Policy address 2014: Tech Bureau back on govt drawing board
Source: mis-asia.com View: 219 Date: 2014-01-22

IT experts in Hong Kong generally welcomed the government’s "re-initiation" of the Innovation and Technology Bureau (formerly "Technology and Communication Bureau"), in response to the second policy address delivered by Chief Executive CY Leung Wednesday.

Leung said at the Legco that he will work with various sectors to formulate the objectives and policies of ITB for the development of innovation and technology in Hong Kong. "I earnestly hope that [the ITB] will receive support from this Council," he said.

To further develop innovation and technology, Leung said the government will continue to provide software and hardware support to enterprises and start-ups, and provided financial assistance for universities, research institutions and the industries to commercialize research and development results.

"We will continue to create an environment conducive to the development of innovation and technology, encourage investment in this area and enhance co-operation among the Government, industry, academia and research sectors," he said.

Regarding funding, the government has in mid-2013 started "a comprehensive review" of the operation of Innovation and Technology Fund (ITF), in response to industry concerns that "the ITF should be more progressive and proactive in supporting enterprises with research and development as well as commercialization," according to Leung.

Concerning tech clusters, the Government and the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation will continue to "review the effectiveness and long-term development direction of the Science Park and industrial estates."

The government is also studying "different topics" regarding the future development of creative industries, and innovation and technology industries in Hong Kong.

These topics include "incubating start-up companies, assisting them in expanding markets, building brands, nurturing talent, and providing infrastructural support," Leung said. He added that the "Working Group on Manufacturing Industries, Innovative Technology, and Cultural and Creative Industries" of the Economic Development Commission will make concrete recommendations after studies and discussions.

To facilitate e-learning, the Government will in this year launch the Fourth Strategy on Information Technology in Education. "Major initiatives include the phased provision of wireless network services and other supporting facilities for all public sector schools from the 2014/15 school year," Leung said.

Charles Mok: Best tech polices in recent years

Legislative Councilor (IT Constituency) Charles Mok said the re-initiation of the tech bureau (now called "Innovation and Technology Bureau") was "very good" and he would be "very supportive" of it.

The Policy Address did not mention any possible change in the government structure, but Mok gathered that the existing Innovation and Technology Commission would be grouped under the newly proposed ITB, and would even be renamed. Concerning the existing Innovation and Technology Fund (ITF), Mok suggested the Government to improve its funding policies, so as to lend more support to SMBs and fund more R&D activities.

Asked if Mok was worried about a possible relaunch of filibuster to halt ITB setup like last year, Mok said: "The IT industry should not think that it has already successfully fought for ITB. I’m still positive about it, but we should not underestimate the difficulty. What we need to do now is to spread the message among those who are unfamiliar with the IT industry about the benefits that ITB can bring."

Mok declined to name any potential TCB Secretariat candidate, but advised the government to appoint someone from within the IT industry. "It is important to let the public know that the Government is not going to consider only its friends. Otherwise, the matter can easily become politicized, thus creating further hurdles for the setting up of ITB," he said.

Mok generally welcomed the provision of Wi-Fi service for public schools, but criticized the lack of a timetable for Wi-Fi implementation. "We demand that the public schools Wi-Fi implementation be completed within three years. The Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim has earlier proposed five years, but five years is too long."

Overall, Mok gave a "Pass" for the CE Policy Address 2014, added that "This is the best CE Policy Address for the IT industry in the recent years."

iProA: "Very excited" about ITB setup, but careful execution matters too

iProA (Internet Professional Association) President Witman Hung said he was "very excited" about the "re-initiation" of the setting up of ITB, but would keep a watchful eye on how the Government execute the plan.

"First of all, the Government needs to clearly define ITB’s charter, including its functions and structure. For this purpose, we recommend that the Government set up an ITB taskforce. The taskforce should comprise representatives of ITB, the IT industry, other industries including finance, property, logistics, and even other government departments/bureaus," said Hung. "The Government has long adopted a ‘silo culture,’ but the objectives of ITB can only be realized with cooperation from all these parties."

"Next, the Government should widely consult all stakeholders. Finally, the Government should actively lobby support from the Legislative Council members to setup ITB as soon as possible," he said. "I’m generally optimistic about ITB’s setup. Concerning potential oppositions from certain LegCo members, I would say the establishment of ITB is not a political agenda, and it should not be clouded by individuals’ political stances."

"Regarding the Innovation and Technology Fund, the Audit Commission’s reports released earlier have suggested that investing in innovation and technology projects might be high risk ventures," Hung said. "I would say the Government should adopt an ‘error-tolerant attitude’: if the Government invested [in innovation and technology] wrongly, it should not be regarded as a waste of public money. Because with ITF, the Government had nonetheless cultivated a pool of IT talents locally."

iProA welcomed the Government’s policy on the provision of Wi-Fi network services for all public schools in Hong Kong, but urged the Government to supplement with the necessary technical support to make this an fruitful exercise.

"Construction of Wi-Fi networks at public schools should not be just about providing money, because many of them are not equipped with the technical know-how, and architecting Wi-Fi infrastructure requires very technical expertise," Hung said. "I would recommend that the Government set up a centralized taskforce for this purpose. Possibly under the Education Bureau, each IT team would be responsible for setting up Wi-Fi networks in each district."

Overall, iProA welcomes the IT policies in this year’s Policy Address. To name a missing item, Hung said he would like to see the Government expand the scope of the Continuous Education Fund. "For many IT professionals, the practice of IT requires lifelong learning but the Fund is currently capped at HK$10,000. I would suggest that the Government increase the amount to HK$50,000," he said. "IT is a constantly evolving discipline and IT professionals need to update their knowledge and skills every two to three years. Without continuous learning they simply can’t perform."

HKCS: Bare "Pass" given — sense of urgency absent

Hong Kong Computer Society (HKCS) President Michael Leung said "The HKCS welcomes and supports the CE’s policies relating to innovation and technology. In fact the HKCS has shown a clear stance of support for ITB’s setup since two years ago, and we ask that the ITB be set up as soon as possible."

But Leung remains cautious about the execution of ITB. He said, "The CE said he would ‘work with various sectors to formulate the objectives and policies of ITB,’ but the devil is in the details."

In a media statement, the HKCS urges for leadership by professionals: "The new ITB should be led by professionals that are familiar with the development of the IT industry, in order coordinate the macro development of the industry and formulate long-term talent cultivation policies." Other than leadership by professionals, "the ITB must have a broad representation across the different segments and sectors of the industry, comprising different age and gender groups — it is very crucial that more females join the industry as well!"

"ITB should facilitate closer cooperation and exchange with mainland China and regional ICT entities and industries — one aspect being reciprocal accreditation," Leung said. "Hong Kong is rather self-indulgent — indeed a frog in the well. Simply take a good look at WeChat, AliPay and AliBalance. These companies are doing phenomenal work across our border. And one would wonder why we people here in Hong Kong are still just talking about setting up this ITB! It’s time to ACT!"

The HKCS also calls for greater attention on cultivating young IT talents. "The ITB should place emphasis on creating an environment and opportunities for young people to take more active part in ICT industry, particularly innovative/creative start-ups," Leung suggested. "To do so, ITB can provide funding and resources for ICT-related continuous training for on-job practitioners, as well as entry platforms for young people."

"ITB should also establish a professional qualification recognition framework, along with articulation pathways, to encourage and make young people feel proud of an ICT career — on par with lawyer, doctor, engineer, etc," he recommended. "These days parents would not normally encourage their kids to study and pursue IT. This is a question of professional recognition status, and the Government cannot evade its responsibility. The Government should take lead by legally recognizing and protecting professional job types, such as through exams and assessments."

"The IT industry in Hong Kong is, at worst, a pile of loose sand. Conflicts even occur internally within some associations," Leung said. "If the Government set up ITB, it should collect the opinions of all stakeholders and make ITB a broadly represented bureau.

"As for the CE’s ‘policy’ on studying ‘different topics’ (point 36 of Policy Address), there no time frame was specified and I hate this the most. Nothing was time-bound. When will the Government release its study report? The sense of urgency is very important," Leung said. "Without a sense of urgency or a sense of crisis, the Government would just continue to ‘review’, ‘study’ or ‘discuss’ matters without taking concrete action."

How would Leung rate the CE’s Policy Address 2014? "I would say there is always room for improvement, and the Government is stepping in the right direction by finally reinitiating the ITB," Leung said. "With the exception of point 36, the other three points under "Innovation and Technology" are quite substantial with clear progress made. I would give a bare ‘Pass’ for the IT-policies in this Policy Address."

Sunny Lee: "Encouraging" overall, but the devil is in the implementation

Sunny Lee, former executive director, IT of The Hong Kong Jockey Club, now vice-president (administration) at City University of Hong Kong and chairperson of HKCS’ CIO Board, said "My friends in the industry and I are very excited about the Government’s re-initiation of the setup of ITB. This is way overdue."

"We need to quickly establish the ICT strategy for Hong Kong moving forward in a holistic fashion. If there was no ITB, we would never be able to focus our highest level of attention on this issue, which is of utmost importance to Hong Kong’s future economic development," Lee said.

"We would like to urge the LegCo to approve of ITB’s setup as soon as possible, so the Government can immediately formulate strategies and policies for Hong Kong’s ICT development. The LegCo should really forget about politics and take care of our economy and future," Lee said.

"We are also very excited about the setup of a framework for ICT professional recognition. This will ensure we have a healthy stream of qualified ICT talents. It will also help elevate the qualification of ICT players, and raise the status of ICT professionals, thereby attracting more professionals to enter the ICT field," Lee added.

Overall Lee found the IT policies in this year’s Policy Address "encouraging." "I would say it is encouraging. There have been something new introduced into the Policy. The government has shown willingness to push ahead IT development. Of course the devil is in the implementation, the government should work with all the stakeholders in the IT industry for the successful implementation of ITB," he concluded.

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