Data infrastructure fundamental to HK's innotech development

March 08, 2021 08:56
Photo: HKSTP

On Hong Kong’s latest Budget, I would like to comment from the following aspects of the innovation and technology (innotech):

1) Nurturing I&T talent

The programs including “Knowing More About IT” for primary schools to enhance students’ interests and knowledge in I&T, as well as regularising the scheme which subsidises local university students studying science and technology to enrol in I&T related internships can surely help to upgrade Hong Kong young people’s IT competency and to nurture more talents for our smart city. Once the economy is back on track, we can seize the opportunity.

2) e-Government for elderly

All government forms and licence applications will be submitted electronically, and e payment will be available for paying most government bills and licences. The business version of the “iAM Smart” digital platform for authentication of the identity of enterprises is expected to be introduced later. These measures can facilitate individual’s lives and running businesses.

Despite the e-government being convenient to most people, we should not ignore those without access to the internet. According to figures released by the Census and Statistics Department last year, more than 490,000 or nearly 35 per cent of the elderly aged 65 and over do not have a smartphone. Therefore, in promoting e-government and even electronic consumption vouchers, we have to consider how to benefit this large group of elderly people.

3) KPI for innotech investment

The Financial Secretary has also increased financial support for startups, including a total of $550 million into the Science and Technology Parks and Cyberports; $4.75 billion annually over the next two years to support the work of multiple research and development laboratories over the next three years. I expect that these programs will progress to the stage of industrialization and commercialization of research eventually.

At the same time, it is essential for the government to develop a key performance index (KPI) to measure the effectiveness of the investment in innovation and technology which is well over $100 billion so far. For example, what the return of investment is and will be, how many new jobs can be created, our performance is better or at par with other places.

4) Data infrastructure key to smart city

Several long-term problems have been exposed during the Covid-19 epidemic, one of them is leaking sewer pipes in “three-nil” buildings, that is, buildings without owners' corporations, residents organizations, nor management companies which has aroused widespread concern. The Budget has therefore set aside $1 billion for maintenance works.

However, according to the government record, there are more than 9,000 "three-nil buildings" in Hong Kong, which one has higher priority? If the funding is evenly allocated which is less than $110,000 each, the amount for each building is obviously inadequate.

If the government can link up its internal data, for example, from Building Department (building conditions, record of drainage pipes within buildings), Drainage Services Department (public drains), and Census and Statistics Department (resident details of subdivided flats) together with that on landlords, we can handle the drainage pipes issues better.

Linking up data can also be useful for epidemic containment. If we can consolidate data from the Education Bureau (age, address, name and nationality of parents); Hospital Authority (address, age, telephone); Census and Statistics Department (address, telephone no., nationality, spouse, children), the ambush lockdown operation will certainly be more efficient, and the staffing and resource mobilization more precise.

To facilitate the integration of data between departments, a shared digital platform, a Common Spatial Data Infrastructure, is required. The platform is not expected to be launched until 2022 and, and if accelerated, it can help to raise the level of governance.

I hope that the Government can continue to give practical impetus to the application of science and technology, and will also strive to build a data infrastructure. By doing so, the younger generation can enjoy better employment opportunities, and the data can play a key role in promoting governance efficiency and achieving smart cities.

-- Contact us at [email protected]

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