Digital 21 argues for IT integration

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 December, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 December, 2003, 12:00am

The government, borrowing an idea from big business, is considering creating the position of a chief information officer (CIO) to spearhead its many information technology development initiatives.

This case for a more integrated institutional structure is at the core of the proposed 2004 Digital 21 Strategy for Hong Kong, put forward by the Commerce, Industry and Telecommunications Bureau for public consultation.

The bureau has also sent the draft of the strategy, launched in 1998 and first revised in 2001, to industry associations and experts. The consultation ends on December 10.

The challenge will be to sustain the momentum created by the government in the past five years to harness IT for business, the community and the economy.

Public policy aside, the government has a strong influence in the local IT sector because it is a leading investor in technology for its administrative and operational systems. It has invested an average of US$4.6 billion a year in IT over the past three years.

Under the 2004 Digital 21 Strategy draft, the government is considering turning the Information and Technology Services Department into the communications and technology branch of the Commerce, Industry and Technology Bureau.

This proposed new branch would lead the government's electronic services programme, co-ordinate the development of new applications and services, support the local IT industry and drive technology adoption.

'One question is whether there should be a CIO function, either in person or as an institution .?.?. whose responsibilities may go wider than what is understood in the corporate world,' the new Digital 21 Strategy draft said.

The move to create a CIO position would follow similar paths taken by the governments of Canada, the United States and Britain - all of which have a powerful CIO role at the centre of their respective IT development and e-government initiatives.

'The CIO function is characterised by strong leadership over the business direction of other government agencies and ample technical expertise, sometimes coupled with professional knowledge from the private sector,' the draft said.

'Such a CIO function has enabled the government to better manage information for the benefit of the community, to effectively perform its cross-agency leadership role, and to take a whole-of-government approach in driving e-government.'

The role of the Information Infrastructure Advisory Committee is also being reviewed.

The committee has served as the highest government advisory body in IT matters since 1998. But it has covered a growing range of issues related to information and communications technology, industrial development and policy matters, according to the draft.

The proposed 2004 Digital 21 Strategy also highlights the case for a unified regulatory body to cover both telecommunications and broadcasting, following the example of the US Federal Communications Commission.

This review was underscored by Commerce, Industry and Technology Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah in his speech before the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia Convention last month.

'The objective of the review is to examine the need to redefine the regulatory ambit in view of the blurring boundaries [between] telecommunications, broadcasting and the internet.

'The emerging media, wired or wireless, are increasingly competing with the traditional media firms for advertising income and subscription revenue,' he said. 'But the new breed of media firms often falls in the grey area of the existing regulatory framework. We, therefore, need to design a more flexible regime that will not stifle innovation and entrepreneurship but, at the same time, [will] ensure fair competition for players in the same market segments.'

There has been some positive feedback so far on the move to integrate the regulatory structure.

Peter Yeung, managing director of Hewlett-Packard Hong Kong, said the company supported the government's initiative of merging the regulatory bodies for telecommunications and broadcasting.

'The proposed 2004 Digital 21 strategy further strengthens the government's commitment to raise Hong Kong's position as one of the most technologically advanced cities in the world,' he said.