Wednesday, November 14, 2012

[SCMP] Develop Hong Kong's internet economy to build 'Silicon Harbour'

Charles Mok says our internet economy has a great deal more potential

Hong Kong is a world leader in online connectivity. We have almost double the number of mobile phone subscriptions as people. We enjoy internet speeds and tariffs that consistently rank us at the top of the world.

But buying the latest electronic gadgets isn't enough. Our businesses don't go online as much as other countries and we don't build services for these devices as other countries do. This raises an important question: are we internet innovators or just internet consumers?

On Sunday, I got a glimmer of an answer when I attended the Hong Kong Startup Weekend as part of the Global Entrepreneurship Week, supported by the Kauffman Foundation and Google.

Attendees build a company over a weekend and compete against other companies. Last year's champion was a Hong Kong company called After Ship. It helps online businesses to track packages and improve customer services in one place, regardless of shipping providers.

After Ship plays to Hong Kong's strengths: the traditions of entrepreneurship and a global mindset, updated to the age of social technology.

The rise of the internet is a double blessing for Hong Kong: it empowers its businesses to reach the global marketplace quickly and it empowers its innovators to develop applications and services that operate on a global scale.

So it's no surprise that the internet and Hong Kong are already intertwined.

A Boston Consulting Group report found that the internet economy contributes 5.9 per cent of Hong Kong's gross domestic product, that is, HK$96 billion.

So what's next for Hong Kong? With its impressive infrastructure, business-friendly environment and an open regulatory regime, it is only steps from harnessing the full potential of the internet economy.

There's no reason why we can't build a "Silicon Harbour", just as Taiwan has transformed itself into the "Silicon Island", or New York built a Silicon Valley of its own, called Silicon Alley. But we need to fix a few things.

First, we need more young people with skills in science, technology and engineering that allow them to embark on a challenging and rewarding career in the digital world.

Hong Kong has fallen behind in creating an environment for engineering talent to flourish. How many parents dream of their children becoming computer programmers? Not enough. I am glad that the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer has taken steps to work on professional recognition for the IT profession.

Next, we need to ensure that our laws support innovation and the adoption of digital technology. Our current copyright regime has become outdated. More flexible laws will ensure that the next big innovation can come from Hong Kong. A flexible fair use policy in Singapore contributed S$4.4 billion (HK$27.9 billion) to the private copying technology industries from 2005 to 2010. In Australia, the "copyright exceptions sector" is adding A$182 billion (HK$1.5 trillion) in economic value per annum, or 14 per cent of Australia's GDP.

Third, the government can also empower business owners and entrepreneurs with skills and resources to take advantage of what the internet has to offer. The government can use its convening power to bring them together in physical and virtual spaces so that they can learn best practices from one another. The Startup Weekend is a great example of this kind of space.

The entrepreneurial spirit has fuelled the development of Hong Kong over the past century. Today, the internet promises to drive our economy for many years to come.

We must not be satisfied with just adopting technology throughout our economy; we must also create an environment where our innovators could create applications and services that have a global impact and where all our businesses are online. The internet has given us this opportunity. Let's seize it. Let's build Silicon Harbour.

Published on South China Morning Post, Nov 13, 2012


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