Mainland looks to build infrastructure in light of electronic data revolution

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 June, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 June, 1996, 12:00am

The entire globe is embracing the electronic data communications revolution, and a developing China is pulling out all stops to catch up.

To face this challenge, China must not only complete the industrialisation of traditional industries, but also keep pace with the march of new technology, said the China State Information Centre's Database Department deputy director, Ning Jiajun.

'The information industry is a priority for China in the coming decade because the information market accelerates the commercialisation and industrialisation of the country's business,' he said.

China plans to spend US$60 billion (about HK$464 billion) on telecom network development during the Ninth Five-Year Plan (1996-2000). Total exchange capacity should exceed 170 million circuits - the world's largest network.

In the last decade, China has invested more than US$1.6 billion in building up large-scale information systems such as the State Economic Information Centre, and tax and banking information systems.

There are more than 10,000 professionals working in the State Information Centre with 150 computer systems.

The growth rate of information service output will more than double that of GNP. There are more than 30,000 information companies by various types and it is estimated that the number of computer on-line service users reached 20,000 by the end of 1995.

Of the estimated 805 databases in China, 10 are made available on-line at varying degrees of user-access sophistication. The database covers technical and scientific information, company profiles and specific data such as information on the chemical industry.

Mr Ning said that China was still lagging behind developed nations in terms of computer penetration and telecommunications infrastructure.

'In general the manufacture of information equipment is still on the lower level of technology,' he said. 'The information infrastructure construction is still very weak, and the development of information services is not enough yet.' There are a number of problems for the information industry, such as the duplication of resources, a lack of standardisation, insufficient planning and policy guidance and not enough commercialisation of the information database.

To better understand the situation of information resources in China, the State Planning Committee, the State Technical and Science Committee and the State Information Centre teamed up to conduct a survey on information resources around the entire country.

The survey covered two areas - the database and the electronic information network. It revealed that the construction of a database in China had made progress and was able to cater to business and commercial use. But some major problems in the construction of a database in China were also found.

There was, however, a lack of strategic planning on the construction of the database, resulting in a number of smaller networks springing up. This made the task of a single network covering the whole country all the more difficult.

Some of these smaller databases were hardly used, having no data of benefit to users. Most of the databases could not be used commercially.

Mr Ning explained that individual entities building their own networks and services posed serious problems - linking the networks into a unified database would be a technological nightmare.

The different network standards would make for costly interconnection in the future, and in addition content delivery of one network might not be applicable in the other, creating higher costs at the user end with training and investment.

'Most of the databases in China cannot provide a powerful service for the users,' Mr Ning said.

'The database on-line service especially lags behind the advanced computer and communication technology. Thus, most of the information resources cannot be shared by the public.' Financial investment in the construction of a unifying database also was not sufficient.

Mr Ning said it was crucial to raise the priority and importance of the project with the leaders of government.

'The Government should strengthen the leadership for the strategic planning of the database construction,' he said. 'We must bring the effect of an information network into full play and push the database on-line service forward.' The industry is especially sensitive to international policies governing market access, intellectual property right protection, and the delivery of telecommunication services.

Mr Ning said it was necessary to pay more attention to the intellectual property right protection of the database.

Critical issues facing the industry include its ability to adapt to changing information needs and to develop the technology to deliver services quickly and efficiently.

'Information service is all about content. It is crucial to develop information services which are demanded by the market,' Mr Ning said.

Background information: The conference on 'Databases and Networks in China' was organised jointly by Law-On-Line and the TRP. It focused on the computer knowledge aspect of information technology in China, with an additional emphasis on law databases and laws governing database usage and access. More than 50 academics and computer professionals took part.