Monday, February 05, 2007

OGCIO's first ICT Industry Forum

OGCIO held the first ICT Industry Forum today, and the two topics discussed were wireless city network and software adoption by SMEs -- the first being a recent hot topic and the latter being a long-time issue that remains unresolved.

I have been a proponent for wireless city in Hong Kong for a long time*. Recently, Donald Tsang as a Chief Executive candidate mentioned this in his election platform. saying that he would "expand wireless broadband facilities in public areas." PCCW Wifi announced its plans for city-wide coverage, but open space access in the city is still lacking. The key reason is that regulatory changes are necessary to allow operators to provide public services in open space. OFTA should immediately initiate a fast-track consultation to open up the provision of Wifi or WIMAX services in open space, and make sure that the proper environment for competition can be created and maintained, so that consumers will have choices. This is the key issue that we are facing now.

On the second topic, I have spent many years working in HKITF to improve
software adoption by SMEs. There are people in the industry that claim open-source software (OSS) is the only solution, because it is "cheap and easy to use" (really?). Some even say that one day Hong Kong should follow China to enforce "mandatory" OSS adoption. (This is as if we have to believe that the China Government is going to turn away the multi-billion investment by the likes of Microsoft and Oracle.) This is simple-minded and unrealistic, if not selfishly motivated in most cases.

I have to declare that I have no religion about the issue of software platform. I can live with my Microsoft Windows and Office, but I like my Apple iPod even more. I love free (legal) software because I don't have to pay for it, if it works. And my former company was among the first ISPs here to use Linux-based servers for our service provision, back more than 12 years ago.

But definitely the answer to the question of improving SME software adoption is not about OSS or any other platform. It is about solutions that work for the users, with sufficient support, and at a low cost. You cannot and should not enforce them to go any particular way. Some of those Linux-based solutions that OSS-backers are backing here are indeed as proprietary as it gets compared to others. It is also grossly short-sighted to think or say that Hong Kong "should follow China" in mandating OSS adoption. In many cases, OSS really brings about the same or even higher total cost of ownership to its users.

We as an industry has not explored enough about SaaS (Software as a Service). SaaS may be promoted via industry-specific applications especially those that may be led or induced by government transactions in some particular sectors. But, interoperability with all major platforms remains the key. Not what platform the solution runs on in the back-end or what platforms the application supports in the front end (which must support all major platforms). This is the area in which the government can invest more -- short of simply handing out subsidies for SMEs to adopt.

some of my recent articlres on this: 無線城市應列入數碼策略; 台北力挺電訊發展


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