An organisation’s corporate functions do not exist in a vacuum; they are interrelated and interdependent on one another, and exist to provide support to the whole entity. Corporate functions help to maximise value for and aid the growth of the organisation.
These functions change continually. Existing ones grow, long-established functions adapt to new circumstances, and new ones are set up. By remaining alert to the challenges functions face as they mature, organisations can anticipate issues and put in place countermeasures to help functions add value.
Looking into this at SUSS is Dr Winston Ong, Vice President (Corporate). A newcomer to the education space, Dr Ong’s career was spent previously in various other sectors including health where he was the Chief Risk Officer at Sengkang General Hospital just before joining SUSS in 2021.
SUCCESS Editorial Team: Hi, Dr Ong. Thanks for taking time from your busy schedule for this. SUSS is the first academic institution you’ve joined in your career. How different is it from the other sectors that you were in?
Dr Ong: I have served in various public service sectors, including Arts and Culture, Information and Communications, and most recently, Health. The ethos of public service to improve the quality of life in Singapore for everyone is a common thread and value that has followed me in my career. While the needs and services may differ, many principles are foundational, such as inclusivity, accessibility, fairness, equitability, integrity, and accountability.
Do share where your role as Vice President (Corporate) sits in SUSS; your primary responsibilities, goals and priorities; and how they help the University achieve its vision.
The VP (Corporate) Office encompasses the departments of Planning, Enterprise Risk Management, Quality Assurance, Business Intelligence and Analytics, External Relations, Campus IT Services, Infrastructure and Campus Development. As the newest autonomous university with a strong focus on applied learning, and social impact in collaboration with industry and community partners, a key priority for these corporate services is to support SUSS’s learning and innovation objectives with the most appropriate technologies and learning environments. As the University grows, the integration of physical and digital platforms for blended and hyflex learning will be critical, building on the inroads SUSS has made in adapting pedagogy, and deploying technology, to overcome the social distancing constraints during the pandemic. Moving into the future, digital access and collaborative technologies will play an increasingly important role in our efforts to promote and deliver Continuing Education and Training (CET) for working adults, as well as multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral collaborations among our faculty, students, industry and social partners. While we look continually into the technology horizon for new modalities to enhance the education experience, innovations in pedagogical and andragogical practice will have to keep pace. To this end, quality assurance to raise standards of best practice will be important in delivering learning outcomes and experiences for our students that prepare them well for their careers and contributions to society. Collaborations with academic institutions and industry will be integral to the co-development and co-teaching of programmes that impart pertinent skillsets, and hone abilities, that are current and needful in the workplace. With the broad diversity of students that SUSS serves, personalisation of learning supports and services will be another priority to optimise their success. Student data analytics are already providing insights to student learning needs, anticipating difficulties in their progress, and recommending timely support and interventions to mitigate these challenges, and will continue to be enhanced with the growth of data over time.
How has your journey in SUSS been like so far?
My SUSS journey to date has been characterised by the openness, trust, and co-operation of my fellow colleagues. I have been heartened by the readiness with which colleagues share information and their keenness to explore new ideas and collaborations. I was pleasantly surprised by their readiness to adopt and adapt technology, and the wide range of collaborations undertaken with external partners to create learning, work and innovation opportunities for our students. There is palpable, youthful energy in this newest kid on the university block!
Are there any kind of key pressure points that you have taken a read of to know where your time and effort need to go in this? What’s your agenda for the next 12 months?
My agenda for the next 12 months is to synergise the departments in the Corporate Cluster so the range of capabilities reinforce the common goals of the University. For instance, Campus IT and Infrastructure have to jointly plan and develop our physical and digital environments so students and faculty can operate seamlessly between them. Physical infrastructure must be conducive to the application of technology, and digital platforms should facilitate interactions and collaboration as effectively as face-to-face activity. Besides building synergy within the cluster, collaboration with frontline business units and schools is vital. Whether in our efforts to build SUSS’s reputation and professional networks through our external relations, or to support continual quality improvement and innovation in our educational products and services, active engagement with our schools and business operations is necessary. Only in understanding our stakeholders’ goals, needs, work processes, and challenges can we achieve tangible change and results.
Can you share with us any exciting projects that you are currently working on?
One major project is the development of an Information and Technology Masterplan for the University, which will look into emerging possibilities for learning and collaboration on digital platforms, with a robust framework for assessing technological readiness and guiding technology investments to achieve our desired business outcomes cost-effectively. The focus is not on technology alone, but how data and information can be managed and analysed for insights that inform the learning process. Personalisation of learning approaches, timely interventions, and anticipatory assistance are features of education that artificial intelligence has the capability to facilitate efficiently. Our faculty and staff will also need to be supported in continual skills upgrading and job redesign to optimise technological applications for efficient operations and service quality.
The University has also started the process of studying the feasibility of various physical campus options for the future to support growth of active student communities and university engagement with industry in applied research. We also need to cater to the lifelong enrolment of our students re-entering SUSS at different junctures throughout their lives, and career trajectories, in varied roles as students, teachers, mentors and industry partners.
As a key member of the SUSS leadership team, how do you ensure that everyone’s in the boat rowing in the same direction?
The Corporate Cluster has the responsibility of facilitating the corporate planning process, which involves joint planning across all departments in the University towards the shared outcomes articulated in the SUSS Strategic Plan. Since the process began last year, we have engaged in intensive strategic conversations with senior leaders to chart the University’s goals and strategies, and achieve consensus on how SUSS will differentiate its value propositions as an autonomous university. Senior leadership planning engagements are complemented by inter-departmental discussions at the working level to establish accountabilities and responsibilities, as well as implementation timelines for specific SUSS Strategic Plan projects. Moving forward, these engagements will continue regularly so members of our growing University are kept abreast of developments, understand their roles in the University’s overall growth, adapt their departmental operations to meet new challenges, and have avenues to feedback their ideas and offer their contributions as stakeholders.
Performance management and communication will also be enhanced, with platforms like the annual Workplan Seminar, regular performance and risk updates, and performance dashboards that allow timely, transparent tracking and mitigation.
Thanks. Is there a thought or value or phrase that you would like to share with our partners?
Being, and building, learning communities together.
I look forward to our partners being part of SUSS’s vibrant lifelong learning community of education innovators, content creators, capability builders, industry incubators, and talent developers; a community that is itself a model and impetus for building the greater ecology of lifelong learning communities in Singapore.