Smart living in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 January, 2008, 12:00am

New technology could pave the way for world's first cashless society

Hong Kong may not be regarded as a centre for information technology, but it could position itself as the first cashless society in the world with its extensive use of smart cards in commercial applications.

A smart card is a credit card-sized plastic card embedded with a single integrated circuit (IC) chip. In recent years, smart-card technology has penetrated almost every aspect of our daily lives. More and more companies in retail and transportation are incorporating this technology into their business models. Organisations, in sectors such as banking, transport, telecommunications, access control, credit and debit cards, and government departments, are adopting the cryptographic technology on which smart cards are based.

Security for information, such as credit-card transaction records, private correspondence, company information, identity card numbers, bank accounts and other personal details, is vital and creates an increasing number of IT positions and functionaries not only in the field of engineering, but also in sales, marketing and business development.

Denny Wong Yiu-chu, chairman of Advanced Card Systems Holding, said: 'Smart cards represent a good means to enhance the security of using e-commerce. The Hong Kong identity card uses contact-based smart-card technology, and mainland China too has already issued some 800 million second-generation identity cards using contactless technology.'

Advanced Card Systems Holding develops, manufactures and supplies smart-card readers, smart cards and related security products.

Mr Wong said the smart-card business grew directly in proportion to the population in Hong Kong and the mainland, and he saw potential for business growth for smart-card technology in commercial areas. 'Wherever there are payments to be made, there will be opportunity for the use of smart cards. With smart cards becoming a way of life for Hong Kong people, opportunities are aplenty for IT companies and talent, and there is great potential for smart-card businesses. 'Wherever there are payments to be made, eventually, there will be smart cards to replace it,' Mr Wong said.

Alan Ho, chairman of Professional Information Security Association, agreed that smart cards were one of the major areas where IT technology came into play.

'We are seeing more use of smart cards in checking a person's identity. For example, student attendance in schools, and as staff cards for physical security control or access in an organisation,' Mr Ho said.

The popularity of the Octopus card in Hong Kong presents a good case study. The Octopus is extensively used in public transport systems and for payments in convenience stores, supermarkets and other point-of-sale outlets.

'The industry in the next few years will grow rapidly. The trend is set to continue and vast business opportunities will be opened up,' said Donald Cheung, senior manager of corporate communications for Octopus, a leading smart-card technology provider in Hong Kong, which recently secured a project to develop a multipurpose cashless electronic payment smart-card system with the Roads and Transport Authority in Dubai, based on its Hong Kong experience.

'We have more than 1,000 service providers across different businesses, including public transport, parking, retail, vending and kiosks, schools and leisure facilities as well as access control for residential and commercial buildings.

'With the advent of new technologies, we think more innovative applications can be developed to enhance customer convenience using the smart-card technology,' Mr Cheung said.

Octopus provides regular training to its service providers in both transport and retail sectors, including frontline staff, to ensure that they know how to operate the smart card system in the most efficient and secure manner.

There is always a shortage of qualified people with IT knowledge and experience with projects.

Mr Wong said that technology companies provided many employment opportunities for engineers in computing and information technology, but they also had to compete with industries such as finance, telecoms, utility, tourism and retail for staff.

'In the past two years, we have never stopped hiring engineers. We have also hired sales and marketing people for our offices in Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Manila in order to cope with the growth of our business,' he said, adding that employment opportunities existed in the mainland and Macau as Hong Kong companies continued to expand and send their IT staff to the mainland or Macau to train and manage there.

Mr Ho said that when new technology, such as radio frequency identification technology, became mature and was widely adopted in inventory control and logistics-related applications, a larger IT talent pool would be required to cope with industry growth.

'There is a need for both technical and managerial staff. Technical staff can help the technical implementation and

support. Managerial staff can help with the overall control procedure, policy, IT audit and to develop technical solutions.'

Key players

Chief technical officer

Engineering manager

Software engineer

Field application engineer

Sales engineer

Product marketing engineer

COS Developer

Industry Jargon

Cryptography Computer encryption, or coded messages, are based on the science of cryptography

Authentication the process of identifying digital identity by using codes such as passwords, encryption keys, facial recognition and fingerprint scanners

CISSP Certified Information System Security Professional. A certification that reflects the qualifications of information systems security practitioners

ISO 7816 an international standard related to electronic identification cards, especially smart cards, managed jointly by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) and the International Electro technical Commission (IEC)