19 January 2019
The government-owned Octopus Card has been dominating the cashless payment market in Hong Kong for over 20 years. Photo: HKEJ
The government-owned Octopus Card has been dominating the cashless payment market in Hong Kong for over 20 years. Photo: HKEJ

Why Hong Kong is so slow in adopting new technology

Outgoing Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has been keen on establishing and supporting the Innovation and Technology Bureau in a bid to deliver on his campaign promise to boost technology development in the city.

However, Hong Kong is still lagging behind other developed economies in terms of information technology infrastructure and smart city development as the government has failed to provide supportive policy to turn Hong Kong into a technology-based city.

Speaking at RTHK’s Letter to Hong Kong radio program over the Easter weekend, legislator Charles Mok, who represents the information technology functional constituency, voiced concern over the slow development of Hong Kong as a smart city, when compared with what Singapore has accomplished in this area.

Right after Mok aired his views, CY Leung, who was on leave during the holiday and not in Hong Kong, blamed the opposition for the slow pace of technology development in the city, citing the filibustering in the Legislative Council.

Writing in his social network account, Leung asked Mok whether lawmakers in Singapore also filibustered to block government policy on technology.

However, the sad state of affairs in the city’s technology front has nothing to do with filibustering at Legco.

No-one is to blame but the government’s short-sighted policy approach and lack of vision to invest in the future.

What cannot be ignored is that most Hong Kong people feel that our city is “not smart enough” to take the lead in technology development, especially when compared with counterparts in mainland China and other cities in the region.

For example, we still have to pay cash for our taxi fare. Uber’s ride-sharing service is still considered illegal in the city as its operation breaches the law. Mobile banking and payment services still form a small proportion of the entire market.

In his Letter to Hong Kong, Mok said the government has not done enough to use technology to improve services to Hong Kong citizens, or use technology to solve the problems that Hong Kong faces as a modern city.

“For example, we have considered electronic road pricing for our Central district for over 30 years. There is still no decision,” he said.

For over 30 years, taxi passengers in Tokyo can use their credit cards to pay for the fare, but people still can’t do that in Hong Kong, Mok lamented.

He also said that most local taxi drivers still don’t use the latest technologies such as global positioning system to find the best route to a destination.

Most Hong Kong people think of technology in terms of electronic gadgets for personal use rather than a whole policy framework for the city.

The government itself lacks the technology mindset in setting its policies.

In Singapore, Mok said, no policy decision can be made in government without justification from data analysis.

The Singapore government, in fact, has tied up with the National University of Singapore to provide data science training to 2,000 public officials annually for five years.

Is there any similar plan in the Hong Kong government to incorporate big data analytics into its policy framework?

One of the key applications of big data in the development of a smart city is real-time data analysis.

Real-time data from public transport firms can give the commuters up-to-date information on traffic congestion and suggest to them alternative routes that would allow them to reach their destinations faster.

Unfortunately, bus operators in Hong Kong consider such data from their operations as private assets, and therefore, they are not ready to share such information freely with the public to improve the quality of life in the city.

While Leung can be credited for pushing for the establishment of the Innovation and Technology Bureau, did his administration adopt any new policy to push forward innovation ideas? 

Let’s talk about mobile payment. Over the past 20 years, the government-owned Octopus Card has been dominating the market.

Recently, several mobile payment service providers have entered the market. However, they have found it quite difficult to compete with Octopus as the latter has a stranglehold of the public transport market.

If the government is really serious about the development of mobile payment in the city, it should require all public transport firms to install in their units contact-less sensors that are compatible with most mobile payment standards, instead of just allowing Octopus Card to have a monopoly of the market.

It is quite understandable that Leung is anxious to be remembered for his efforts in promoting Hong Kong’s technology development.

However, his efforts have been focused on picking fights with the opposition over political differences, rather than seeking ways to increase the role of technology in improving our lives.

That’s one lesson that Carrie Lam, as the next chief executive, should take to heart: pursue policies not on the basis of political affiliation but on the basis what is effective and beneficial to the people.

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EJ Insight writer

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