Following is the full text of the "Viewpoint" presented by the Director of Information Technology Services, Mr Lau Kam-hung, on Radio Television Hong Kong today (Sunday):
When the Government Data Processing Agency changed its name to the Information Technology Services Department 10 years ago, people had very little idea what information technology (IT) was all about. Now IT is on everyone's lips.
Ten years is not a long time, but in the IT world it means generations. It was so much easier to be on top of the latest developments in IT when only mainframe computers occupying a huge room were used. Today, computers - more powerful than those big mainframes - can virtually fit into a suit pocket.
In fact, developments in the industry are so fast by the time we think we have caught up with the latest technology, some new and faster process has been developed. So close, yet so far.
It may seem strange with today's dependence on new technology, but people are our biggest asset. Back in 1989, we had a staff of around 400. Now we have nearly one thousand people and that's still not enough if we are to attract new expertise and to meet urgent demands. And expenditure has also risen over the years from less than 400 million dollars 10 years ago to 2 billion dollars in the last financial year. A big increase, but don't forget we're talking about supporting IT projects for 15 bureaux and more than 70 government departments.
Our prime objective is to ensure that all the government's IT systems work and that they keep pace with the needs and requirements of departments and bureaux. But with the Chief Executive's vision to make Hong Kong a leader in the information world of tomorrow, and the formulation of the government's IT strategy - "Digital 21" - we have a new role to play. We're helping to make the government more easily accessible to the people.
"Digital 21" will bring a whole range of government services at the click of a button to every household connected to the Internet. The services will also be available at public kiosks and through other on-line electronic means, 24-hours a day seven days a week.
Just think, no more queuing up to pay government bills, submit tax returns or purchase tax reserve certificates, or to apply for driving and vehicle licences. You will even be able to notify changes of address or match the Labour Department's job vacancies, all from the comfort of your own home through our Electronic Service Delivery Scheme on the Internet.
So, what is going to happen in the next 10 years of IT development in government? No doubt it will play a dominating role, instead of just a supporting one, and it will be a vital area for management. Government services will be electronic and they will be delivered with improved efficiency. In other words, information technology will become an essential part of our daily lives.
But, perhaps the greatest benefit we can expect from the more extensive use of IT is a closer relationship between the government and the people it serves. Already we have a comprehensive home page on the World Wide Web offering a wide variety of information and providing an outlet for e-mail inquiries. We are also gradually moving a lot of work which used to be done by ordinary post or over the counter into cyberspace.
This not only speeds up the processing of routine forms and paperwork. It also enables Hong Kong people to inform themselves fully about what the government is doing on their behalf, while allowing the government to keep in close and continuous touch with the public's needs and ideas.
As the government's IT adviser, I look forward to an era in which all departments will fully exploit the benefits of IT in all aspects of their services and to the best of their ability.
I am convinced that Hong Kong has a great future as a high tech city for the 21st century.
End/Sunday, November 14, 1999