“Look ahead, start small, land quick” for smart city development

Winnie Tang DP
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Dr. Winnie Tang

Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering and Faculty of Architecture, University of Hong Kong

Founder, Smart City Consortium

The three-day Fifth China Smart City International Expo 2019 held recently gathered more than 1,000 experts from the governments, enterprises, and industry experts from China and overseas. Hong Kong’s Smart City Consortium, was invited to join the event.

The keynote speech, The New Concepts of New Smart City, was delivered by Li Deren, Fellow of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering. I took his messages on board and thought them worth sharing with the smart city and broader policy making community. 

Real-time and data driven

He delivered a number of important concepts and discussed how they will impact on our future development of smart cities. He discussed real time data-driven systems made possible by the rapidly advancing Internet of Things (IoT). Made up of sensors that are widely distributed in the sky, land and air, it connects basic data in real time and together with data from the government, enterprises and the public. It is quickly becoming a driver of the digital economy.

I think the most effective way to connect big data network distributed in the sky, land and air is through a common spatial data infrastructure (CSDI) that I have repeatedly advocated. The Hong Kong Smart City Blueprint published by the government at the end of 2017 pointed out that apart from opening government data, CSDI will be built to facilitate sharing of spatial data among government departments.

In recent years, government departments such as the Lands Department, has linked public data from different departments to space. However, as the Director of Lands said, the current scale in Hong Kong is only “a corner store, far from a large supermarket”.

Upgrading Hong Kong’s CSDI infrastructure

To achieve a larger scale, it requires two levels of work: (1) the government to open more data; (2) speed up the connection of datasets to spatial locations. This is required as 80% of information is related to location. Location is crucial to connect data points and thereby enhance value and become a new economic driver.

Indeed, it seems the government is moving in that direction. It was anounced at the Expo that the Hong Kong government will open 700 new data sets this year, and an updated version of Hong Kong Smart City Blueprint will also be available in November, according to Wong Chi Kwong, Assistant Government Chief Information Officer (Industry Development). It shows the government’s commitment to move forward to a smart city. As for the linkage of data to spatial locations, it has to depend on the assistance from experienced departments like the Lands Department.

Deep sharing

For the development of a smart city and real-time data sharing, it is crucial to strengthen cross-departmental coordination and cross-industry cooperation. This will accelerate the orderly convergence and deep sharing of information.

Efficiency is a key deliverable of connecting government silos. For example, the Singapore government’s enables the public to access various government departments once they log on to the website without entering personal information over and over again. Shanghai also launched their online portal One-Stop Government Services Platform for the public to process all government related matters last year. It incorporates 1,274 public services from various government department bureaux. Its personalized function is similar to Amazon’s “next logical product”, e.g. when a user wants to travel, it will automatically prompt the user whether his travel document has expired, and if required, one can make an appointment online and fill in the application form automatically.

It could happen here. In Hong Kong, the Lands Department can assist in linking the data of the Transport Department and the Statistics Department with spatial data and integrate them using a map to form useful information, facilitating travel and startup development, as well as boosting small and medium size enterprises’ business and social economy. 

Another forthcoming initiative is the Electronic Identity (eID). It will be launched in Hong Kong next year and it is my sincere hope that the Hong Kong public can enjoy a one-stop service by then.

We can take the best of the world

At the Expo, I also saw that various provinces and cities exhibited their government dashboards, displaying spatial data and maps that increase the efficiency of urban management. I especially agree with the tagline of the Expo: “Look ahead, start small, land quick”. At present, more than 70 smart city projects are underway in Hong Kong. I hope that our city dashboard and CSDI will also land as quickly as possible so that we would not lag behind our mainland counterparts.

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