Following is the full text of the speech by the Director of Information Technology Services, Mr Lau Kam-hung, at the eBusiness Symposium in Melbourne today (Thursday) on "Infrastructure for e-commerce":
Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Good Morning! I am delighted to be here in Melbourne, Australia's great southern capital, at the centre of the state that's "on the move".
In a way, Victoria's slogan sums up what the Asia Pacific Multimedia Festival is all about. It can be argued that in no other field has there been such rapid 'moves' than in the development of information technology - even more rapid than Victoria itself!
It never ceases to amaze me the tremendous strides the world has made in information technology in the past few years. I was fascinated to read the other day an article in the Asian Wall Street Journal, where a 49-year-old attorney in the US was still using his and I use the reporter's words - 'clunky' 22-and-a-half kilogramme Altair computer that he bought in 1976. At the time, it was described as one of the first commercially available personal computers on the market. And, the computer - the size of a small filing cabinet - had no monitor, no memory, no modem. Despite this lack of basics, the owner said his Altair saved him from hiring a full-time secretary since he could quickly print forms that 'looked like someone had put a lot of effort into it'.
When I think of today's sleek, compact, super fast PC's that give the owner the world at their fingertips in seconds - what a transformation! And it has not been limited to PCs - e-commerce has begun to revolutionise the way we do business.
So it is my pleasure today to introduce to you our IT strategy and to share with you our experience in building Hong Kong as a major business centre in the rapidly expanding world of e-commerce.
It is almost a cliche to say that advances in IT have changed the way we work, the way we communicate, and the way we do business. But it is only the beginning. The important question now is, how should we prepare ourselves for the Information Age; and how do we grasp the opportunities offered by the digital world.
Two years ago, the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region outlined a blueprint to make Hong Kong a leader, not a follower, in the information world of tomorrow.
This was followed, in early 1998, with the establishment of the Information Technology and Broadcasting Bureau to lead and coordinate the work of all those in government involved in IT and the related areas of broadcasting and telecommunications.
The result of the Bureau's first initiative was 'Digital 21' - an IT Strategy released last November. The plan contains a range of initiatives designed to make Hong Kong a leading digital city in the 21st century.
The formulation of this strategy is based on our understanding of how the world is evolving and how we see Hong Kong's role in that evolution:
In the digital world of the future, geographical distance will become increasingly insignificant. This will result in more opportunities for cooperation and competition in locations hitherto regarded as remote and impractical to deal with.
As well as facilitating better and faster communications, digital technology will also make available new and, in many cases, cheaper resources, leading to a significant reduction in operating costs;
In turn, optimising the use of IT with its enormous capacity to reach almost every corner of the globe 'at the speed of thought' will be critical to competitiveness in such a high-speed environment.
But many obstacles will have to be negotiated before there is a full realisation of the economic and social benefits of the digital world -
Despite the rapid development of communications networks, the dissemination of information is still very much constrained by language barriers;
Despite advances in global means of transportation and telecommunication, differences in culture will remain.
Differences in regulatory, legal, and institutional arrangements will continue to have an impact on information flow and electronic transactions.
But don't despair. This is where Hong Kong can provide the necessary interface to short-cut these obstacles:
We are a bilingual city - using English to communicate and obtain information from most countries in the digital world; and acting as a digital intermediary in linking Mainland China with the rest of the world, as well as co-operating with other Chinese-speaking communities,
We are an open cosmopolitan city accessible to the cultures of the world and ready to assimilate the latest knowledge and technology.
We have the world's freest economy, which includes the free flow of information so important in a world where knowledge drives economic growth.
In tandem with this human interface, we are developing a technical infrastructure that is putting Hong Kong at the threshold of tomorrow's digital world. The initiatives include:
- developing high capacity telecommunications networks that provide the arteries through which digital information flows;
- establishing an open and common interface, as well as a public key infrastructure to enable individuals, businesses and the government to interact through digital networks easily and securely;
- adopting IT in education and providing IT training to equip our younger generation and our work-force with the necessary skills in the new knowledge-based society; and
- cultivating a culture that welcomes the use of new technologies in the community.
Our IT strategy is designed to piggyback on Hong Kong's strengths as a leading international financial, business, trading, and communications hub of Asia.
Rather than covering every initiative in 'Digital 21', I will focus on several key areas directly related to e-commerce.
The government is taking the lead in promoting the benefits and cost-effectiveness of e-commerce with the launch of its Electronic Service Delivery scheme, or ESD for short.
This will provide public services around the clock through the Internet, interactive phone or TV, touch-screen kiosks and at no extra charge to users. And I note here, the work of the Victorian Government in 'bringing to life' its own 'maxi' project to make government services more accessible.
For our project, the successful tenderer is expected to be announced by next month (October) and we aim to launch the first phase towards the end of next year.
We envisage the infrastructure developed for ESD will be made available at a later stage to the private sector for conducting e-commerce. This will be relevant to Australian companies intending to expand their e-commerce capacity to Hong Kong.
The initial services offered will include filing salaries tax returns, renewing driving licences, paying government bills, changing address, and many others. Tourists will also be able to make use of the infrastructure to access information about Hong Kong.
In the long run, we aim to include all public services which are amenable to the electronic mode of delivery under the ESD scheme
Apart from the implementation of ESD, we are looking into a number of related issues to ensure we have the right environment for the scheme to take hold. And for e-commerce to develop.
For example, concerns about the security of transactions conducted over open networks are often cited as an impediment to using e-commerce.
In addressing this, we are establishing a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) with the assistance of Hongkong Post, which will begin providing a public certification service by the end of the year.
The implementation will conform to international security standards. It will meet both the security and operational requirements to support various e-commerce applications, including the introduction of ESD.
Such a service w ill provide a secure environment that will address the basic concerns of authenticity, integrity, confidentiality and non-repudiation that are crucial to conducting business in the cyberspace. This will create a favourable environment for all businesses, including those from Australia, wanting to take advantage of what Hong Kong has to offer.
We don't intend imposing a ceiling on the number of certification authorities, leaving this entirely to market forces.
The Information Technology Services Department will be responsible for granting official recognition of the various certification authorities, but it will be up to them to seek recognition.
We have introduced an Electronic Transactions Bill into the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to provide a clear legal framework for electronic transactions.
We aim to provide certainty in conducting e-commerce by giving the same legal status to electronic records and digital signatures as their paper-based counterparts.
The Bill will also provide legal backing for the operation of certification authorities in Hong Kong.
But for e-commerce to flourish in Hong Kong and to reach out to all potential customers, we must develop a Chinese language interface that is open and common for users in the community who prefer to communicate electronically in Chinese.
The critical issues revolve around the existence of multiple coding standards and the fact that none of these coding standards covers all of the Chinese characters commonly used in Hong Kong.
So, we are taking an active role in ongoing discussions with the International Organization for Standardization on the development of the ISO10646 standard, which is intended to encompass all written scripts, including the ideographic characters in various Asian languages.
Even after the new standard becomes available, the present ones will co-exist for some time while conversion tools are developed to ease the transition.
As you can see, this is a significant undertaking. But we also recognise that we can't implement changes in isolation. We need the co-operation of all sectors, particularly our small and medium-sized enterprises, to adopt the appropriate information technology if we are to make a success of e-commerce in Hong Kong.
Industry support organisations, such as the Hong Kong Productivity Council and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (TDC), have already swung into action. Training and support facilities are being organised, and seminars are held to highlight the relevant trends.
The TDC is also actively establishing a cyber presence by putting its considerable trade-related information online to enhance its trade promotion service.
The major milestones in this chart emphasise that our 'Digital 21' strategy will create the right environment for the development of e-commerce in Hong Kong.
The importance of IT to the business world is well recognised. The success of the Digital 21 strategy will:
Enhance the ability of our businesses to enter new markets;
Make Hong Kong even more attractive for international investors;
Maximise return on IT investment; and
Seek to create a competitive and healthy IT market in Hong Kong.
For Hong Kong as a whole, we will strive:
To maintain our competitiveness in the Information Age;
To be an important hub for global e-commerce; and
To become a communication gateway to the Mainland of China.
These are our goals in making Hong Kong a leader, not a follower, in the information world of tomorrow.
Adapting to more change, more often and more quickly will become the norm.
There will be a handful of players in the global arena that have the determination and the capacity to take the opportunities, move with the times and achieve real and positive change for the benefit of its people.
Hong Kong will be one of those players. And, as an open and free society with a business environment the envy of many, we invite you to be a part of the development of our IT infrastructure and services in the 21st century.
End/Thursday, September 2, 1999