Thomas Tan was the Director of Information Technology (IT) at The Salvation Army for 14 years from 2005 - 2020, and has lead a team of IT consultants across the region. He has since started his journey with Care Corner Singapore Ltd since April 2020.
Why did you join Social Service?
As an individual with a hearing disability, I used to struggle as a child. I could not hear my teachers or peers clearly, and it was challenging to keep up. However, that did not stop me from working hard, and eventually, I graduated with a Master of Business Administration in Information Technology from Nanyang Technological University.
This first hand experience of being differently abled seeded in me a deep desire to help others – especially those in need, so that they may lead better and happier lives.
Why did you pursue IT?
I’ve always been curious about technology. When I was in Secondary School, I joined the Computer Club, which gave me the fundamentals of how to work with a computer. Then, I began coding for fun outside of school, and I’ve been tinkering with all sorts of software and physical gadgets ever since! As I grew older, I saw how this could be transformed into a career, and I’ve never looked back since.
Why is IT important for any organisation?
As the world continues to evolve, so must its people and organisations if they wish to thrive. In the same vein, IT allows its employees to speed processes up, utilise resources efficiently and innovate in ways that may not have been possible manually.
For example, the social workers at The Salvation Army may carry out their roles smoothly with IT because we’ve invested in a system and database that allows them to input data and track the progress of their cases. This, and other enterprise systems, also enable the organisation to identify and analyse patterns. This is helpful because the organisation can recognise gaps – such as manpower shortages – and then reorganise, or enhance its use of resources and operations."
At Care Corner Singapore, we have been able to improve the productivity of the staff through converting manual processes to digital processes, automating activities that are time-consuming. This allows our staff to then invest time and energy in other areas of work.
By embarking on ‘re-imagine service design’ projects, Care Corner Singapore was able to increase reach and ease of access to our services for those who need it, when they need it, and through a channel that’s intuitive to the service users.
The organisation looks into harnessing data collection to structure and manage better decision making for the future.
What are the challenges of running an IT department in a social service agency?
As professionals in a social service agency, we’re always searching for creative ways to stay ahead of the curve. While our staff may not attend expensive training courses, we look for other ways to upgrade ourselves. From watching online seminars to consulting each other and learning from everyone’s shared expertise – I’ve always encouraged my team to take initiative and improve or learn new skills, so they’re equipped to continue meeting the needs of the organisation. Seeking advice from fellow staff also fosters a culture of collaboration and communal problem solving that goes a long way in enabling innovative solutions.
Is IT within social service agencies different from the private sector?
As someone who used to work in IT in the private sector, I can positively say that Salvation Army’s IT department runs as tight a ship as other organisations in the private sector. For example, they were in the midst of migrating databases from servers to a cloud-based storage system. The move frees up a host of resources including physical space and manpower. This is also a major operation that will take several months, but was determined to ensure thatthe assets were being optimised.
At Care Corner Singapore, we have been actively implementing an enterprise-wide constituent relationship management system for managing clients, cases, programs, even volunteers and donors. These are organisation agile implementations, each coupled with business process optimisation.
Tell us more about your team.
My team is a passionate group who inspires me to do better. I care deeply about every member, and it’s a joy to come to work and be surrounded by so many individuals that work hard to deliver solutions to our clients. In turn, I constantly motivate them to learn and grow. From problem solving independently to consulting me or others whenever they encounter a problem – I strive to provide an environment where my staff feels comfortable in experimenting, making mistakes, and learning from them. This characteristic also benefits the organisation because when we think about how to solve problems creatively, there is no challenge too large to overcome.
A role in Information Technology is one of many in social service. To find out more, click here.