Data sharing platform key if HK aims to be top-class smart city

January 31, 2018 16:19
Singapore’s telephone companies – Singtel, Starhub and M1 – provide data analytics to businesses as well as government agencies. Photo: Reuters

According to research firm IDC, the big-data and business analytics market would grow globally from US$150 billion in 2017 to over US$210 billion by 2020.

Singapore has tried to make the best use of customer data, in an anonymous manner. Its three telephone companies – Singtel, Starhub and M1 – provide data analytics to businesses as well as government agencies.

One of these is commuting patterns which enable selecting new locations for retail outlets, differentiating rental rates and tenant mix for mall operators based on anonymously mapping crowd movements in shopping malls, identifying the peak and off-peak period of the day and which entrances or exits visitors mostly use.

Meanwhile, healthcare service providers in Singapore are using millions of anonymous medical transactions at public hospitals to flag any concentration of cases of a particular chronic condition such as diabetes in terms of geographical areas.

At the same time, the public housing agency has improved its service after analyzing over 90,000 emails and found out customer concerns on certain issues.

Elsewhere, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates has also collected anonymous cellular data of commuters to help transportation officials to analyze traffic flow during peak hours, in order to formulate measures to reduce traffic congestion.

Open data legislation

In Japan, a renewed privacy law, effective from mid-2017, enables organizations to process or transfer customer information after data is "anonymized, pseudonymized". Meanwhile, the US allows the use and sharing of "aggregate" customer data with individual identities and characteristics removed.

By "aggregate" information, it means "collective data that relates to a group or category of services or customers, from which individual customer identities and characteristics have been removed", according to the definition of the US legislation.

In addition to boosting the economy, utilizing data can promote efficiency and create opportunities to the community at large, and inspire people to innovate solutions to improve our quality of life.

New York is a good example to follow. Its Open Data Law legislated in 2012 mandates all public information "to be made available on a single web portal" by end of 2018.

Hong Kong needs a 'city brain'

In China, the government is planning to set up a nationwide information sharing platform for e-government and smart city systems.

"Implementing a big-data strategy to better serve the country’s development and improve people’s lives should be accelerated," President Xi Jinping said at a key meeting recently.

To catch up with the economic and innovative technology development, Hong Kong should speed up the use and sharing of big data with the use of an information sharing platform, or a common spatial data infrastructure (CSDI).

The CSDI works like a city brain to support better decisions and help realize greater efficiencies. It can provide government departments as well as public and private organizations an infrastructure to share spatial data, support various smart-city applications, and government-to-business applications. The Los Angeles city portal GeoHub is a famous example of CSDI.

Despite all the projected benefits, the Hong Kong government doesn't seem to have fully realized the importance of the CSDI, and hence given only low priority to its development. According to the government's latest Smart City Blueprint, CSDI will only be available by 2023.

In the era of smart city 3.0, which requires authorities to embrace citizens to collaboratively build our future, I hope the government will hasten the implementation of a data sharing platform to develop Hong Kong into a world-class smart city.

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Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong