The Survey and Mapping Office has harnessed technology to built a database of digital maps that gives a new dimension to the future development of its services. Unlike paper maps, digital ones are so seamless that maps covering the whole territory can be read and navigated as one single map. Their features are differentiated and uniquely coded and can connect to textual attributes. They are topologically structured and organised into different layers for easy retrieval and analysis of data such as buildings, roads and contour lines. Deputy director for Survey and Mapping Yeung Kin-fai says the office started converting paper maps into digital ones in 1987. The project was completed in 1995 and the initial cost was $30 million. 'We will continually update the database. New geographic features, such as reclamation land, buildings, housing estates, roads or railways, will be updated within three months,' he says. The digital map database includes 3,000 pieces of 1:1,000 basic maps and another 3,000 pieces showing land boundaries. Mr Yeung says: 'While paper information is generally limited when put to use, a digital database can store a lot of information and is easier to access. 'Digital map products allow us to better serve all departments in the government, our major user, by providing them with an effective platform to build different geographic information systems. 'Based on the digital map products, each department can develop geographic records according to their needs.' Also of good potential for development is an intelligent navigation system that uses the digital maps supplied by the office and applies geographical information technology and global positioning system techniques. The Fire Services Communication Centre will use the navigation device in its third-generation mobilising system, according to Mr Yeung. The system will provide a state-of-the-art command-and-control system for the efficient mobilisation of fire and ambulance resources to scenes of emergency. The mobilising system is scheduled to be commissioned next year and its estimated life span will be more than 10 years. Apart from forming the basis for city planning, land management, engineering works, administration and security activities, Mr Yeung says the digital map database also provides opportunities for the Survey and Mapping Office and the community to develop new applications. A value-added reseller service was launched in late 1998 to open up opportunities for the business sector to develop value-added map products using the office's digital map data. In addition, an internet map permittee service was launched in early 2001. The service uses the office's digital maps to develop map information applications for delivery on its website. It can also deliver information for use at the internet map redistribution user's website. An example of the application of digital map data in the private sector is a project called 'Mapping Information Services through Internet'. In this project, two business partners use the digital maps developed by the office as the basis to show the locations of places of interest and community facilities. This information can be easily and freely accessed on the internet. In addition, the intelligent navigation system will enhance freight management and help Hong Kong's logistics industry to move up the value-added chain.