CTO Sessions: Chris Kwong, Delta Controls Inc.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? “The focus is always on advancing our technologies that remove or improve workflow, operational efficiencies, operational reliability and performance…”

Delta Controls Inc.

Name: Chris Kwong

Company: Delta Controls Inc.

Job title: Chief Technology Officer

Date started current role: September 2017

Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada

Chris Kwong has been with Delta Controls since 1993 when he was first brought on as the embedded systems team leader. Since then he has filled the roles of Project Manager, Engineering Manager and most recently the Director of Engineering leading all of hardware and embedded software development within Delta Controls. His varied industry experiences from public access control, utilities, oil and gas, steel manufacturing, and telecom provides him with a uniquely practical view point. Kwong earned his Bachelor’s degree in Applied Science, and is a practicing registered professional engineer in computer engineering, with APEGBC and an involved member of the IEEE.

What was your first job? My first real job was for a power utility – working in the transmission department as a young computer and electrical engineer. In those days, computer engineering was a new area of formal education where it was combined with other formal engineering disciplines. It allowed me to understand electrical modelling of a power grid from the fundamentals I had learned at university. It was followed by working through case studies on the power grid, assisting in layout plans for hardening its resilience to extreme weather events where I spent countless weeks running simulations on the models – ultimately reporting on potential investment ideas introduced by the department.

Did you always want to work in IT? Yes, I found a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction in solving problems using computers and software, ever since it was introduced to me back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Seeing the enormous potential for a future doing this was an immediate attraction and the reason I have devoted my career to it.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? My degree was in computer/electronics engineering back in the early 1980s. A lot of my drive was towards engineering and the proper way of developing solutions to specifications. I’ve been involved with the IEEE since the late 1980s. I became a professional engineer 10 years later and am now a fellow. I do believe in ensuring products and projects are engineered correctly for the good of the profession and of course, the public.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I never really detoured anywhere significantly. I began working for very large corporations in power, telecom and manufacturing with the intent of gaining broad experience in understanding the different areas of engineering in these organisations. What I found was the desire to learn faster by working in some smaller organisations where you had a much better opportunity to understand the vision of the solutions/the business and participate in several aspects of their creation. I became more focused on embedded systems in hardware and firmware design and with a specific focus on control systems. Through the years, as the systems expanded with scope and application, larger system architectures became my focus and the constant delivery of newer technology and the endless effort to try to anticipate and get ahead of plans resulted in where I am today.

What type of CTO are you? My role is in the creation of the overall vision of our systems and communicating that picture and understanding of why, what and how the different participants in delivery of that value can contribute. I spend a lot of time entertaining new research, technologies and ideas and placing the values of them appropriately into the plans and directions of our architecture. It is not easy, given the rate of technology advancement and the barrage of ideas and opinions in today’s global environment. That’s why I have a team behind me in building more data and information to ensure clear decisions.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? I am currently most excited about the advancement of sensor technologies and new materials and applying machine learning models and algorithms to connect more data and information into everyday systems with the intent of being more efficient, accurate and reliable and providing insights to users. We have already built some very useful and much improved models that are deployed today with great value. I expect those to continue.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? I would say virtual reality is overhyped, sure it’s good, particularly for entertainment reasons. However, applying it to other numerous areas that you hear about, in my opinion, has just a virtual value. Augmented/mixed reality has its place. But, for pure virtual, I am more critical.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? I’m proud of the work we’re doing with big data sets and useful dashboarding of information to operational users to assist them in their everyday work. This focus of improving or removing workflow or assisting in root cause analysis of equipment or operational faults or events – allowing managers to more easily get ahead of their operational efficiencies – has shown tremendous value.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? Yes, of course. These are the trends we are all facing. We are driving expectations as well. The importance of energy and operational efficiencies to reduce our energy footprint and help in the global crisis we are in should be a focus for us all. We are also very much concerned in the industries business in finding talent and retaining that talent by ensuring experiences in buildings and workspaces are much more improved, including HVAC, lighting, safety and surveillance. These are our customers’ needs and their customers’ needs. COVID-19 has accelerated that need, as we try to ensure people come back into buildings safely and securely.

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? Understanding how their business should and will change. Opening their eyes to new ways of doing their business. This includes connected IP systems and those customers that are struggling with the inconvenience of cybersecurity.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? The focus is always on advancing our technologies that remove or improve workflow, operational efficiencies, operational reliability and performance and now following with health, safety and security. These continue to address the business goals of lower costs, improving productivity and reducing energy and provide environments that are more healthy and secure, which are the goals of not only our customers, but anyone connected in neighbouring industries.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? Occasionally, you do run into situations where alignment of an idea doesn’t quite match the need or strategy. Over enthusiastic engineers and scientists tend to jump into the weeds before stepping back and looking at the full picture, strategy and business value. We try to address this early on by ensuring there’s a solid value proposition to every venture. There are also several cases where you need to advance the technology for future value that may not be quite apparent yet. These tend to be more risky but are investments in the future.

What makes an effective tech strategy? My experience on effective tech strategies has been one of really understanding the trends and changing needs along with the timing of valuation. It requires having good foresight and indicators established to identify these values and ideal timing.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? The role today is quickly evolving. Technology’s rate of change has been increasing, but so has the noise that goes along with it. What we invested in and built for a 20-year lifecycle is becoming shorter and showing an organisation’s agility to demonstrate value more quickly, but still keeping that trust in quality and performance is the ideal goal. Newer CTOs will have to adapt to that pace, while still reading through the noise and ensuring they are very grounded in the actual needs and values.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Just to be in this business of driving newer technologies into the building automation industry over the last few decades and impacting the changes in the building model has been quite an achievement for me. I’m proud of the impact I’ve made. I see so much more potential in the coming years.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? There’s always areas for improvement, but probably the most general change I would make would be in the area of prioritising goals and addressing more healthcare integrations and technology needs a few years earlier, which would have positioned our business a little better through this pandemic and assisting in the opportunities that we could have assisted in more thoroughly.

What are you reading now? I tend to read different content at different times. Research papers on newer materials with a focus on improved battery technologies and graphene applications. Fiction, which I read periodically, is an opportunity to go somewhere else and much needed after 2020. I’m currently reading The Hype Machine by Sinan Aral with the intent of adjusting my perspective on social media in different areas of interest.

Most people don't know that I… Love to cook for others.

In my spare time, I like to…Ski, both water and downhill.

Ask me to do anything but… Long repeated tasks.