Monday 22 Jul 2024
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This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on October 24, 2022 - October 30, 2022

In Singapore, circa 1987, electrical engineering positions were highly sought-after in the era of rapid advancement of information and communications technology. This also meant that competition to gain admission into reputable higher learning institutions offering electrical engineering courses was stiff.

Fortunately, SRKK Group CEO Yew Lip Sin’s good grades enabled him to pursue a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at the reputable Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore, a momentous point in his life that laid the foundation for his passion for automation and systems.

Yew, who did not have his own computer back then, had to prepare his codes hours ahead by jotting down all his software codes on paper for swift generation on-screen later at NTU’s computer centre as the course required him to do a lot of programming.

Computers were expensive and a scarce commodity then, but Yew knew that he had to get his own unit if he were to complete the course. He took out a loan of S$4,000 from OCBC Bank to purchase his first computer worth S$3,005. The rest is history.

Syarikat Rangkaian Komunikasi Komputer, better known as SRKK Group, a digital solutions company Yew co-founded in 1997, has stood the test of time with businesses spread throughout Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and the UK with more than 100 employees and an average annual revenue of RM50 million.

The company started off by providing IT hardware solutions and supplied computers to construction companies that were working on building projects in Putrajaya at the time. In 2020, it merged with Integricity Technology to provide the group with an additional software and hardware distribution arm.

In the early 1990s, Singapore was a rapidly developing island state, but Malaysia was lagging behind technologically, Yew thought. But the launch of MSC Malaysia (formerly known as the Multimedia Super Corridor) in 1996 changed his mind.

“MSC Malaysia gave me hope and the desire to return to Malaysia to participate in the country’s technology exploration,” says Yew, who was then a partner sales manager at German software firm LHS Telekommunikation, an Ericsson subsidiary dedicated to providing billing and customer care solutions.

Yew, who was nominated for EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2021 in the Technology Entrepreneur category, says MSC Malaysia paved the way for the country’s digitalisation.

He was eager to participate in the initiative, but was unsure of the path until a friend of his too expressed an interest to be part of MSC Malaysia. The duo then joined forces to set up SRKK.

“When SRKK was incorporated, I was just a sleeping partner. I merely put in RM50,000 [to build the company] together with him (the friend),” Yew recalls.

As he was still with LHS, Yew asked his sister Peng Fong (now the company’s chief commercial officer) to stand in for him and run SRKK together with his friend. However, after 2½ years, Yew’s friend and business partner decided to move back to Singapore. Yew left his corporate job and decided to try his hand at running the business. He bought out all of his friend’s shares in SRKK, using the profits from the sale of his family home in Bandar Utama in 2000.

Expect wave of automation

However, running a business was nothing like how Yew imagined it would be.

“When I first joined SRKK, it was a nightmare for me. I went from doing business worth tens and hundreds of millions of dollars to only making a few thousand a month. But you know, everybody needs to start somewhere, right?”

Despite the challenges, he knew that SRKK’s prospects were bright as Malaysia was transitioning its focus from heavy industries to high-tech services. After two to three years of managing SRKK as an IT equipment company, Yew shifted the company’s focus to networking solutions. Subsequently, SRKK ventured into the software business.

For the last 25 years, SRKK has targeted small and medium enterprises (SMEs) because Yew believes these businesses have made, and will continue to make, great contributions to the nation’s economy so long as they have the proper digital tools to do so.

“I began to position SRKK as a consulting firm rather than an equipment supplier. It was actually quite an easy decision [to venture] into [digital] service,” says Yew.

The digital service industry is a lucrative one, he notes. According to him, companies like Motorola used to charge about US$2,000 for consultations during the late 1990s.

“I always tell people that they are paying an SME’s price for an expert [when they engage SRKK],” he jokes.

Today, SRKK Group’s partners include tech giants Microsoft, HP and Dell. It is also the sole partner for ABAS Software in Malaysia and Singapore. SRKK was able to transition from hardware to software solutions provider as it was looking out for developments in the ecosystem, he adds.

Yew shares that he has a habit of jotting down important lessons obtained after each conference and applies them within his company. Apart from that, he also reads magazines to stay updated, with Harvard Business Review being his top read.

“In our monthly business review meeting, my chief technology officer will always have a 30-minute session to give us [updates on] the latest technologies. That’s also another way [on how] we are updated on the trends on a regular basis within the company,” he says.

Yew foresees that automation will come in a big wave. “Robotic process automation plus artificial intelligence (AI) will transform the industry in a big way.”

Currently, robotic process automation is used by big companies, but SMEs will eventually follow suit as they upgrade and automate their businesses.

“I think in the years to come, [robotic process automation] will be a normal job, because it’s very difficult to hire people to do all these very boring jobs. All these boring jobs can be done very well by the machine,” says Yew.

“In order for this to work, you know, the data becomes very important, so you need to have enough data to train the robot for it to become ‘smart’,” says Yew. He also predicts that the usage of cloud computing will expand.

“With the assistance of data and AI, people are going to automate as much as possible to do the maximum.”

Continuous learning is key

Yew’s past career experiences have shaped his leadership skills and managerial style with SRKK Group. He fondly remembers a saying by his superior in HP, “Just close your eyes and do it.”

“As engineers, we are faced with uncertainty because there are times when we have to work with technology that we are not 100% sure will work or not,” shares Yew. “I take that [the saying] very seriously and it has actually influenced my world view quite a lot as I developed my career in the past 30 years.”

He was also inspired by multinational corporations such as HP and Motorola that are able to train and nurture their staff to grow their careers. Motorola, for example, used to have Motorola University to train its employees.

Yew remembers that he was sent to Kepnoer-Tregoe’s problem-solving and decision-making course in the early days of his career in HP, and went through 200 hours of training after joining LHS.

“Even though I don’t use much of that knowledge that I gained, it first forms the impression and [I will be able to apply it] every time I need to,” he says. “SRKK may not be able to afford all the training courses that HP and Motorola can conduct, but at least we can supplement with books. We nurture our people [by offering] personal coaching, especially those who have the aspiration to grow with the company,” says Yew.

SRKK has developed a nine-level career path for all its employees; from an intern up to a profit-sharing partner. At every level of their career, SRKK assigns them to a specific course on micro-credential providers such as Coursera, a certain level of certification that they need to take as well as suggested books to supplement their learning journey.

Despite the well-thought career growth plan laid out by SRKK, Yew is aware that the learning route is not for everyone.

“There are always people who are very motivated to grow and to learn more, but there are even more who are not interested. So, those people who are interested will take the opportunity to learn and they will grow,” he says.

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