Following is the speech (English only) by the Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food, Dr Yeoh Eng-kiong, at the Opening Ceremony of the 7th International Conference of Human Services Information Technology Applications (HUSITA 7) today (August 25):
Professor Schoech, Dr Law, Mr Chan, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to be with you today to see the opening of HUSITA 7. I would first like to extend a warm welcome to the overseas and Mainland delegates to this event. This international conference brings together experts of various human services disciplines from all over the world to share experience, knowledge and ideas on the application of IT in human services. I am grateful to HUSITA and the Hong Kong Council of Social Service for organising this conference, and I am sure it will generate very fruitful exchanges for participants to bring home.
In virtually all service sectors, the advancement of information and communication technologies, or ICT, has been reforming the planning and delivery of services. In Hong Kong, the Government as well as NGOs have been pursuing innovative applications of ICT to enhance the quality and efficiency of our social services. An IT strategy for the welfare sector was drawn up in 2001 with two objectives: First, to expand and improve the use of IT among NGOs for managing their organisations, communicating and delivering services; second, to maximise the digital inclusion of disadvantaged groups by making IT accessible and ensuring that they have the skills to use IT.
A joint committee with the participation of NGOs as well as Government departments oversees the implementation of the strategy, which comprises five components for development, namely infrastructure, communications, accessibility, application systems and humanware. The first component, infrastructure, refers to the hardware, software and networking which enable NGOs to leverage on the benefits of ICT. For the building of this infrastructure, the Social Welfare Department has provided funding and technical support for NGOs to procure IT products and services. This has provided the basis for development in communications, the second component. NGOs are given funding support from various sources to acquire broadband internet access and digital certificates, and develop portal sites for specific target groups, including senior citizens and persons with disabilities. An interactive computer training website that is tailor-made for people with mental handicaps has also been developed. That leads on to the third component, accessibility. We have issued a set of guidelines and offered technical advice to NGOs on improving web accessibility for users with special needs. To suit the needs of people with visual impairment, an increasing number of websites now support alternative text to their graphics, links and multi-media contents.
The fourth component, system applications, focuses on the use of IT systems to facilitate the management of organisations and the delivery of services. Various projects such as e-services through websites and the development of core applications for NGOs' financial management and human resources management have started with resources allocated from the Government's Lotteries Fund. At the same time, we put in much effort in developing the humanware, the fifth component of our strategy. In addition to IT training for employees and service users, an IT Advisors Scheme has also been introduced to help NGOs obtain expert advice from volunteer IT professionals.
In parallel, major developments in IT are also taking place in the Social Welfare Department. The most important step forward is the development of a large-scale Client Information System to be used by over 2,000 staff members. Social workers, clinical psychologists and other supporting staff of the department will be able to use the workflow-based database to enhance service delivery and collaboration across family services, family and child protective services, probation and corrections services, medical social services, etc. The department has also rolled out a Computerised Social Security System to support the processing of applications, provide comprehensive data on the profile of recipients, and generate timely statistics to facilitate policy reviews.
After three years of implementation of the IT strategy with many successes, thanks to the innovation and dedication of all involved, we are taking stock of the sector's experience in the past three years in order to update the strategy. The next phase of the IT strategy should focus more on using IT to enhance service delivery, in terms of both accessibility and quality. In particular, accessibility will be a key issue not only for the social services sector, but also for the society as a whole because in the Information Age, mastery of the use of ICT is a key for disadvantaged groups to participate fully in the social and economic life of the community. In this direction, we have provided IT training for senior citizens and people with disabilities, in addition to financial support for the purchase of personal computers. A Digital Solidarity Fund will also be set up to provide funding for programmes which seek to promote digital inclusion.
We will continue to work closely with NGOs, professional bodies, the private sector and the community to build a digitally inclusive society. And I am sure this goal is shared by other regions as well. The occasion of HUSITA 7 - its theme being "ICT and Social Inclusion" - offers us a great opportunity to share our experience and ideas on the use of ICT in people-oriented services.
I am sure you will enjoy this conference and find the exchanges informative and stimulating. Lastly, I would like to congratulate the organisers, HUSITA and the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, on their success in organising this event. Thank you.
Ends/Wednesday, August 25, 2004