Speech by SCS at 37th Susan Yuen Memorial Lecture of HKMA (English only)
Dr Pang (Chairman of the HKMA, Dr Y K Pang), distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted and honoured to be invited to the 37th Susan Yuen Memorial Lecture cum Award for Excellence in Training and Development 2022 Presentation Ceremony.
The annual Susan Yuen Memorial Lecture has been organised since 1985 as the highlight of the theme year activity. Over the years many distinguished speakers from different sectors and professions have spoken on a wide range of topics. It is my honour indeed to be the latest addition to the list.
The theme for this year is "Innovation for Resilience". This could not be more relevant to us at this point in time. I believe most of you would agree that the world has become less predictable and more turbulent recently. The COVID-19 virus continues to mutate and be a threat to public health. The outlook of the economy is uncertain. Tensions continue to grow amongst the great powers. The rising interest rate, the rising fuel prices and the disruptions to supply chain are likely to take a toll on a small and open economy like Hong Kong.
When certainty seems to be getting more and more remote, it becomes clear that innovation is the key quality that will enable us to have the resilience to sail through this unusual, if not difficult, time.
When we talk about innovation, it is not just about the application of technology. In its broadest sense, it is about going beyond our usual or conventional boundaries, thinking out of the box, not ruling out and even proactively considering what seems not conforming to or consistent with accepted ways of getting things done. This may mean going over again what had been considered not feasible or not worth attempting in the past. An innovative mind is most needed when we are in emergency situations and within constraints, but innovations are also important in helping us progress in bigger strides in normal times for the good of our community and ultimately the world.
In the fight against COVID-19 in the past three years, I have witnessed how innovative approaches in the use of resources and in hard-and-software design have helped overcome difficulties and achieve what would have been thought of as unachievable. Let me share with you an example.
My bureau, the Civil Service Bureau, has been undertaking the organisation and implementation of the COVID-19 vaccination programme to allow our colleagues on the health side to concentrate on fighting the pandemic.
Thanks to the co-operation of members of the public and the enthusiasm of the medical community, logistics partners, civil servants, staff of the programme and other parties involved, our achievements since the inception of the vaccination programme have been remarkable.
Since February 2021, in a span of 20 months, we have already administered over 19.7 million COVID jabs. To give a rough idea of the magnitude of the programme, you may wish to note that the number of jabs given out in each year's territory-wide seasonal flu programme is about 1.2 to 1.3 million and the programme usually lasts nine months. To translate - that means we have done 15 times the work of a normal seasonal flu vaccination programme in slightly more than twice the time available. This could be the most important, intense and challenging vaccination programme in the history of Hong Kong.
Getting sufficient venues that are easily accessible by the public was a challenge at the outset. Public and private clinics participating in the programme were constrained by space and manpower to handle a large number of clients, space constraint because a person must stay where he is after getting vaccinated for 15 minutes for observation, and it was initially 30 minutes for one of the vaccines, and infection control considerations dictate that waiting or resting persons must be seated suitably apart. We thus had to find sufficient venues that could cope with a large throughput while complying with the observation and infection control requirements. Community halls, the ideal candidates for community purposes such as a population-wide vaccination programme, were not available as they were already used as COVID-19 testing centres. Instead of leaving it to just hospitals and clinics, and letting it take longer to vaccinate the population, we went out of our usual boundaries and explored what would normally not be considered, and in the end we used not only sports centres, but also a carpark, vacant commercial premises, vacant land awaiting construction to commence and even containers, and my colleagues developed ingenious designs in the use of space to make the most of the venues. Some of these were generously leased to us by private enterprises for a nominal rent, but without the innovative approach of my colleagues in designing the people flow and the logistics, it would never have been possible for the venues to be maximised to yield the large throughput that they have done.
I would like to cite, in particular, the use of containers. When I mentioned containers, you might think of primitive-looking container offices in construction sites right away. But colleagues of the Architectural Services Department had applied an innovative mind and managed, in the span of slightly more than a month, to put the two containers we needed to use on one site on raised concrete ground with a ramp for wheelchair users and also provided a rooftop for them. This will prevent flooding of the containers on rainy days, and the rooftop is linked to the covered walkway nearby so that the public walking their way to the containers would be protected from the heat of the sun and the rain, and thus rendered the containers put in open space useable in all weather. Besides being functional, the whole design brings a new look and feel to the containers that is confidence-inspiring. As for the resting area for those who have had their jab done, of course the containers are too small to accommodate them but my colleagues creatively used the squash room of a sports centre nearby in one case and part of the covered walkway adjoining the containers in another. After their coming into operation, the two container centres have become very popular in their districts, proving that, even within constraints, the innovative use of space and innovative designs can still achieve high effectiveness and efficiency.
Manpower needed to run the centres also posed a challenge to us. Medical staff aside, we needed a large number of staff for administrative work such as inventory management, venue management and verification of identities of persons coming forward for vaccination against the booking record. The conventional approach would be to deploy civil servants from the 50-odd government departments, and civil servants seem safe pairs of hands for this kind of work. But the vaccination programme was to last for more than a few months and the government departments, many of which had also been drafted in to undertake anti-epidemic duties, could not afford having their staff away for a prolonged period. As the tourism industry had been hard hit by the pandemic, we saw an opportunity to partner with them to engage employees of the industry who were out of a job to serve in the centres. This is a classic example of an innovative use of human resources creating a win-win situation.
I am happy to tell you that the tourism industry staff have lived up to our expectations and proved themselves as reliable and efficient in this new setting as they had been in their familiar one.
We have, of course, also adopted innovative technologies to manage different aspects of the programme, most notably the logistics, which pose a challenge because of the very strict cold chain management required to maintain the BioNTech vaccine. And I understand that there is a high management staff member of the manufacturer Pfizer here and he can testify to it. The vaccine must be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius for storage. According to the manufacturer, once thawed, it could only be kept in 2 to 8 degrees C for five days and in room temperature for six hours. The additional complication is that the vaccines come in what I call "concentrated" form and one has to be diluted into five or six before being used. If we are to minimise vaccine wastage, which we must do for we are competing with the rest of the world for vaccine supply, we have to have very precise calculations done for the quantity to be thawed and transported to the vaccination centres at any one time. We thus sought a contractor who has the experience in using innovative logistics management technologies and got our government in-house IT team to design an online booking system for us to help calculate demand and supply to keep wastage to a low level. With experience, it is now found that the vaccine can be kept at 2 to 8 degrees C for one month. Nonetheless, our efforts to monitor the usage rate for minimising any wastage will continue.
Apart from being keenly aware of the need to be innovative and to go out of our usual confines ourselves, the Government also encourages the use of innovative technological solutions in different industries. A case in point is the construction of quarantine units in 2020.
After the first few months' fight with COVID-19 and as the number of confirmed cases rose in 2020, we were in need of a large number of quarantine units. The construction of a quarantine camp at Penny's Bay was decided upon and kicked off in no time. The Architectural Services Department proactively applied an innovative construction method, the Modular Integrated Construction, MiC, with modular units fabricated off-site simultaneously as on-site construction was proceeding, to shorten the construction period. Other advantages of this construction method include improved site safety and building qualities and reduction in construction waste. The department also inspired the contractor to adopt other sustainable construction approaches. With the concerted efforts of all parties, over 3 000 quarantine units were completed in phases in a span of 10 months. Construction of this magnitude at such a speed is first of its kind. The success of the project demonstrated what innovation can achieve. It also furthered the adoption of innovative technologies in the construction industry. In the words of the contractor, with the Government's support, they were able the push new frontiers in Hong Kong's construction industry.
Innovation does not come out of thin air but is driven and realised by capable talents. The importance of nurturing an innovative workforce cannot be overstated.
The unexpected challenges that had arisen in the past few years have all the more underlined the need for a forward-looking, visionary and innovative civil service capable of tackling different challenges and delivering outstanding public services amidst constraints.
To equip civil servants with knowledge of the latest technology, the Government adopts a multi-pronged approach to enhance training in Innovation and Technology (I&T) application for civil servants. The Civil Service College has spared no effort in strengthening training to boost the innovative capabilities and drive of civil servants through structured training programmes, workshops, thematic seminars, visits, as well as online training on the subject. We aim to enhance the ability of our senior and middle management to harness the potential of new technology to devise strategies for innovation in all aspects of government work, including in service delivery, in the delivery of public works projects, in back-end administrative procedures and even in law enforcement. In our structured leadership programmes, we have included topics such as design thinking, application of big data for service enhancement, metaverse and its use in the public sector, fintech and its importance for Hong Kong and innovative strategies in the digital world.
We also organise executive workshops and seminars covering areas such as leadership and innovation, smart city development, use of social media, big data application and use of technologies such as AI (artificial intelligence), blockchain and cloud computing. These programmes are designed to familiarise civil servants across different professions with the application of digital technology and the future development trend.
But knowledge of the latest technology will only be put to good use if there is a mindset ready to innovate and accept innovation. The Civil Service College collaborates with government departments and organisations such as Hong Kong Science and Technology Park to engage experts, academics and representatives from I&T start-ups to talk about the latest I&T developments and share experience with the participants. Through exchanges with these external stakeholders, we cultivate in the participants of our training programmes the mindset to challenge assumptions, accept mistakes as learning experiences and make changes happen, in addition to exploring the application of I&T for public service enhancement.
Going forward, we will continue to strive to inculcate a culture of innovation and creativity in the civil service in order to enhance civil servants' capabilities in coping with challenges of a different nature and delivering quality public services, thereby supporting sustainable growth of the city and building up our resilience should adversity hits.
Last week, the Chief Executive unveiled his bold and vigorous blueprint for creating a brighter tomorrow for Hong Kong in this year's Policy Address. One of the measures announced is to introduce a new award, namely the Chief Executive's Award for Exemplary Performance, to recognise meritorious and exemplary performance of teams or individual civil servants. Exceptionally outstanding abilities to innovate to enable government functions to be performed more efficiently, in more resource-saving ways or in ways that provide better customer experience to the public will surely win an admission ticket to the adjudicating table of this award.
Ladies and gentlemen, as I said, innovation is not just about skills, but more importantly about the mindset. It is high time we cultivated in the civil service, and in the bigger society, a mindset that embraces innovation. With Hong Kong's full potential in innovating unleashed, I am sure the city will be ever more resilient in face of whatever that may come.
Finally, I would like to congratulate today's award winners, and I wish the Hong Kong Management Association and its members every success in the years to come.
Thank you very much.
Ends/Tuesday, October 25, 2022
Issued at HKT 20:06
Issued at HKT 20:06