Funding alone is not enough to promote innovation and technology, says IT industry

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“We need a blueprint, not a short-term work plan,” said insiders from the IT industry in a seminar on Tuesday, held to discuss how funding from the city’s Budget can promote innovation and technology. They bashed the government for unclear polices and lacking vision.

In chief executive Carrie Lam’s Policy Address last year, Lam proposed increasing resources for R&D, pooling technology talent, providing investment funding and offering technological research infrastructure among other measures.

These initiatives are addressed by her financial secretary Paul Chan in his Budget in February, who proposed to spend $50 billion HKD on developing technology.

FS Chan’s budget promised $20 billion for the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Innovation and Technology Park in the Lok Ma Chau Loop, $10 billion for the Science Park, $10 billion for biotech platforms to attract global R&D centers and $10 billion for the Innovation and technology Fund.

Charles Mok, a legislator representing information technology, said four aspects were not taken into consideration in the Budget.

“They include a review of the existing legislation and regulations, opening up government data, changing procurement arrangements and promoting popular science education,” Mok said.

Mr Mok said the government lacks forward-looking vision and only came up with a work plan that includes measures to be implemented in the coming year, rather than setting timelines for goals.

“For example, artificial intelligence is a matter to be considered. It’s the future. The government only focuses on R&D, but it hasn’t thought about its impact on human resources and the society in the future,” he said.

“In addition, Singapore is training 500 data scientists within the government, but there’s no action from the Hong Kong side,” he added.

Speakers at the seminar also gave many of examples of how the government fails to encourage innovation and technology, sometimes because of unclear policies.

“One example is initial coin offering (ICOs). It’s a controversial issue and is banned in other countries. The Hong Kong government didn’t say it’s not allowed, but it also didn’t say what is allowed. There’s no guidance for the IT industry to follow,” said Keith Li, founder of local startup Innopage.

“Even we have the people who can work on it, the policy creates an environment that discourages us from doing it. At the end, we only do what has been done before and there’s no incentive for innovation,” said Li.

Li welcomed the funding, but stressed there should be better policies to support fintech development rather than just eyeing the hardware.

Jacob Wai, Research Director in Asia Financial Risk Think Tank, said the government is not leading the adoption of new technologies.

“Take electronic contract, e-tract, as an example. This technology cannot be applied to land registry and this kind of transaction because of the regulations,” he said.

“The IT industry is using new technologies, but we the insiders are the only one who know them. There’s a need to promote the widespread use of them. In Hong Kong, 60% of the market players are SMEs and NGOs. They don’t have the resources to adopt new technologies.”

Mok echoed the view. He asked the government to lead the use of e-payment and blockchain technology, but only received lukewarm responses from officials.

Industry insiders also agreed that the Budget failed to address one concern that is widely faced by the tech companies – the shortage of talent.

“The government should do more work in education, especially promoting vocational education to support those who want to change their career. Even simple IT courses for the public would do,” said Wai.

“If even the ordinary people know how to create a website, then Hong Kong can truly claim herself as a smart city,” he said.

(Printer – R&R Publishing Limited, Suite 705, 7/F, Cheong K. Building, 84-86 Des Voeux Road Central, HK)