Hong Kong lags behind in opening up data

August 27, 2018 17:18
The Esri User Conference showcased new geographic information system (GlS) applications for 18,000 GIS users around the world. Photo: Esri UC

My trip to the United States to participate in the Esri User Conference in July was very fruitful. The five-day conference showcased new geographic information system (GlS) applications for 18,000 GIS users around the world. Some countries are taking advantage of information technology to gap-jump their development, which is very impressive.

For example, when we talked about the Middle East in the past, it was often just oil and the desert. Not anymore. When we met the female custodian of Dubai’s IT policy at the Esri conference last year, she talked about how the emirate was shaping a Smart Dubai, which totally subverted the people's common impression of the region. 

This year I met another outstanding Middle East woman at the conference: H.E. Dr. Rauda Saeed Al Saadi from Abu Dhabi. She is the director general of Smart Solutions and Services Authority (ADSSSA).

Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates, the second largest city in this rich country. It has a population of nearly three million.

The ADSSSA is responsible for assisting various government departments to upgrade their services through information technology. The authority drafts policies,formulatesstrategies, and provides operational support to achieve government integration of information and communication technologies. Its recent key project is to build a Smart Geospatial Contact Center.

It is the world's first full-service platform that gathers all government big data, geographic information, machine learning and artificial intelligence to provide quality, fast and people-oriented services. For example, when a citizen has an urgent need and calls for help, the contact center can quickly locate the citizen and make the support service more readily available.

The Abu Dhabi government highly appreciates the importance of geospatial data. The implementation of My Address (Onwani) project, which facilitates mobility and emergency rescue, is an example. The new project provided a formal address and QR code for each of the more than 200,000 street signs, lamp posts and buildings in the city, enabling anyone to find the exact location of an address with the scan of a smartphone.

Currently, schools in Abu Dhabi from kindergarten to middle school have included GIS as a subject in their curriculum.

In Hong Kong, students can only access a GIS subject at the university level, which means we are lagging behind Abu Dhabi in this area.

We also have to mention Qatar. As the first Middle East country to host the FIFA World Cup, in 2022, Qatar also takes the opportunity to use information technology to promote its national image.

Qatar is about 10 times Hong Kong’s size. It has a population of over 2 million, but its natural resources brought it a GDP per capita of US$125,000.

In 2014, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology published the Qatar Digital Government 2020 Strategy, seeking to establish a more open and advanced government within five years.

The plan includes putting all government services online so that people can complete transactions at home. Most importantly, the government will open data to encourage people to participate in policy making, which stimulates innovation and promotes economic diversification.

Back to Hong Kong. We have always been proud of our advanced infrastructure and comprehensive systems. However, many other communities have since caught up with us, and many have even overtaken us.

The full implementation of IT strategy is a great opportunity for us to overtake by gap jump – riding on comprehensive legislation, standards and a dedicated department to collect and manage various government data, especially geospatial information.

More critical is that the relevant department should immediately set an exact timetable to implement the common spatial data infrastructure (CSDI) and open it to the public so that we can reap the full potential of data.

If we delay further, Hong Kong will miss the great opportunity to catch up with our peers.

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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