Hong Kong’s “hidden” competitive advantage: Open Geospatial Data

Winnie Tang DP
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Dr. Winnie Tang, Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong

The central government has just released the Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area to spur growth in Hong Kong and Macao and nine cities of Guangdong province. Most people in Hong Kong focus on our strengths in banking and finance,transportation, trading, aviation, and our potential to become an international innovation and technology hub.

Our strengths are indeed more than that!

The Development Plan addresses two information platforms in chapter 5 and 8: a “spatial service information platform” for the development of smart city, and a “coordination platform for contingency response for major contingencies”,  respectively. Hong Kong can actually be a leader in both these areas.

Open data underpins info platforms

At the beginning of January, the open data plan unveiled by Hong Kong government forms an important part of the “spatial information service platform” and “emergency response platform”. What we need to do right now is to speed up the formation of a successful information platform by encouraging more usage by startups, private organizations and even government departments.

To encourage usage, apart from being convenient with machine-readable format, it is equally important to link data to locations.

It is estimated that 80% of data is related to geographic locations, so it is logical for data to be referenced with respect to their location, and depicted in a map, which makes it easier for people to understand.

Linking geographic information can make much better sense of the data, it has also proved to be beneficial to businesses and the society at large.

Take a look at the Brits

The British government is one of the most advanced in the world in terms of open data. The Business, Innovation and Skills Department published a report Market Assessment of Public Sector Information in 2013, reviewing the effectiveness of open data, it is worthy for our reference.

The more than 200 pages of report mentions that geo-spatial data is most popular and potentially most valuable and most sought after data. It is estimated to generate more than GBP 323 million (over HK$3 billion) worth of  UK’s GDP. The report also quoted examples from other countries inlcuding the Australian government’s opening of spatial data for free since 2001, with an estimated benefit of US$70 million (nearly HK$550 million) and a benefit/cost ratio of 13. It reinforces the view that making data available generates benefits in excess of the cost involved.

Denmark also demonstrates the value of its national address dataset. It opened it up to the public, free of charge, in 2002. The administrative cost for four years was around EUR 2 million (about HK$18 million), while the total direct financial benefits were more than 30 times of the cost, or EUR 62 million (around HK$550 million). However, the authority pointed out that the valuation of open data is usually conservative, because it is difficult to quantify the intangible benefits such as the avoidance of traffic jams and the time saved in commuting to work.

Therefore, government departments in opening data should take account of public needs and attach geographic information to the data required. This seems easy, but industry insiders comment that it is quite cumbersome to unify the address and location information from different sources and in non-unified formats. Therefore, the Lands Department with its rich experience should take the lead to collaborate with the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer, which is responsible for coordination. Jointly they can help other departments to promote the opening of data.

With the continuous improvement of data quantity and quality, together with our more than 20 years experience in utilizing advanced geographic information system for analysis among our government departments, we can certainly lead our counterparts of the Greater Bay Area to develop both a “spatial information service platform” and its application, ie. “emergency response platform” stipulated in the Development Plan. As such, Hong Kong can strengthen its leadership position in the region.

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