18 April 2019
Hong Kong needs to enhance data collection and sharing if it is to achieve its goal of becoming a 'smart city'. Photo: Reuters
Hong Kong needs to enhance data collection and sharing if it is to achieve its goal of becoming a 'smart city'. Photo: Reuters

Data sharing key to realizing smart-city dream: Herbert Chia

In her policy address last month, Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor identified some key themes in relation to promoting innovation and technology development in the city.

During the speech, Lam announced that the government will spend HK$700 million on initiatives aimed at turning Hong Kong into a smart city.

To discuss issues related to smart city-related policies, StartUpBeat of the Hong Kong Economic Journal met up with Herbert Chia, a venture partner at Sequoia Capital China.

Here are edited excerpts from an interview:

Q: Development plans on various aspects including ‘smart mobility’, ‘smart living’, ‘smart environment’ and ‘smart government’ were mentioned in the Report of Consultancy Study on Smart City Blueprint for Hong Kong issued this July. What are your thoughts on those plans?

A: There are concepts within it, as well as plans that can be implemented. Among those policies, ‘smart mobility’ is quite clear and distinct as it refers to initiatives to achieve faster, more convenient travel in the city.

Q: Traffic congestion, railway service disruption… all those traffic problems have been creating a burden to citizens in the city. How can the issue be solved?

A: First, we need to collect data systematically, so that we can assess the phenomenon and have a better prediction on how it would evolve. As a saying in the tech industry goes, “We improve what we can measure”. There must be a way to improve the situation when we have sufficient data.

To handle the issue, we need an all-inclusive overview of the whole situation. Inside the office of China’s tech giant Alibaba, there is a large screen on the wall showing the real-time figures of every business and operation of the group, a practice which mainland enterprises and government entities imitate.

Management’s access to information is limited. Therefore, a large screen encompassing information in every aspect benefits the decision-making by keeping everyone on the same page. City governments in mainland China have been using it to address their transport and related problems.

Q: In actual practice, what can the government do to collect more data?

A: We should begin in a small way. It would be foolish to apply the smart-city policies to the whole city. The government should pick an area as a pilot scheme to enhance data collection.

There is ample room for adding IoT (Internet of Things) devices in Kowloon East. For example, sensors can be inserted into the waterways and pipes, keeping track of pathogens such as viruses and bacteria, which is an effective initiative to promote citizens’ health.

Q: Any other important issues in the smart-city plan?

A: For Hong Kong, ‘smart shopping’ and ‘smart tourism’ are also crucial to the city’s economy. The government can promote smart tourism by designing an app which helps tourists plan their trips and find visitor information. The app can also serve as a tool to analyze tourists’ preferences.

Another is ‘smart education’. The huge amount of figures and information collected from local primary and secondary schools can be used as a guide for curriculum design and resource allocation.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 3

Translation by Ben Ng

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ writer

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