Who is George Ong, our finalist for The Public Sector Risk Manager of the Year Award?

george ongGeorge Ong is the Chief Risk Officer for Northern Ireland Water (NIW), a Government Owned Company (GoCo). George joined the business in 2006 with a clear remit of implementing a risk and insurance management system given that the ‘Government Protection’ was to be removed from 1st April 2007. Since then George has worked to adapt, enhance and embed risk management arrangements within NIW, developed partnerships with businesses, communities and institutions to improve resilience for the Company and the community.

Which challenges did you meet as a risk manager?

Thanks so much for this most prestigious award! When I first started out on this journey to introduce ‘opportunity’ as part of the risk management framework in the Public Sector, it was an uphill struggle, because at that time the emphasis was only on ‘threat management’ and ‘opportunity’ was considered too high a risk!

All government compliance standards referred to risk as a Threat. I managed to get approval from the Government Audit Office to introduce ‘Opportunity’ into our Integrated Risk and Resilience Management Framework by making reference to the “INTERNATIONAL FRAMEWORK: GOOD GOVERNANCE IN THE PUBLIC SECTOR” “It is about being risk aware rather than risk-averse—entities should not be so risk-averse that they miss out on opportunities.”

Since the implementation of Northern Ireland Water’s Integrated Risk and Resilience Framework, we were able to transform the culture and approach to managing our risk and resilience, resulting in vast improvements to our service providers and significant savings to benefit the public! Given our achievements, I was consequently requested by the government department to assist them in implementing ‘opportunity’ into their risk management process.

To improve NI Water’s resilience to external risk factors such as Covid-19 and Climate Change, I implemented the World Economic Forum’s 5R approach to improving Resilience. Our ‘Preventative Measures’ and ‘Respond and Recovery’ greatly helped us to manage the impact of Covid-19 with no interruption to our water supply as reach out to support our customers in these challenging times. We are in the process of introducing the 6th R of our Resilience framework, which is ‘Reassess’. The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us that it is no longer acceptable just to return to ‘business as usual’, we need to learn from this event and ‘Reassess’ how best to transform the way we deliver our services in the ‘new normal’.

Which solution(s) did you develop?

The uncertainties that we are all experiencing such as Covid-19, Weather-related events, cyber-threats, Geopolitical uncertainties are increasing in complexity. But they also created opportunities in the form of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, developing a ‘Greener Economy’ by reducing carbon footprints through new ways of working.

The Public Sector’s traditional risk management approach, which manages internal threats within its own resources alone, will be rather ineffective in addressing these emerging risks. Northern Ireland Water has partnered with the insurance industry to introduce parametric insurance for weather-related events, cyber insurance to help in cyber threat and develop 4IR, customised insurance for our Solar Farm, Owner Controlled Insurance Programme for Capital Infrastructure, and now developing Risk Engineering solution for producing oxygen and hydrogen from our wastewater to be more sustainable. These risk engineering solutions are not what one would normally find in the public sector, but this is the way forward to help manage external risk factors!

The benefit of such risk transfer solutions became a reality when in January 2018, low temperatures across the UK brought about freezing conditions with severe impact on water supply. The parametric insurance that I put in place was triggered, and within four days, funds were immediately made available to cover the increased cost of working to address our customers’ needs when we had no additional funding to manage this weather event. This demonstrates the importance of having an effective insurance risk transfer solution to manage external risk factors that are beyond our control.

Do you think that winning this award could help elevate the profession and inspire others?

Very much so! The Public Sector is accountable to the public to deliver efficient, effective and value for money services in a responsible way. Given the emerging risks and government’s commitment to addressing climate change, we need to change our traditional ways of working and move towards a more integrated partnership approach where the public sector can work with the private and third sectors to manage challenges and create opportunities to achieve better outcomes.

For example, we are in the process of planting 1 million trees. Even though we do not have the financial resources to do this on our own, we are using our expertise and making our land available. Through a partnership with other government departments, private and third sectors, we now have the opportunity to make this a reality for the benefit of all.

Thanks to my colleagues in Northern Ireland Water and our business partners, this award shows how by working together we can make this world a better place for all in a sustainable way.

Register now to participate to the Awards Ceremony

Join us for the Live Ceremony on Friday 11 December from 16:30 – 17:30 CET, when the winner of this category will be revealed.

Register here. 

Find out about the other finalists of the European Risk Management Awards 2020

Find out winners of 2020 edition