Hong Kong can lead GBA in developing geospatial data platform

March 04, 2019 11:01
With more than 20 years of experience in using advanced geographic information system for analysis, Hong Kong can lead our counterparts in the Greater Bay Area in developing a geospatial data platform. Photo: AFP/Bloomberg

In both Hong Kong's newly released budget and the central government’s Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (“GBA Plan”) issued in mid-February, a geospatial data platform is mentioned.

The Hong Kong SAR government has earmarked HK$300 million for setting up a one-stop data supermarket, or the Common Spatial Data Infrastructure (CSDI), according to the latest budget, while a “spatial service information platform” for the development of a smart city is discussed in Chapter 5 of the GBA Plan.

Both platforms are actually the same with all data centering on geographic or location information.

Why centering on geographic information?

It is estimated that 80 percent of data is related to geographic location, so it is logical for data to be referenced with respect to their location, and depicted in a map, which makes it easier for people to understand.

The open data plan unveiled by the Hong Kong government forms an important part of the CSDI. What we need to do right now is to speed up the formation of a successful spatial information platform by encouraging more usage by startups, private organizations and even government departments.

Linking location information with datasets can make better sense of the data. It has proved beneficial to businesses and society in general.

The British government is one of the most advanced in the world in terms of open data. The Business, Innovation and Skills Department published a report, Market Assessment of Public Sector Information in 2013, reviewing the effectiveness of open data. It is worthwhile to be used as a reference.

The report, more than 200 pages of report, notes that geospatial data is most popular and potentially most valuable data; it is also the most sought after.

It is estimated to generate more than 323 million pounds (US$427 million) of the United Kingdom's gross domestic product.

The report also mentions the experiences of other countries. The Australian government has opened spatial data for free since 2001, with an estimated benefit of US$70 million. For every dollar spent, the return was US$13.

This reinforces the view that making data available to all generates benefits in excess of the cost involved.

In opening data, the government should take into account the needs of the public, and also attach geographic information to the data.

This seems an easy thing to do, but industry insiders have noted that it is quite cumbersome to unify the address and location information from different sources and in diverse formats.

The Lands Department, with its rich experience, should take the lead in collaborating and coordinating with the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer. Jointly they should help other departments to promote the opening of data.

With continuous improvements in data quantity and quality, together with our more than 20 years of experience in using advanced geographic information system for analysis, we can certainly lead our counterparts in the Greater Bay Area in developing a “spatial information service platform” and its applications, e.g., in forming an “emergency response platform” as stipulated in the GBA Plan.

As such, Hong Kong can strengthen its leadership position in the region.

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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