Monday, February 13, 2006

Legco ITB Panel on "New Strategy for E-Government Service Delivery"

The Information Technology and Broadcasting Panel of the Legislative Council met today on the topic of "new strategy for e-government service delivery", and I made a presentation for a joint submission from the Hong Kong Information Technology Federation and Internet Society Hong Kong Chapter. Click here for the meeting agenda and the papers presented by the Administration and various other organizations.

The following are the main points of the presentation I made to the panel of legco members.

Essentially, our position was supportive of the Administration's proposal, which we consider to be a move to open the current EGSD (e-government service delivery) market. Our position is pro-competition as we believe it is fair for the industry, technology vendors, service providers, citizens and society as a whole. Competition will bring positive effects on service qualities, cost savings, lower prices, and more benefits for consumers.

In fact, we believe that EGSD should not have been provided by one single vendor since its beginning about seven years ago. The current proposal is at least that many years late. Nonetheless, it is better late than never. In the past few years, EGSD adoption has been lackluster. We believe there is no reason consistent with public interest to prolong the duration of an imperfect and unfair EGSD system.

We believe that problems and issues anticipated in the course of changing from the current arrangement to the next phase EGSD scheme can be handled and overcome. On the other hand, when introducing competition, if too much protection for the incumbent is imposed, benefits expected from competition will not materialize. The case of government electronic trade services with Tradelink is a case in point -- two years into the introduction of a second player into the market, there is still far from any meaningful comparison because of continued over-exercising of dominant market power by the incumbent.

In summary, we believe that the Administration should not further delay its implementation of the new strategy for EGSD. E-government has a critical role in the transformation and improvement in governance. It should go far beyond the current mode of the simple provision of an electronic alternative. It can be the lead driver for governance reform and structural changes in government. Legislators must look beyond the interests of vested interests by certain stakeholders, but consider the overall political issues and the fair use of public resources and opportunities.

Specifically, the Administration should make use of EGSD to provide more unified government service innovation, and better consult the industry on the issues around technology standards for the new One Stop Portal (OSP).

In order to improve the adoption rate by citizens, the Administration should allow for special offers, for example, waiver or discount of service fees for the electronic option, or even making the electronic option the mandatory channel for certain suitable government services.

The Administration and our legislators must understand that the benefits of IT cannot be measured simply by tangible cost decrease or reduction in headcounts. Intangible benefits like productivity gains, quality improvements and enhanced access must be taken into consideration in the evaluation for IT implementations. In fact, Hong Kong's investment into IT as a percentage of our GDP is low compared to similar advanced economies. So, while we must use our public dollars wisely and responsibly, sustained IT re-investment remains of critical importance for the future of Hong Kong's economy.

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