Geospatial intelligence fosters synergies

November 13, 2023 09:13
Image: Hong Kong Government

There are a number of new proposals put forward on the development of innovation and technology in Hong Kong in this year's Policy Address, I would like to offer my views as follows:

100 smart city initiatives: seeking synergies

Over a hundred digital government initiatives to promote digital government and the smart city has been introduced, including the use of blockchain technology to issue and verify a variety of licences and certificates electronically; using artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance the security of public cargo areas; providing automated parking systems in newly completed government car parks and short-term tenancy car parks...These are all moral policies, but the government must remember that they need to be carefully planned, not just as separate and fragmented projects. In addition to putting people first, we should ensure that economic and livelihood solutions create and maximise synergies. At the same time, we also expand the scope of services to the Greater Bay Area and Asian countries, so as to guide SMEs and startups to seize business opportunities and drive economic development.

he key to linking these 100 projects and creating synergies is making good use of geospatial data. Promote and develop more smart city products and services by leveraging existing infrastructure, including the Common Spatial Data Infrastructure (CSDI) to encourage innovation, the Common Operations Picture (COP) to link the natural disaster prevention and control efforts of different governments and public and private organisations, and the interactive map dashboard to enhance governance transparency.

For example, the Policy Address pointed out that a comprehensive review of the maintenance of old buildings to enhance building safety and improve building management is required. The work should be supported by the use of technologies, especially advanced technologies such as Geographic Information System (GIS), which can not only streamline the construction process, but also enhance internal communication and efficiency.

Geospatial intelligence is indispensable for nurturing professional talents

I strongly agree that the introduction of universities of applied sciences can meet the needs of the actual market and strengthen the application of software and hardware by local students. However, when it comes to the future needs in the workplace, training in various new technologies is necessary, especially to enhance geospatial intelligence.

For example, arborists and data analysts that are popular today. In the past, arborists were only required to have knowledge of their profession, i.e. tree identification, arboricultural practices and plant maintenance. However, to be more effective, trainees need to master the skills of human-robot collaboration and the application of advanced technologies such as GIS and AI to connect geospatial information such as tree databases, aerial and satellite imagery, and even use predictive models to accurately prioritise pruning work according to risks.

In addition to statistical skills and knowledge of computer programming languages, data analysts should also have geospatial intelligence to enhance their competitiveness. Because the amount of data collected by tens of billions of smart devices around the world is growing rapidly, these data formats are different, but the common feature is location information. As a result, knowledge and skills of geographic data are indispensable to explore the potential of data, which is why more than 10,000 universities around the world have launched GIS courses.

KPIs encourage the effectiveness of I&T

This year's Policy Address closely aligns with the National 14th Five-Year Plan and continues to promote the development of innovation and technology in Hong Kong. In fact, since the establishment of the Innovation and Technology Bureau (now the Innovation, Technology and Industry Bureau) in 2015, the Government has invested nearly $200 billion to support I&T development, at an average cost of nearly $27,000 per Hong Kong citizen.

As an investor, I want to hold the government accountable to ensure that the research results funded are translated into applications. More importantly, how can the public be convinced that public money is well spent? Therefore, key performance indicators (KPIs) should be set up to regularly announce the progress and effectiveness of key R&D projects approved under these schemes.

This includes the ratio of R&D expenditure to new product sales, i.e. the new product sales revenue for every dollar spent on R&D, and the comparison of gross margin in new product sales. I made this suggestion last year, but the government has not followed up. As we will continue to invest huge amounts of public money, KPI scores of these investments are becoming more important to convince the public to continue supporting the government’s I&T policies.

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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