Hong Kong Government Leading the Way in the Race of Digital IDs, e-Health,Free Wi-Fi, Internet of Things and Digital Inclusion

According to the previous CIO of the Hong Kong government Daniel Lai, Hong Kong has been staying ahead of the technology arc by working on digitizing its departments and agencies since the 1990s, with the government now paying attention on apps, digital IDs, e-health,free Wi-Fi, the Internet of Things, digital open data, and digital inclusion.

Addressing at the Telstra’s Vantage 2015 conference in Melbourne Lai now the interim vice president at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said that the government’s digital strategy involved initially building out infrastructure and then adapting to internet usage.

“In the earlier days, in 1998, it very much focused on building and introducing the ICT infrastructure necessary to support a digital city. Then, in the early 2000s, it was a matter of using internet to support government services to deliver public services through internet.”

Daniel Lai said.

He also said:

“And, of course, more recently, it’s a matter of looking at mobility, looking at social media, looking at the multimedia platform, and also driving the digital inclusion program.”

Hong Kong Government Leading the Way in the Race of Digital IDs, e-Health,Free Wi-Fi, Internet of Things and Digital Inclusion

Lai, who was CIO of the government for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China from 2012 to 2015, said that the city has a very digitally focused environment. Every person in Hong Kong owns more than 2 SIM cards with a mobile penetration rate of 239%.

Hong Kong has 83% broadband penetration and broadband coverage of 97%. Its average peak internet connection speed is 68Mbps, making it the fastest in the world, said Lai. Many departments and agencies in Hong Kong started introducing mobile apps several years ago, but lately combined them under a single government-run app store, which now houses more than 80 apps for such uses as postal tracking, traffic reporting, public events, and Wi-Fi location.
Lai told that GovHK Notifications is one of its most used applications, which gives alerts and warnings on topics such as traffic, food, travel, health, and weather to the users device.

“The individual needs to register the type of alerts they would like to receive whether it’s traffic, whether it’s for food safety, or whether it’s related to health  so they can choose the type of information or alerts they receive, and whenever there’s some adverse weather or a typhoon, it can actually notify individuals instantly.”

Explained Lai.

“We introduced the Electronic Transaction Ordinance, giving digital certificates the same level of rights as a physical signature, and that’s actually helped e-commerce, and also helped the submission of legal documents.”

Lai also said.

A physically held Digital ID card with relevant information is also used in conjunction with fingerprint scanners during immigration and border control on entry to Hong Kong, similar to the roll out of e-passports and Smart Gates in Australia though this has lately faced technical problems in the latter country. Lai told that one of the most important part of implementing e-government services is to make sure that everyone gets an equal chance of trying the service. Digital inclusion for the underprivileged the elderly, low-income earners, and those with special needs is important.

“We also believe that when we introduce electronic services, the underprivileged group also should be addressed, so we also have a comprehensive digital inclusion program to help the elderly for use of PCs, internet, and so on.”

He also said.

According to Lai, the other challenges involved in changing to a digital government includes ensuring ease of use by citizens; shifting cultural norms from submitting forms in hard copy to online; carefully forming the framework for any collaboration with carriers, hardware vendors, and software services providers; promoting and publicising certain steps so that knowledge of projects reaches critical mass. Providing free Wi-Fi network to the whole city has been on the government’s radar for some time. It now has more than 20,000 hotspots across the city, and is also beginning to combine with telecommunications providers.

“Initially, it was a government-funded project, [but] two years ago, we started involving the carriers, so it’s now a much more collaborative project, where some of the carriers provide free Wi-Fi up to a limited time, most of them two hours, but in a couple of public locations and government buildings we provide free Wi-Fi 24 hours there. No registration is required.”

Lai said.

By comparison, Australia has lately been making recent efforts to digitize its government, with then Communications Minister and now Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in January announced the formation of the Digital Transformation Office (DTO).

The DTO exists within the Department of Communications, works across all government agencies in collaboration with businesses and universities, and was tasked primarily with creating a single online myGov portal for many government-related services.

Turnbull said in January.

“Interacting with government should be as easy as internet banking or ordering a taxi through an app.”

“This will enable the government to deliver high-quality services more consistently using a common ‘look and feel’, with users always at the center of the digital transformation.”

Paul Shetler, was selected as CEO of the DTO in July for the next five years, was previously the director of the United Kingdom’s Government Digital Service.

“We could also be looking across all tiers of government, not only at the federal level, but also the state and local level.”

Shetler said.

Shetler last month claimed that poor IT systems have troubled agencies and departments for years, slowing progress and reducing the government’s effectiveness, and pointed out the research conducted by Deloitte arguing that improved digital interaction between citizens and government could translate into cost savings of AU$20.5 billion.

Australia has also been trying to improve its electronic health record system. The system has been struggling since its introduction in 2012, but has continually received funding in each year’s Budget. The National Broadband Network (NBN) will probably complete by 2020, and will cover 20% of the Australian population.

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