Caroline Fan, Chief System Manager, Immigration Department, Hong Kong
Women in GovTech Special Report 2015.
Tell us about your background. How did you get to where you are now? Why did you decide to join the public sector?
I am not from an IT background, my degree is in statistics. But at the time, the IT industry was booming and it became a hype to join the field. I was interested to take part in the industry and I joined the public sector, because it is the easiest way to do so.
The public sector at that time was expanding the use of IT. They were looking for fresh graduates to train them. They were not specifically looking for graduates from the IT disciplines, but welcomed those who have an interest in it.
As a result I have been exposed to many aspects. Initially, I was preparing, planning and implementing IT projects. Later on, I managed projects, but gradually with the continuous expansion of IT in government, I began to advise departments in the use of tecnology, mainly how they could use IT to enhance their operational efficiency, or even to to deliver more effective and quality public service.
So my role has changed gradually from just IT project management, to the role of a adviser, and later on in helping the centre to plan or formulate technology and e-government strategies.
What is the best thing you have experienced in your career?
The interesting thing for me is to work in different departments. My colleagues and I are posted from the Office of Government Chief Information Office (OGCIO) to different departments to help them use IT.
Generally each bureau or department has their own work culture and practices, so every time you have a new posting it seems like you have changed your job. What it mean is, in the public sector setting, we have a chance to be exposed to different business domain areas, and also to experience and work within different cultures.
This is a very good opportunity to expand and develop yourself. It is something you may not have the chance to do in the private sector, unless you change your job. I think it has been a very good training ground for me, from a technical executions to formulating strategy, because it calls to see things from different angles.
In government when you formulate policy or strategies, you’re not only think about your stakeholders, but also your users, peers, department and so forth.
What is the toughest challenge that you have had to face and overcome in your career?
The challenge is that when we adopt IT solutions or products, we have to think of the bigger angle. That includes not only the usability, but also whether it’s convenient and safe. We have to think of many small but important areas that will enable the whole thing to be acceptable to the stakeholders.
For instance, the Immigration Department installed e-channels or self-service kiosks at borders to clear passengers faster and more efficiently. We have a very high volume of passenger movement, so we have to look at the kind of material we use to construct the e-channel. We have to look for not only the durability, but also make sure that it should have any sharp edges or cause any damage to people. Otherwise, it could cause very big trouble for us.
These are angles that usually when you implement an IT system, you will not necessarily need to look for or care about. If I wasn’t working on this project, I wouldn’t know that we have to look for so many things.
What is the most inspiring example that you have seen in your working life?
The e-channel is a very eye catching initiative, not only in the Immigration Department, but also in government and even worldwide. Hong Kong Immigration is the first adopter of e-channel. We have earned quite a number of awards on this initiative. Many other countries which have adopted e-channels first visited Hong Kong to learn from our experience. We have the world's highest clearance volume per day, with close to 25 million people passing through our borders every month.
What advice do you have for other women looking to succeed in public service?
This is not only for women, but to succeed in public service I think we shouldn’t be bound by the common way of thinking. There is a lot of red tape in the public sector, but we have to strive for new ways of doing things. You have to have an innovative mindset, even though you’re in the public sector, otherwise you’re just walking in other people’s shoes. You may perform as an average staff or an executive that can deliver your work but not really lead. I think to succeed you have to yourself be open minded, and not bound by rules.
And finally, how do you like to unwind after a long week at the office?
I try to unwind myself by getting away from digital world. I may connect to the internet to buy tickets or to handle my internet banking, but I seldom touch any other digital things after my work. Instead, I go hiking, or just have a walk at the harbour waterfront
My favourite hiking trail is the Maclehose trail. The scenery is really beautiful. You can walk around the reservoir or over the mountains. Parts of the trail oversee the many islands in Hong Kong and the Victoria Harbour.