Great expectations for TCB in HK

Since the Hong Kong SAR government's establishment of the OGCIO--and its ditching of the ITSD (Information Technology Services Department)--in 2004, many local ICT pros and startups have slammed the government's lukewarm attitude towards the industry's development.

While innovation and technology is among the pillar industries designated by the government, there isn't any sign of its development. According to various industry players CWHK talked to previously, the OGCIO is just an office rather than a policy maker unit, thus lacking the power to move the industry forward.

On top of this, employers have a hard time hiring the right tech talent because those brilliant young people are drawn to finance and other professions instead of technology--where they don't see a bright future.

As a result, the ICT industry has demanded a technology bureau for years. While Hong Kong's new ruling team was sworn into office on July 1--though not quite in its final form--many industry players expect the Technology and Communications Bureau (TCB) to go live sooner or later.

Of late, local CIOs and industry gurus (listed below) shared with CWHK their expectations of the TCB and suggestions on how the bureau could give the ICT sector a boost.

- Cally Chan, managing director, Hong Kong, HP (CC)

- Stephan Lau, president, Hong Kong Computer Society

- Sunny Lee, executive director, IT, Hong Kong Jockey Club (SL)

- Gabriel Leung, general manager, Hong Kong and Macau, EMC (GL)

- Michael Leung, senior VP and CIO, China Construction Bank (Asia) (ML)

- Prof Kam-Fai Wong, associate dean, Faculty of Engineering at Chinese University of Hong Kong (KW)

Why is the TCB important to Hong Kong?

CC: Hong Kong's economy has undergone substantial transformation in recent years. With too much focus on the development of financial and trading industries since the 1980s, Hong Kong has lost sight of what it could achieve. ICT has colossal potential in taking Hong Kong to new heights, but we need a government that understands the potential of technologies and identifies opportunities in a timely matter.--

Despite the Digital 21 strategy, the government is slow in implementing ICT changes. While there are different industry organizations, they seldom come up with initiatives that drive Hong Kong's ICT development. The TCB should be a critical enabler that facilitates and expedites Hong Kong's transformation.

ML: Hong Kong won't survive without a tech bureau that has a clear mission and a strong vision--Singapore and Malaysia have left us in the dust in terms of ICT development. To make the TCB relevant, the bureau chief must have a tech background and understand the industry's most pressing needs. The bureau must help Hong Kong and its ICT sector to catch up-- the past two GCIOs wasted us lots of time while the Digital 21 strategy helps Hong Kong achieve nothing.

One of the bureau's priorities should be tech talent cultivation. Employers have a hard time hiring tech pros with four to five years of experience after the tech bubble burst. In the long term, the bureau needs to build professional recognition for IT pros--this will encourage more young and brilliant people to step into the field.

KW: The ICT industry unanimously believes that it needs the TCB because technology is never the focus of the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau (CEDB) under the current government structure.

To develop Hong Kong's ICT industry, we need both the TCB and a bureau chief who understands technology and has a vision on how tech can contribute to the local economy. Previously senior officials in the government mainly came from a legal or economics background, without technology knowledge or insights. As a result, the implementation of ICT related policies were always delayed. The government has wasted so much time and missed lots of opportunities to create a stronger local tech industry.

What do you expect the TCB to achieve within the first 12-18 months?

SL: It must come up with policies and a master implementation plan for the tech and innovation sector development. The bureau must also have tech priorities and allocate funds to projects according to those priorities. While some people might argue the government shouldn't specify tech priorities, we must focus limited resources on the most valuable projects.

It takes talent to keep tech and innovation going, thus the bureau must have a policy to create a healthy supply. Last but not least, the bureau must work out a policy to allow the local tech sector to complement the development of its mainland counterpart.

ML: It should take SMBs--the majority of Hong Kong's business community--seriously. For instance, the bureau should speed up the endorsement of the use of e-bills and e-checks--these will benefit SMBs. We are so behind--we can no longer rest on our Octopus (http://www.octopus.com.hk/home/en/index.html) laurels.

The bureau must also work on a city cloud and datacenter land supply. Without a long-term land supply policy, Hong Kong can't become a regional datacenter hub. I can assure you that factory buildings can't satisfy datacenter requirements. China Construction Bank needs to rent another floor for its datacenter in a Sha Tin factory building for more power supply. For top-tier datacenters, dual-power sources is a must--this we can get from China.

KW: The TCB can create a system to drive innovation by encouraging tech entrepreneurship and creating job opportunities.

To develop successful tech entrepreneurs, we need a system that helps prioritize and review R&D funding. Although the government plans to increase research funding from 0.73% of our GDP to 0.8%, the number is still much smaller than those in countries like China where funding will see a hike from 1.7% of GDP to 2.2% by the end of the 12th Five-Year plan period.

In addition, we need to shift our funding focus from basic scientific research to engineering and application projects--more commercially viable products are likely to come from these.

To drive innovation, the TCB can encourage more IP rights and patent-related activities. Besides buying and selling, IP rights owners can leverage IP rights to develop partnership and form joint ventures. These activities can expand the community of developers owning IP rights and expedite the product commercialization process.

What top issues should the TCB and mainland authorities work together?

Stephen Lau: Cloud. While China already has its own cloud cities, Hong Kong must build its own cloud and work with China in expanding cloud-related opportunities. For instance, an overseas vendor that wants to establish its presence in China but isn't familiar with mainland laws can have its data processing and storage in Hong Kong.

To expand local tech firms' opportunities in China, the bureau should explore how it can collaborate with cities in Guangdong and the Pearl River Delta.

GL: Mutual recognition of IT certifications. To work on mainland government projects, tech pros are required to obtain various IT certifications in the country, but Hong Kong tech pros have global certifications such as those by the PMI (Project Management Institute) rather than those from the mainland. In view of this, the TCB needs to work with mainland authorities on mutual recognition of certifications--our tech pros will then have more opportunities in China.

The bureau can also work with China to take mainland IT standards to the global stage. For a standard to become recognized globally, it has to be comprehensive with a large adopter base. China has already developed many comprehensive technology standards. If Hong Kong adopts these standards and adds value to them with intellectual property protections--this is what we are good at--we can mutually benefit each other.

KW: To encourage tech-related business activities between Hong Kong and China, government officials from both places need to remove some of the barriers resulting from regulatory differences.

Both China and Hong Kong should also create programs to attract and foster business activities. Discussion and implementation related to this wasn't possible before because there was no senior Hong Kong government official familiar with technology.Now with the TCB and a bureau chief supposedly with a tech background, things can move a lot faster.

This story, "Great expectations for TCB in HK" was originally published by Computerworld Hong Kong.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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