a lot of time to start and external funding is required. Therefore, you need to be financially solid and have the capacity to work with financial institutions and the developers in order to offer a global package that includes the financing of the initial investment.

ST Engineering is mainly a system integrator, how do you compete with solution providers in the IoT and Smart cities market?

In fact, as a system integrator we cannot successfully compete overseas against solution providers. This is why, over the years, we have built solutions in every vertical that we address alone or with our strategic partners. Typical examples are our Telematics Streetlight Control Solution that we bring to market as an end-to-end solution or the rail management where we provide our own fare collection system, platform screen doors, command control systems and also the passenger information system. In many countries including in South-East Asia we will partner with local SI as channel partners who will resell locally our solutions. We apply similar models to our ITS and traffic management software platform as well as our own parking platform and smart junction control system.

Can you share with us an STEE’s IoT or Smart City project that you are very proud of?

Our largest projects and main breakthroughs are still in the UK, US and New Zealand. However, one interesting project here in South East Asia is a fully integrated public safety system that we have implemented in Singapore. It comprises the communication system and the dispatch system for the law enforcement forces. Most of it has been developed in-house except for the radio network portion where we integrated partners’ solutions. I am proud because we were ahead of delivery while using our own dispatch system for the first time and it is still running perfectly well and best of its class. The innovation here is that we came up with a fully integrated system that could interoperate between different communication systems, whether radio or narrow band VHS & UHS system etc. In fact, this idea of interoperability has been led us to develop our in-house IoT platform WISX that is communication agnostic. With WISX, you can interface any device with any communication protocol, whether it is a mesh network, Lora, NB IoT, 3G or 4G. I am also proud of this as, through WISX we basically deliver on one of the key pain points in IoT and Smart Cities.

You have spent more than 20 years at ST Engineering with 5 years break in the middle when you worked as a freelance consultant with multiple technology companies in Singapore. Was this break necessary for you? And how did it help you in your career?

After 13 years with ST Engineering, I went on my own for 5 years, still relating to communications but enlarging my intervention scope to securing communication links and encryption. I was still handling projects for STEE but being independent enabled me to get away from the day to day firefighting, gave me a different perspective from other customers’ points of view including start-ups and helped me widen my professional network.

By slowing down a bit and taking the time to think about what I really wanted to do in the long term, I realized that what drives me is taking and expanding Singaporean companies overseas. Therefore, when STEE asked me to come back, I knew that this company was still a very good platform to fulfill this aspiration.

You are now EVP of Info-Comm Systems and in charge for IoT at STEE. What does it take to get such a role?

First of all, you need to understand that, even though this IoT & Smart city landscape is full of opportunities, there are limited projects making money and being sustainable. In fact, many smart city projects are just hypes. The question is which are the areas where there is a real need and where IoT will lead to cost-reduction and long-term sustainability.

So for me, succeeding in this role means setting the right direction in terms of selecting projects based on sustainable business cases, getting the right team in place and that is the most challenging part but also establishing the right connections and leveraging the network of partners. It is not about “Oh I have this great technology and therefore I will be able to address this market”. In fact, more often than not, we cannot do it alone and the right set of partners makes the difference.

Having yourself graduated from MIT in the USA & Stanford NUS Singapore, how important is an international diploma and/or professional experience in your recruitment strategy?

Your initial paper diploma helps you in the initial stage of your career. What is more lasting in the following stages is the personal brand you are building for yourself: how you engage the people, how you perform and behave in the market, how you walk the talk and live up to what you are.

When recruiting a new team member, I would actually rely more on his Industry reputation and the professional interactions I had with the candidate in the past. But whatever the international diploma, experience or industry reputation, at the end it is about: is the candidate the right fit for your organization and for your team? Do the culture and working style match?

What is your favorite interview question when hiring a new team member?

I still think it is important to ask the candidate where they see themselves in three to five years and what are their aspirations. The answer has to be in line with what the Role has to offer. I am also asking them what questions they have for me. This is particularly important in Singapore where the older generation tends to be conservative and afraid of asking questions. The younger generation is changing and I like to get a sense of how courageous and different the candidate is

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