Thursday, October 11, 2012

Realizing IT's full potential


On September 9, with the support of 2,828 voters from the Information Technology sector, I was elected as a member of the 5th Legislative Council of the Hong Kong SAR. I will serve a four-year term—until mid-2016.

Looking back at the election campaign, when I communicated with thousands of IT people, the main topic of concern was our manpower supply: the decreasing quantity and quality of incoming IT talent. This is making it difficult for employers big or small to hire good employees, while many frontline IT people complain that their work goes unrecognized and their career paths are uncertain. Hong Kong's IT potential remained unfulfilled.

Much of this impasse is due to a lack of planning, which has led to market contraction rather than expansion over the past few years. Many in the IT sector favored policies enabling them to enter the China market, but now there's a growing consensus that we must shift our focus back to Hong Kong—by developing partnerships with mainland IT firms to enter the global market, and expanding to other geographical markets besides China.

That's why I plan to set up an industry policy action committee and present suggestions to the Chief Executive within the first 90 days after taking office. These suggestions will address four weaknesses of the local IT industry: our image, talent, market and investment. It will also urge the government to take action to create more quality jobs, better recognition and career paths for our IT professionals.

Setting up the TCB

Who will execute these plans? There's wide support in the IT sector for a Technology and Communications Bureau (TCB) to coordinate IT policy formulation and support development of our IT sector. The need for a dedicated bureau seems obvious—the portfolio of the existing Commerce and Economic Development Bureau is simply too vast. Many other governments maintain a separate policy bureau for technology, but understandably, some Hong Kongers both within and outside the IT sector still have doubts about proposed TCB operations.

For example, what processes will the bureau use to devise its policy strategy and priorities? How do we ensure that both the IT community and the public are duly consulted? Will the Government take advantage of a separate bureau to restrict freedom of expression? This is where my future responsibility lies: to expose the devil in the details, and carefully monitor the Government's actions.

Major issues on the horizon

In addition, another critical issue is the licensing of new free-to-air terrestrial television stations. The plan will enhance freedom of information, spur competition for the broadcasting industry and provide development opportunities for creative minds in Hong Kong. But is still "on hold" at the Executive Committee.

The government should also bring back the discussion of the Copyright (Amendments) Ordinance, whose legislation was withdrawn for more public consultation. The government must mediate conflicts between copyright owners and Netizens over the exemption of criminal liability for parody on copyrighted works, allowing ISPs and datacenter operators to enjoy "safe harbor" protection.

Another important IT-related legislative issue in the coming LegCo term is legislation governing Hong Kong's territory-wide electronic health records (EHR), creating a balance between quality healthcare and respect for patients' privacy.

Many people within the IT industry tell me that, as one of the 70 LegCo members, I should work for not just the interest of our sector, but for all of Hong Kong. I will keep that in mind, and I look forward to ideas, feedback and criticisms from all of you.

We should realize the full potential of the IT industry, and make Hong Kong proud of our IT people, and vice versa.

Charles Mok is a member of the Legislative Council representing the IT Functional Constituency.  He is also the founding chairman of Internet Society Hong Kong. 

Published by Computerworld Hong Kong, October 2012 issue

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