A letter to Howard Dickson, director of the newly created Office of the Government Chief Information Officer. Dear Mr Dickson, The IT community of Hong Kong will certainly join me in welcoming you to your new position. Whatever Hong Kong may be, this is a place for convergence: east and west, old and new, traditional and modern, business and technology. Despite initial successes in mobile phone and broadband penetration here, there are many who believe we have missed a number of opportunities. Hong Kong is thought to be a little too keen to make a quick profit rather than to think things through. Large IT projects are notoriously difficult to implement, but Hong Kong seems especially adept at getting things wrong. Specifications and standards are often thought about after the fact. Many people joke about technology parks and projects that appear to be aimed more at developing real estate than IT. Despite all this, we have several award-winning technology companies, although they often get little support from the community. I know of one company that spent days searching the internet for a company that could help them with their programming. When they found what many believed to be the best in that special area, they were shocked to find out it was a local company. Why hadn't they heard about this company earlier? By far the worst offender in getting things back-to-front are various government departments. It is well known among local experts that technology events are often poorly organised. Some have even complained that in the past certain government bodies have had an unrealistic sense of their own importance: not everybody in the world is willing to drop everything and fly to Hong Kong to give a 15-minute opening speech at an event put on by an organisation they have never heard of. The government may like to know, for example, that if you want Larry Ellison or Steve Ballmer to speak at your event, you need to contact them about 18 months in advance, not a few weeks before. The success of IT projects here has been mixed. ESD Life has been a disaster, but there are rumours that it will be radically overhauled. Let us hope so. The Smart ID Card, on the other hand, seems to be quite successful, apart from the extremely odd way in which the Hong Kong Post went about promoting and implementing public key infrastructure. Part of that problem may be the cavalier way in which government organisations seem to ignore global standards. I see nothing wrong if the government wants to use software from a single vendor, but to do so in a way that locks out all others is questionable. Also, if a security technology is to be implemented in Hong Kong, would it not be a good idea to find out what others in the region and the rest of world are doing? What good is a digital certificate intended for businesses in Hong Kong if it cannot be used with companies abroad? Of all places, Hong Kong should have a better grasp of dealing with the rest of the world than anybody else. It is our history. Almost from its beginning, Hong Kong has been a place where people come to see what they can do. First it was the British, then during the Taiping Rebellion educated Chinese came here because it was a refuge. Over the years anybody who wanted to start a business came here. Even today, Hong Kong is still considered the most business-friendly place on the planet. Few cities have had the same spirit of entrepreneurship. Recent studies have shown that this spirit is fading fast. China has a larger percentage of its young people wanting to build their own businesses than Hong Kong and it is rapidly becoming a leader in biotechnology. It was a major contributor to the Human Genome Project by doing most of the liver work. Hong Kong seems unable to handle this. Now, people are dashing up north to make money, and the mainlanders see them coming. Sometimes this works but more often it fails. Hong Kong's great advantages are in its international outlook, its rule of law, and its global business outlook. It is doubtful that the city will ever be able to rival China in terms of pure research. It could, however, put people together to create profitable businesses with a global outlook. The Government Chief Information Officer cannot dictate to us what should be done, but he could nudge the various organisations and important people in the right direction. I hope you will be able to do that. If Hong Kong lives up to its history, we can take it from there.