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ChinaDaily 18Jan2019 

 

Practical ways to develop HK into a world-class smart city

 

As early as 2016, the Smart City Consortium (SCC) that I founded has submitted an advisory paper to the government, pointing out that one of the requirements for a smart city was that all information of the government and authorities be available in "digital by default". It enhances governance transparency and respects the public's right to know. In early January, the SAR Government announced more than 650 new datasets will be released this year via the Public Sector Information Portal (data.gov.hk) for free viewing and use by the public. The move comes after more than 80 government bureaus and departments published their first annual open data plans last year. Such a move fulfills the commitment made by the chief executive in her Policy Address last year. It can also be seen as an important step toward "digital by default".

 

This is the first major initiative of the government in opening data. It is a good start though there is still much room for improvement. At present, it is crucial that the government and various departments have a common goal and vision for opening data. It must be people-oriented – the Lands Department's one-stop information sharing platform is probably one of the best practices of open data in Hong Kong. Its recently enhanced GeoInfo Map has recorded an average hit rate of 5 million per week. The most popular one is the primary school network which is a topic of concern for parents or property investors. The updated map prioritizes the data according to popular interest.

 

Furthermore, from the perspective of resource management, it is both labor-intensive and time consuming to prepare and maintain a large number of datasets. Therefore, the various departments must develop a road map, matching other government policies so as to maximize the benefits of opening data.

 

Learning from overseas examples of opening data as well as adopting these to Hong Kong, I think apart from reviewing the Privacy Ordinance, the government should also adopt a three-pronged approach to open the data.

 

Firstly, to include and encourage public participation: Crowd-sourced information can facilitate a real time and more comprehensive picture of issues.

 

As the government has limited resources, it needs partnership among the public, government and private sector (corporates) to mutually share the information, including important information such as traffic conditions, fires and outbreak of incidents.

 

During Typhoon Mangkhut, thousands of pictures and videos were shared on social media, even the mainstream media uploaded these pictures and videos, proving that this kind of communication is extremely effective, and powerful in helping to save lives and maintain public safety.

 

Sharing of information between the government and the public has already been ongoing. For example, the government hotline 1823, apart from receiving verbal complaints, also welcome upload of photos and videos to its website and mobile applications. The problem is that during a natural disaster or major accident, when the public call the hotline 1823 to report incidents nearby, or when the 999 receives a call on road blockage by a flying object, or the fire department receives a report that someone is trapped, does the authority have a central information platform to integrate these information in real time and further link with the information of bus and MTR service suspension, and then mark them on a map for comprehensive analysis?

 

At present, the data.gov.hk platform contains only government data and lacks those available through the public, 1823 or social media. Therefore, the government should study how to fully utilize the information provided by the public to enrich the current pool of data collected from existing major road traffic detectors, in-vehicle sensors and smart lampposts.

 

For data that are not yet opened but of public interest, such as on public transport, private parking lots, etc., we should consider enacting legislation that requires all public data not detrimental to privacy be opened in the long run, similar to the Open Data Law established in New York. This law was enacted in 2012 and officially implemented on Dec 31, 2018. All public data (including anonymous ride data of for-hire vehicles) must be published on a single web portal to make the public's mobility smarter.

 

Secondly, telecommunication regulations can be amended to require anonymous mobile phone data be shared.

 

At the end of 2017, the Smart City Blueprint for Hong Kong emphasizes that among the six categories, we must first deal with traffic problem, obtaining real time traffic information to achieve smart mobility. The government has planned to install a number of devices inside vehicles and on major roads to collect real-time traffic data. On the other hand, according to the official figures, each resident in Hong Kong has an average of more than two mobile phones. If we can share mobile phone data after anonymization process, like what Singapore has been doing, we can be aware of which road is blocked, and which MTR station has an accident.

 

Thirdly, promoting its wider use by the public is also indispensable. The commonly seen formats today at the government websites are Excel, JPED and PDF. They are friendly for laymen but not for application developers. To facilitate data sharing and downloading by application developers and startups, data in machine readable format or API (application programming interface), such as JSON, XML and CSV, is critical.

 

However, for those who do not understand computer language or have less access to mobile phone applications, the government's another initiative a city dashboard to be launched by the end of this year makes up for the deficiency. At present, there is no detail. But the Mayor's Dashboard proposed by Eric Garcetti, mayor of Los Angeles in the US in 2013, serves as the best practice enabling the public to monitor the performance of the government.

 

The Mayor's Dashboard is constantly updated with information such as new job vacancies, family rent burden, poor population, number of traffic accidents, bus punctuality, helpline response time, etc. People can monitor government performance at a glance.

 

Building a smart city that is ready for future challenges requires the government, private sector and the public to work together. I hope the government can speed up opening data in different ways to enhance the transparency of governance, promote innovation and build Hong Kong as a world-class smart city.

 

  

Dr. Winnie Tang

Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong