Technology systems

Anna Lee, Director, Operational Technology Networks and Systems, SP Group, Singapore

How do you use technology / politics to improve the lives of citizens? Tell us about your role or your organization.

Most Singaporeans are familiar with SP Group as the operator of the electricity grid and the gas transmission and distribution network in our country. These are essential services for our economy and the daily lives of residents. Without a secure, stable and resilient supply of electricity, many of the activities we take for granted – access to the Internet and electronics, cool comforts of air conditioning, turning on lights – cannot take place. We are the invisible team that works 24/7 behind the scenes to support the nation’s aspirations and ambitions.

As Director of Network Technology and Operating Systems within the SP Group, my primary responsibility is to support, optimize and modernize our data network infrastructure. It is an essential enabler of a wide variety of functions that protects the safety and reliability of our electricity and gas grid and provides secure grid access for all internal and external systems to provide a efficient and transparent communication and customer services.

From remote switching to ensure the uninterrupted supply of electricity and the physical security of our substations, to generating invoices and supporting payments, our work directly improves the lives of Singapore residents.

I was part of the core team led by the Energy Market Authority to start piloting smart metering technology in 2012, to prepare our technological know-how for smart metering infrastructure which is currently being rolled out nationwide. The project is upgrading our network to provide a seamless interface with smart meters for utilities, allowing households and businesses to monitor their electricity consumption in near real time. This gives end users more clarity on their consumption patterns and encourages conscious choices to reduce energy consumption, which helps reduce their electricity costs and carbon footprint.

What has been the most significant project you have worked on this year?

Network transformation is an ongoing initiative to ensure that our data network infrastructure continues to be responsive and scalable for future technology. This improves the efficiency, security and management control of our data network. While upgrading technology is important, upgrading and improving talent processes and skills is even more critical. Through this transformation, our engineers are able to enhance their skills and harness the next generation of network technologies, including coding and automation. This in turn enables our users to be self-service, improve the quality and consistency of work, and free up resources to improve productivity.

What is an unexpected learning of 2021?

I took over a new team in the midst of a pandemic. Not being able to meet everyone in person prompted me to explore different ways of building long distance relationships. I have learned that the ability to communicate, listen and be empathetic are very important leadership traits. They allowed me to go beyond an office environment with my team and helped me find ways to motivate everyone towards our common goal. With Covid-19 measures in place for over 18 months, my ability to engage my team and, more importantly, ensure their mental well-being has become a test of my leadership ability.

What is your favorite memory from last year?

We organize an annual staff convention for over 3,000 employees. For the first time this year, we had to do it live virtually, and it was both a nerve-racking and fun experience at the same time. We experimented with different platforms and did several rehearsals before the same day, but the adrenaline during the live broadcast was always amazing!

Working within the multi-functional team meant that I had to coordinate with my backend team to monitor the quality of the live video and handle all incoming user queries as many are unfamiliar or have technical issues. At the same time, I had to advise the front-end production team on the technical set-up and ensure open communication between all the teams. Our main priority was to get the staff engaged, to allow clear and impactful messages and to keep the momentum of the event going. It was great teamwork that kept us sailing all day and our efforts were greatly appreciated. It made us feel like we had successfully produced a live broadcast of the Oscars and deserved an Oscar for our efforts!

What tool or technique are you eager to explore in 2022?

I’d like to start my exploration of Python programming to see how it can help my team automate some of our manual processes. Python is a simple yet powerful language and hopefully my team can eventually adopt this programming language to automate on a large scale.

What are your priorities for 2022?

We have several projects underway with key milestones in 2022. My priority is to bring out the best of my team to carry out these initiatives collectively. I believe in teamwork and that everyone brings unique value to the team. This would be done through consistent monitoring and mentoring; and be with them as a member of the team and help when needed. I would also examine the opportunities for synergies between teams and to ensure that the delivery of the result is successful and efficient.

Who are the mentors and heroes that inspire you?

I had the chance to meet a few mentors during my 20 years with Groupe SP. Not only did they see the potential in me and gave me the confidence and guidance to take it further, but they also imparted many valuable lessons on authentic leadership. I have learned to always prioritize the well-being of the team; the importance of being calm and logical, especially in times of crisis; and that the best way to gain confidence is to lead by example.

What wakes you up in the morning?

The opportunity to try new ideas and do something different that will have a positive impact on the organization and Singapore. SP Group owns and operates electricity and gas transmission and distribution businesses in Singapore. In other words, we have a great responsibility to keep the lights on for Singapore, enabling the sustainable growth and development of the nation. We do this by proactively seeking smart, low-carbon energy solutions to strengthen the nation’s energy future. This bigger goal is what motivates me.