The following is a speech by the Secretary for Information Technology & Broadcasting, Mr K C Kwong, in addressing the Annual General Meeting of the Association of Engineers in Society today (Thursday):
Dr Ho, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honoured to be invited to speak at the Annual General Meeting of the Association of Engineers in Society.
Engineers have a long history in using computers and information technology (IT) to assist them to do their jobs effectively. The use of computer aided design and computer aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) systems since the early 1980s has brought about great improvements in efficiency in the production of high quality and accurate drawings and designs for the construction and manufacturing industries. The engineering software industry has since progressed in leaps and bounds and created engineering software packages with much better functionality and price-performance ratios. Today, just about every stream of the engineering discipline, from civil, electrical, electronic, geotechnical, mechanical, to structural engineering is well supported by computer software. Let me quote a few examples. Architectural, structural, mechanical and building services design software packages have enabled various professionals in the respective trade to do intricate design work on the computer. Earthwork calculation tools have greatly facilitated civil engineers in site excavation and formation projects. Geotechnical engineers are assisted by slope analysis software tools in assessing risks of slopes and in planning precautionary measures. These tools have in most cases removed the need for laborious calculations which had to be done manually in the past. And with the significant increase in the processing power of computers, three dimensional design calculations and other complex computations can now be accomplished almost instantly on low cost, micro or mini-computers. These tasks might have taken hours to manipulate by a mainframe computer some ten years ago.
In project management, there are software packages which can allow different architectural and engineering disciplines to work together by facilitating overall programme management as well as progress monitoring and management on individual project basis. With the advent of the Internet, network-based work group applications are also becoming more common nowadays. Workflow tools are usually bundled with these work group applications which help to streamline the detailed processes at the working level. All these tools also help to improve communication and co-ordination between different engineering disciplines during the project design and implementation stages, and can ultimately lead to better products delivered within budget and on schedule.
In the area of building services engineering, intelligent IT systems have brought about notable improvements in lift scheduling, plumbing control and maintenance, and security control. Estate caretakers can now take with them multi-purpose, hand-held IT and communication devices when they perform routine or ad hoc inspections so as to capture any defects identified on site. This can be further augmented by back-end geographical information systems and databases which contain comprehensive, digital maps of the estates' facilities for better management and maintenance.
I have cited all these examples to illustrate a key point. And that is, through the strategic adoption of information technology, you will be much better placed to serve the community.
We in the Government fully support the use of IT among professionals like yourselves. Two recent initiatives of ours will have a direct bearing on you as you deal with your colleagues and your clients using electronic means. I am referring to the Electronic Transactions Bill which we introduced into the Legislative Council a fortnight ago and the development of a common, open Chinese language interface.
The Electronic Transactions Bill aims to establish a clear legal framework to enhance certainty and security in the conduct of electronic transactions. When enacted, it will provide legal recognition to electronic records and digital signatures in electronic transactions as that of their paper-based counterparts, and will provide a framework to facilitate and promote the operation of certification authorities.
In terms of legal recognition of electronic records and digital signature, we have followed the approach of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law - Model Law on Electronic Commerce. By virtue of the Bill, where it is required under law for information to be provided in writing or to be presented or retained in the original form, the legal requirement is met by presenting or retaining the information in the form of electronic records. Where a law requires the signature of a person, a digital signature will meet the legal requirement. Moreover, contracts shall not be denied legal effect just because electronic records are used in their formation, and electronic records are admissible as evidence in court proceedings. These provisions clearly have application in the engineering sector given the extensive use of IT in the preparation of designs and the management of projects.
As regards the establishment of a framework for the operation of certification authorities, Government will take the lead and Hongkong Post plans to provide public certification authority services by the end of the year. However, there is no exclusivity in certification authority services and we welcome other bodies in the private sector to establish certification authorities to serve the needs of the community. The number of certification authorities to be established in Hong Kong is entirely determined by market forces. We will not introduce any form of mandatory licensing system for certification authorities but for the protection of consumers' interest, we will set up a voluntary scheme whereby trustworthy certification authorities can apply to Government for recognition. This voluntary recognition scheme will ensure that consumers would be able to make an informed choice in the selection of certification authority services in the market.
With the use of public/private key encryption mechanism, digital signatures and the issue of digital certificates by certification authorities, we will be able to verify the identity of other parties when we take part in electronic transactions, ensure that the integrity and confidentiality of messages exchanged in the transactions would not be compromised, and safeguard against repudiation after transactions are made. Again, these will be helpful to the engineering sector which relies heavily on the exchange of electronic records.
All these arrangements will help provide a secure and trustworthy framework to encourage and facilitate the adoption of electronic transactions in Hong Kong. Our target is to enact the Bill by the end of the year so that we can have a favourable environment for electronic commerce to flourish in Hong Kong as soon as possible.
Separately, we are also developing a Chinese language interface based on the International Standards Organisation (ISO) 10646 standard. This new international standard is intended to help all users of ideographic languages to overcome the difficulties in data conversion arising from different computer coding schemes for their characters, a problem of which users of Chinese software in Hong Kong should be acutely aware. We are actively working with our counterparts in both the Mainland of China and Taiwan, as well as other Asian countries and have submitted the updated set of Hong Kong supplementary characters to the ISO for consideration for inclusion in the extensions to the ISO 10646 standard. We are also in close liaison with software vendors in the IT industry, some of whom are already supporting the ISO 10646 standard through the Unicode product platform, to further enhance their products so that when the extensions to ISO 10646 are progressively adopted by the ISO starting next year, there will be products in the market to support their implementation on an expanded Unicode platform.
We believe that our efforts in the establishment of a common Chinese language interface and the promotion of a unitary coding system will facilitate the development of Chinese-language based software and content. This in turn will help professionals throughout the Chinese speaking communities to communicate unambiguously via electronic means, and will also promote cross border professional exchanges.
I am confident that the two initiatives which I have just outlined will create new opportunities for the engineering profession.
End/Thursday, July 22, 1999 NNNN