• 【Second Opinion】A "smart city" up in the clouds(Stephen Brown)
  • 2017-05-18    


It may come as a surprise, but there is quite a lot of trawling of websites for official papers and statistics that goes into writing a column such as this, as it cannot solely be based on mere opinion and reflect my inherent biases - at least without some justification.

I am, as such, an experienced user of our administration’s internet sites and have learnt, through sheer determination and hard work, to get some sense out of them.

However, using completely outdated technology, they are clumsy, unattractive and lack any intuitive feel. It would appear that they have never been refreshed in terms of the user experience since the earliest days of the web, when I used to play around with the first Microsoft web-page software, some 20 years ago. What any self-respecting website uses today is a computer coding language called HTML5, which has spawned the stunning, colorful, corporate websites you see today.

Try the Census and Statistics website and you will certainly find it easier to buy their printed monthly digest, if you can find it any more; while the Planning Department website, which could be a fantastic dynamic celebration of the great city - for all its faults - is not worse than those that my children were producing before the turn of the millennium.

Well, a long diatribe on the poor quality of our beloved administration’s websites may seem to be a rather futile exercise, but this poor quality says it all about the administration’s own lack of vitality and insight when it comes to technology.

It really is not sufficient just to have John Tsang throw a few token paragraphs about cloud computing, along with a few tech buzzwords, into his budget speech, or to have the incoming Chief Executive say that the best use of an island in the middle of the Shenzhen River will be as some ill defined “tech park”.

I may be almost as old as Tsang, but with two children and a daughter-in-law in their twenties who earn a decent living in “big data”, “fintech”, and “social media”, respectively, and live in Brooklyn and Shoreditch, I think I have more than a mere theoretical understanding of the dynamism of this market.

For all the rhetoric and buzzwords, what has driven us forward in the practical application of technology is the progress that we have made in being able to bring massive computing power online at almost no marginal cost.

This underpins all the applications out there, whether it be on your phone, or in being able to process massive amounts of data in science, or in the latest developments in machine learning.

Of the three members of my family involved in these areas, not one of them has ever worked in a “Science Park” or received a subsidy for their business from government. The idea of a “Science Park”, for them, is as outdated as using semaphore flags to send a message. What they have seen, and what their industries have benefited from, is the massive outsourcing of IT systems and design from public sector bodies that wish to lower costs and massively improve their customer satisfaction, while also gaining new insights to improve services through the data they collect.

While our government has dithered and dallied and made almost no progress in this area, whole chunks of services in the UK, such as vehicle licensing and medical record storage, have migrated to the cloud under the UK government’s formal Cloud First policy, which is now four years old.

CY Leung wanted to transform Hong Kong into a “smart city”. Our government can start doing that by moving all its activities with the public onto the cloud. Just moving all customer interactions and record keeping for the Housing Authority, the Hospital Authority, and the Welfare Department would give a huge boost to innovation in Hong Kong, and the benefit would be enormous, as it has been elsewhere in the world.

We don't need subsidies, we don't need more concrete. We merely need innovative thinking in the administration.

Caption:All subsidies, all concrete, but no innovative thinking.