Time to defrag Hong Kong's IT policies: Industry experts welcome approval of Innovation and Technology Bureau, offer ideas and direction

Experts call for more resources and hope 'piecemeal' IT policies will be better coordinated

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 November, 2015, 3:10am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 November, 2015, 11:43am

Industry players are calling for more resources to develop applied technology following Finance Committee approval for the creation of the government's Innovation and Technology Bureau.

They also hope the new bureau can do a quick clean-up of what they called piecemeal policies on information technology, in addition to building a government-level connection with the mainland authorities to tap the market across the border.

Finance Committee approval came more than three years after Leung Chun-ying first floated the plan for a bureau in the 2012 chief executive election campaign.

Eric Yeung Chuen-sing, chairman of the Hong Kong Software Industry Association, said: "The new bureau should review and coordinate the technology measures now taken care of by various departments.

"We hope to see a one-stop bureau, instead of a part-time bureau," said Yeung, referring to the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, which now looks after IT policies, in addition to tourism, consumer protection, market competition and economic development.

"The Uber issue shows our laws cannot catch up with IT development. The new bureau can update the legal framework so that it can facilitate IT development, not obstruct it."

Dr Ray Cheung Chak-chung, of City University's department of electronic engineering, said Hong Kong had an edge in developing applied technology, citing the Octopus smart card.

"There is a need to promote IT education in schools, say teaching primary pupils simple programming or coding," he said.

Dr Winnie Tang Shuk-ming, chairwoman of Esri China (Hong Kong), which specialises in geographic information systems, said: "Some people think that IT is about playing computer games or using an iPhone. We need to develop talents for developing software and hardware."

Tang, who has worked in the field for more than 20 years, and Yeung were in a recent delegation to Beijing led by Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung - the chief executive's IT policy adviser and possible head of the new bureau.

In Hong Kong, the workload for developing IT in the city is shared among various bureaus and departments. The Development Bureau oversees the pilot scheme for a smart city in Kowloon East. The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau is formulating the Digital 21 strategy, while the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer is taking care of the integration of electronic public services.

In his election platform, Leung said he wanted to restructure the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau into an information and technology bureau and an industrial, commercial and tourism bureau.

The IT bureau, according to his platform, is to provide support for the development of technology infrastructure, including large-scale data-processing centres, in addition to mapping out technology policy.

But it was repeatedly blocked by some pan-democrat legislators until Friday night. The plan was held up by filibustering in protest against Beijing's restrictive framework for the 2017 chief executive election, which was voted down in June.

A bumpy road for Hong Kong's new technology bureau

March 2012: Chief executive candidate Leung Chun-ying proposes creating an IT bureau in a government restructuring exercise but the idea is voted down in the Legislative Council in June 2012

January 2014: Leung announces again in his policy address his intention to set up a bureau

October 2014: Legco votes 35-19 in favour of a government resolution to set up the bureau

February 2015: The plan is killed off by a pan-democratic filibuster that delays the vote by Legco's Finance Committee on a request to fund the creation of the bureau. The resolution passed in October 2014 lapses.

March 2015: Former Polytechnic University vice-president Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung is appointed Leung's IT adviser and an executive councillor.

June 2015: Legco votes 33-6, with three abstentions, to approve a government resolution to set up the new bureau.

July 2015: The Finance Committee fails to vote on a funding request, despite extra meetings, because of pan-democratic lawmakers' filibustering. The plan is put on hold until Legco returns from its summer recess.

October 2015: Fresh filibuster attempts are made as the committee once again discusses the funding request. Pan-democrats file 1,133 motions in a bid to delay the vote. Committee chairman Chan Kin-por rules they can table up to 133, or 12 per cent of the total, in a four-hour meeting scheduled for October 30.

November 6: The committee passes the funding request for establishing the IT bureau