Following is the full text of the speech (English only) delivered by the Director of Information Technology Services, Mr Lau Kam-hung, at the annual general meeting of an educational institution held this (Monday) evening:
Chairman, Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to be here this evening to speak in your AGM on "The Challenge Facing the Administrators in the 21st Century - Information Technology".
The IT Scenario
One of the great changes in the last decade has been the rapid development and the amazing rate of adoption and application of information technology (IT).
Traditionally, we used computers to process and manage data. The Internet technology has fundamentally revolutionised the world and brought us into a globally connected community full of new ways of doing business, learning and interacting socially. Today, many Hong Kong people have computers in their homes. To the younger generation, using a computer is as natural as watching television or writing with a pencil.
Some 30 years ago, we used computers to automate work processes. Computer output turnaround times were in days or weeks. The main objective then was to realise savings by cutting cost or improving efficiency. Nowadays, we work interactively at our multi-media workstations that are linked up with different networks in the office or even at home or on the road. We are even expecting computers that can think in a few years. Our key objective today is to increase our competitiveness or realise business opportunities.
In the digital world, geographical distance has become increasingly insignificant. There are more opportunities for cooperation and competition with less regard to locality. As well as facilitating better and faster communications, digital technology has also made available new and more economical resources, leading to significant reduction in operating costs.
The speed of IT advancement is astonishing. The immense power of IT is creating multi-dimensional changes for the business and its working environment that is characterised by turbulence and keen competition. If I relate this to the Internet services market competition today, you will appreciate exactly what I mean by such characteristics.
IT is basically changing the work style and lifestyle for everyone. As a result of the widespread use of office automation tools and systems, the way people communicate inside the business organisation and with the outside have drastically changed. Through the Internet, two or more organisations are easily connected and operate virtually as a conglomerate within agreed boundaries. We are more dependent on the electronic mailing system to send messages, submit forms, make appointments and even hold audio or video conferences. The organisation and workflow of our office have changed tremendously, moving towards a paperless or less paper office environment. The development of mobile office or even working from home is already not an arrangement for the distant future.
A significant change is our migration into an electronic society. The Internet has created an ever expanding and globally connected virtual community. The development of the Internet is amazing. There are now over 100 million Internet users worldwide and the Internet traffic doubles every 100 days. An industry estimate suggested that the amount of commerce conducted over the Internet will rise to US$1 trillion by 2003.
E-Commerce is just one of the many phenomenal economic activities that ride on IT. While our traditional use of paper or microfilmed records will continue, there is an immediately strong need to establish the legal recognition of electronic records to have equivalent standing. This is important in our daily work when we give advice, make policies and decisions, sign contracts or implement new business initiatives.
The IT wheel of change has generated an environment that is constantly re-arranging itself. The business organisation has to respond by adjusting its business focus, adopting a more flexible human resources management structure, supporting new cultures, accepting new game rules in the market, cultivating a more dynamic relationship of the buyer-supplier chains. Consequently, the management and control activities have become more complex and malleable in order to cope with the fast developments of the business environment. There are bound to be more frequent revisions to the operational arrangements for staff empowerment, outsourcing of work, performance measures, legal and copyright procedures, data protection requirements, crisis management and recovery procedures, security and access control, and human resources development.
IT has brought us benefits and opportunities, but also new problems. For example, virus attacks on our data or systems are very common these days. Victimised users will be incapacitated from doing useful work until the computer system and data are recovered. This means great loss of productivity, and wastage of recovery time and effort besides inconvenience. On the Internet, the hacker and cracker are constantly trying to put this powerful technology into illegal use. In Hong Kong, there were only 13 cases on hacking reported to the Police in 1998. In 1999, there are already well over 100 cases reported so far. Unsolicited mail, harassing or offensive mail, and deceptive mail are frequently received on the Internet. Personal data on the Internet are vulnerable unless they are properly protected.
Facing the Challenges
As an organisation, the Hong Kong SAR Government has risen to the challenges posed by IT and will indeed lead by example. We will enhance and extend the use of IT to improve the efficiency and quality of Government's services.
IT has helped us implement our business and information system strategies to plan, to manage, and to convert innovative ideas into the reality. For example, the Inland Revenue Department completed its first five-year information strategy implementation in 1997. The improvements to the department's operational efficiency achieved by introducing IT have saved 254 posts and produced other economies as well. The Labour Department has set up the Interactive Employment Service (iES) for advertising vacancies, job search, and job matching through the Internet. It is one of the most heavily visited government web sites with an average hit rate of 72,000 a day. The Judiciary has used IT to improve its transcripts production process that is now half the time previously required and can handle both Chinese and English. Furthermore, the records can be played back in court if there is any dispute over what was said. The system has saved the government $27 million per year.
IT has a wide range of applications in government. The same is true for the private sector. We expect even more change and progress with the introduction of electronic government in the years to come because many of the possibilities have not yet been fully exploited.
Electronic Service Delivery (ESD)
As you may know, the Government is going to introduce the Electronic Service Delivery (ESD) Scheme in the latter half of year 2000. The ESD scheme is an integration of the services across Government departments and the public agencies. Through the ESD scheme, we strive to achieve greater efficiency and productivity in the delivery of public services by putting government services on-line in order to encourage the adoption of electronic commerce and the operation of electronic government. We will provide government services to the public through the Internet and other on-line electronic means, round the clock, and through an open and common information infrastructure. This will allow us to streamline many transactions by allowing members of the public to fill in forms, make payments and generally interact with government departments without leaving their homes or offices.
Besides providing more efficient and better quality services to the public through electronic means, we see the ESD as a way of encouraging the community to accept e-commerce as an integral part of their daily lives. The open and common information infrastructure we will be developing for the scheme will also be available to the private sector for conducting electronic commerce at a later stage.
Ten departments and public agencies have already joined the ESD scheme. We shall continue to help departments to identify areas where they can provide services electronically and achieve improvements in efficiency, convenience and cost by doing so.
The use of IT will continue to spread to every corner of the government machinery, and to facilitate this, we aim to develop an integrated government-wide infrastructure, which will allow us to cope with the needs of government bureaux and departments on an integrated platform. The key to this has been the building of a network infrastructure, connecting all bureaux and departments, onto which has been added an electronic messaging facility for both internal communication and communication with the public. To this, we will further add a secure central gateway enabling bureaux and departments to safely access and use the Internet.
Electronic Transactions Bill
To foster the development of electronic commerce in Hong Kong, we need to provide a clear legal framework that creates certainty and incites business confidence for electronic commerce in Hong Kong. This will allow computer users to pay money or sign documents electronically over the Internet. A new bill entitled the Electronic Transactions Bill is now going through our Legislature. We aim to see the enactment of the Bill by early 2000.
Many organizations and individuals have fear over the Internet's vulnerability. Indeed, early network protocols that now form part of the Internet were designed for openness and flexibility, not for security. Hence, a secure infrastructure is necessary to protect our information property and critical operation when using the Internet. Building a fundamentally secure infrastructure for both the Government and the public is one of the major initiatives in the Government's IT strategy in making Hong Kong a leading digital city in the next century.
To provide a secure environment for electronic transactions, the Government is developing a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). Based on this infrastructure, a foundation will be built for the delivery of electronic services, like the ESD Scheme, in a secure environment.
By following the open standard of PKI, Hongkong Post will shortly set up a public Certification Authority to offer certification services to meet various requirements of the community. Of course, the private sector is free to set up its certification authorities to meet their demands of electronic commerce. To protect consumer interests and to enhance user confidence in electronic transactions, my department is going to set up a Certification Authority Recognition Office. Certification authorities are free to apply for recognition on a voluntary basis, but only those that have achieved a standard of trustworthiness and adopted a common and open interface in their operations will be recognized.
Outsourcing of IT Work
Like many other large corporations in Hong Kong, a great number of Government's computer applications have been developed in-house. However, the rise in demand for IT services is so great that the required services simply cannot be delivered in a timely manner unless we adopt a more aggressive policy in outsourcing Government IT projects.
Outsourcing will enlarge our delivery capacity for IT services and accelerate delivery of the IT solutions. Under our outsourcing strategy, we will adopt an open and partnership approach to working with the suppliers. Outsourcing arrangements can be at the departmental or project-based, multi-departmental or government-wide levels. We plan to start outsourcing the application maintenance activities currently performed in-house in 1999-2000, and to outsource over two-thirds of all new IT projects in Government by 2001.
In the Use of IT in Government programme area, we will continue to help government departments arrange the design and delivery of IT solutions, but increasingly the work itself will be outsourced. We are undertaking various initiatives to empower Government departments to take up the responsibility for making the best use of IT in their service areas, and to help them to develop their knowledge and capacity in the application of IT.
To establish and maintain an advantageous position in cyberspace, the HKSAR Government will take the lead to develop the capacity, capability and commitment of officers and staff at all levels within government to take full advantage of the benefits and opportunities offered by new information technologies.
Adapting to more change, more often and more quickly has become the norm. The role of the Administrator is to drive the organisation to realise its vision in this new environment.
End/Monday, December 13, 1999