Paper No. CB(2)451(01)

Paper on Information Technology Development for Information Policy Panel of the Provisional Legislative Council


This paper briefs Members on the conceptual framework for the future development of information technology (IT) as announced by the Chief Executive in his Policy Address on 8 October 1997.

Institutional Review

2.It is our policy objective that Hong Kong should be a leader, not a follower, in the information world of tomorrow. To facilitate the process to achieve this objective, the IT-related responsibilities within the Government will be re-grouped so that the portfolio can be entrusted to one Bureau Secretary. Our target is to implement this commitment in early 1998. At present, such responsibilities are borne by a number of Bureaux, namely Finance Bureau, Economic Services Bureau, Trade and Industry Bureau, Broadcasting, Culture and Sport Bureau, Home Affairs Bureau and Education and Manpower Bureau.

3.The Chief Secretary for Administration's Office is co-ordinating a review of the institutional framework within the Government with a view to re-adjust the portfolios of existing Bureaux rather than set up an additional Bureau for IT in the overall Government framework. Whether the Bureau Secretary with the IT portfolio should only deal with IT-related responsibilities will be considered in the review, having regard to the overall distribution of responsibilities among Bureaux Secretaries. No conclusion has yet been reached within the Government. We hope to provide details in the near future.

4.The Chief Executive has outlined the overall responsibilities of this Bureau.

    ‧first, formulate policies to facilitate the establishment of an open, common interface information infrastructure, accessible throughout the SAR;

    ‧second, lay down an appropriate regulatory framework to remove obstacles to interconnection between networks, and enhance Hong Kong's external info-communications links;

    ‧third, develop a policy for accelerating the use of IT applications using the common interface in the public and private sector; and

    ‧fourth, commission pilot projects that make innovative use of the developing infrastructure.

5.These will be further developed by the Bureau Secretary who is assigned the IT portfolio. We expect that the various interests in business, academia and the community generally will be fully consulted in the development of any strategy.

Conceptual Framework

6.The Chief Executive's Address maps out his vision of Hong Kong as an information society. This vision is one which the Government is keen to turn into a reality and we shall pursue it vigorously. But we should not lose sight of the fact that it is a long term vision - something which we must get right and evolve towards over the next decade. No country is expecting to realise their visions of an information society in any shorter timeframe, even including those countries that have already done a lot of planning. On this score, we do have the headstart in the physical information infrastructure that we already have achieved.

7.The Chief Executive's Policy Address pointed out that we know what needs to be done to make Hong Kong a leader, not a follower in the Information Age. First, we must have the hardware. This is likely to be the least of our concerns as we have excellent telecommunications facilities and competition is providing the incentive for operators to innovate. The private sector has shown its willingness and commitment to invest many billions of dollars every year. To date, some 300,000 km of optical fibres have been laid to provide the backbone for the high capacity communications networks. There is no doubt investors will increase their capital expenditure under the right policy and regulatory conditions. The Office of the Telecommunications Authority has set up an Information Infrastructure Advisory Committee (IIAC) earlier this year to look into the regulatory framework for the broadband networks and services. The Committee will submit a report to the Government by March 1998.

8.Second, the software needs to be developed and this needs to run on a platform which allows interoperability of the various systems providing services to individuals, business and Government. The software creates applications which are essential if we are to make good use of our hardware. There are successes in developing such applications. The anticipated launch of commercial scale video-on-demand programme services is a good example. The development of the Community Electronic Trading System is another example. Applications for restrained textiles export licences and trade declarations can now be made over telecommunications networks. Nevertheless, overall speaking, Hong Kong has been less active in the development of applications than in the physical infrastructure and this area needs to be given specific attention in Hong Kong's information infrastructure planning.

9.Third, supporting both the hardware and software requires talented and trained people: also effective use of information technologies requires competent users. Developing our people skills will become a key component of our strategy. The Government has already invested heavily in information technology education, including the provision of computing facilities and teacher training. The Chief Executive has announced that we would launch a five-year strategy for IT in education to promote the use of IT to enhance teaching and learning. The main tasks of the strategy are to equip our teachers with the necessary IT skills; to apply computer-assisted teaching and learning across the curriculum; and to place students in an environment where they can use this technology as part of their daily activities and grow up to use it creatively.

10.Fourth, we need to develop a culture within our community which positively encourages creativity, use of information technologies and preparedness to innovate. It is generally accepted that Hong Kong has built its economy through smart use of technologies pioneered elsewhere and that when it comes to research and development, the private sector has given more priority to development than research. In the information world it will be knowledge which generates the intellectual property that creates wealth. Our culture needs to stimulate our people to think and act creatively in an information context.

11.These four elements constitute the conceptual thrusts that the Government will pursue in turning the Chief Executive's vision into reality. It is premature to propose detailed work programmes on each of these four elements. What the Government is doing right now is setting up the appropriate institutional arrangements and the processes by which all four elements will be fleshed out in detail. Over the coming months as the institutional arrangements are settled and the IT-related responsibilities are re-grouped, work will proceed on developing detailed strategies and policy targets. We will, naturally, be pleased to keep Members informed of progress.

On-going Work

12.Meanwhile, before the completion of re-grouping IT-related responsibilities, relevant Bureaux have made commitments and will continue with their IT-related work towards realising the Chief Executive's vision.

    ‧The Economic Services Bureau will continue to develop and implement a regulatory framework for the telecommunications services and the physical information infrastructure. It will also continue its dialogue with Hong Kong Telecom on the development of Hong Kong's international telecommunications sector. The IIAC will continue its work to co-ordinate with the industry and to prepare some ground work for the Bureau with the IT portfolio.

    ‧The Broadcasting, Culture and Sport Bureau will study the issue of convergence of television broadcasting and telecommunications in the 1998 Review on Television Environment. It will facilitate broadcasters to start technical trials of digital radio broadcasting in 1998, while putting forward policy proposals for formally introducing digital radio broadcasting. The Bureau will then move on to study digital television.

    ‧The Finance Bureau will ensure that Departments' information technology needs are met in the most efficient and cost-effective manner, and to encourage the efficient use of information technology to upgrade the quality of the services they provide to the public. It has completed the first phases of the Government Office Automation (GOA) Programme and will extend the programme to cover the whole Government by 2000. It will also strengthen the use of Internet technology for improving communication within Government and for providing better services to the public.

    ‧The Trade and Industry Bureau will extend the Community Electronic Trading Service to cover certificates of origin and continue to improve access for local software developers to the latest information on business trends and new requirements in user industries. We also stand ready to inject another $500 million to the Applied Research Fund (ARF) specifically to support the commercialisation of research in information technology and other high technology fields, subject to a review of the ARF to ensure that it continues to be effective in meeting its desired objective.

    ‧The Home Affairs Bureau will continue to make use of Internet technology to enhance public access to Government information. It has been helping Bureaux and Departments to set up home pages on the Internet and aims to have the whole of Government 'on-line' by the end of this year. It also aims to help Bureaux and Departments to improve the overall quality of their existing home pages.

    ‧The Education and Manpower Bureau is formulating the five-year strategy for IT in education. It will issue a consultative document on the strategy by the end of this year, and expects to finalise the strategy by early 1998. Meanwhile, a number of new measures will be introduced next year to enhance IT applications in education. These include increasing IT facilities in schools, procuring and developing new educational software, enhancing training to teachers in IT use, pilot schemes in 20 schools to establish best practices for IT applications in teaching and learning, and making preparations for an education-specific Intranet.

Economic Services Bureau
20 October 1997