Following is the speech (English only) by the Registrar of Companies, Mr G W E Jones, at the Launch Reception for the Companies Registry's Electronic Search Services today (April 8):
Fred, Mr Kee, ladies and gentlemen,
First, I would like to thank Fred for his very kind and encouraging words. It is, of course, a great honour to have him here as the officiating guest at a ceremony to mark a quite exponential leap forward in the manner in which the Companies Registry delivers its services to the public. It is also a very great pleasure for me to see so many old friends who have turned up to give support on what is a very special occasion for my department.
As far as I am concerned, it is particularly appropriate that the roll-out of our new electronic search services should have occurred in the Year of the Rooster as it was during the last year of the Rooster in 1993 that I became the Registrar of Companies. Indeed, there were a number of occasions over the past six months or so that I was seriously concerned that this Year of the Rooster would become the Year of the Rooster-Up but this mercifully proved not to be the case! Now that the Companies Registry has entered the cyber age, it is very hard to fully appreciate the complete and utter transformation that has taken place in the department's operations over the past decade. Let me remind you where we started from. We switched from paper file searches to microfilm searches only in April 1990, just 15 years ago. When I was posted to the Commercial Division of the then Registrar General's Department just eight months later in December, 1990, I found archaic accommodation; an excessive amount of space taken up by paper filing systems; operational practices and procedures almost invariably determined by legal precedent; and the times taken to incorporate companies and register documents were excessive.
Despite these problems, we grasped the nettle of process change and, since the establishment of the Companies Registry as an independent Government department in May 1993, virtually every year has seen major enhancements to the quality of our public facilities and services. These include the introduction of a CD-ROM service to provide a more convenient mode of search on the Registry's company name and document indices, and the deregulation of all the statutory forms and introduction of a whole set of new user-friendly forms for the filing of statutory information. Most recently, in 2000, we launched an expanded data base for on-line searching of key company information through the Companies Registry On-line Public Search system otherwise known as 'CROPS'.
However, all this has been essentially computerisation around the fringes of what has essentially been a paper-based and labour intensive operation. Our departmental vision is to establish a fully computerised "world class" Companies Registry providing a significantly enhanced level of facilities and services, both quantitatively and qualitatively, to our customers. To achieve this target, I set up an in-house study team in October 1998 to conduct a Strategic Change Plan (SCP) Study to review the department's operations. As a result of the Study Team's Report and subsequent feasibility study undertaken by Consultants whose Final Report was delivered in May 2001, it was decided, inter alia, to develop an Integrated Companies Registry Information System or ICRIS.
ICRIS is being developed in two phases to support the department's operations in receiving, processing, storing and disseminating information electronically. Phase One includes the replacement of all computer systems previously running in the department, infrastructure enhancement, database management enhancement, a document imaging system, business process automation, full conversion of microfilm records, data migration and online search. Phase Two will include electronic document registration and incorporation. The tender for the development of ICRIS Phase One was awarded to Hewlett-Packard HK SAR Limited (HP), system development commenced in August 2002 and we successfully implemented ICRIS Phase One on 28 February 2005.
Under ICRIS, all paper documents lodged with the CR are converted to digitised images after receipt and the details relating to the document submission and payment are input into the system. The new paperless operational system has led to a significant reduction in the time taken to process and register documents. In 1993, it took over one month to register a document. Under ICRIS, the image record of a registered document can be available in about eight working days. Apart from the more timely updating and disclosure of company information, there is improved quality of information; enhanced data security and integrity; and higher productivity at reduced operating costs. Furthermore, customers can conduct online searches concurrently on the current data of companies and directors and 80 million pages of imaged registered documents over the internet 24 hours a day throughout the year.
Since the implementation of the new electronic search services, we have been very encouraged by the many positive comments received from our customers. While we continue to provide search facilities at the CR's premises to meet the needs of customers who may require assistance in conducting company searches onsite, the take-up rate of the internet search services has been much higher and faster than expected. Nearly 900 online users have registered with the CR to use the services and over 90% of company searches are now conducted over the internet.
We do not, however, intend to rest on our laurels. Later this year, we hope to start the development of Phase Two of ICRIS which will permit e-filing and e-incorporations. If all goes according to plan, we hope to implement these new services in 2007 thereby ensuring that the Companies Registry's public operations are fully electronic.
The implementation of such a massive, complex computer system would not have been possible without a huge amount of superb team work. In this respect, I would like to acknowledge and pay tribute to all my staff in the Companies Registry and Hewlett-Packard's Project Team for their outstanding contributions over the past two and a half years. We owe you all an immense debt of gratitude to what has been achieved.
In conclusion, I would like to thank all of you for being here tonight to mark the launch of a service which is a very significant enhancement of Hong Kong's financial services infrastructure. One can only speculate on what further IT developments will take place between now and the next Year of the Rooster in 2017! However, one thing, I can assure you, will not take place: that is the replacement of the Registrar of Companies by a cyber Registrar! On that note, have a good evening. Thank you.
Ends/Friday, April 8, 2005