Anthony McLachlan

A smart Hong Kong needs to invest in smart skill development


In 2013, the UBM’s Future Cities report ranked Hong Kong the smartest city in Asia Pacific. In the past three years other regional centres ranging from Singapore with its Smart Nation vision to Dubai with the Smart Dubai initiative have attracted the interest and investment of the global community.

Recently the Applied Science and Technology Research Institute (ASTRI) urged the Hong Kong government and community to increase investment in research and development to ensure we do not get left behind as a smart city. What can we do to become one of the region’s shining examples of a smart city?

For a smart city to happen, you need a converged communications infrastructure as well as the skills to roll it out and operate it.

From a technical standpoint, a smart city rests on three pillars that allow it to process huge volumes of data and make decisions in real time. These are high-capacity data centers, high-speed big-data analytics, and a secure network to transport and manage all these Exabytes of information.

The Tseung Kwan O Industrial Estate now houses 11 high-tier data centers and another 67,000 square meters of data center capacity is under development, but we must be careful to minimise land use and the emissions of these giant facilities.

Advanced optical compression and transport technologies do exist today that can be combined with smart data center management methods to minimise the carbon footprint of the data centers.

Another important consideration is that the open, interconnected network that forms the nervous system of the city must be highly secure or malicious actors can bring the city to its knees, putting individuals at great risk. Hence the network and the data on it must be extremely well protected to ensure privacy, security, and safety.

For example, an intrusion into either the intelligent ultrasonic sensors in drains or the sensors for monitoring slope conditions to prevent landslides could increase flooding risks and even pose a threat to human life.

Now let’s move on to the ‘software’ needed. By which I mean the highly specialised skill set needed to build and operate the complex technology underlying the smart city.

According to the latest Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management survey, 9 in 10 Hong Kong companies are struggling with skills shortage, and talent shortages are a particularly significant issue for the IT sector, whose skills are needed in all industries.

We need highly skilled experts to impart technical skills and training on smart city technologies to the next generation of Hong Kong talent. And the private sector is the best place to start.

Technology vendors, wireless operators, and other technology companies around the world are investing considerable amounts of time and resource into developing the skills and technology needed to build smart, sustainable cities.

Government and the educational sector should make it an absolute top priority to develop municipal partnerships with the skill hotspots around the world and conduct the equivalent of ‘exchange programs’ by sending local talent to learn on-the-ground in other markets, and getting the world’s experts to come and share their knowledge with the local market.

IT companies should mentor schools and help intelligent young people to access the funding and mentorship needed to make their smart, sustainable ideas a reality.

For example, in Australia Tata Consultancy Services runs a work experience program for girls interested in IT. The Go4IT program provides opportunities for school-going girls to gain hands-on experience, hoping to inspire them to pursue a career in IT.

As someone who is on the road for most of the month I can say with confidence that advanced IT and mobile technology allows people to work normally outside of their offices. We need to create a smart, flexible working environment that allows people to work from outside the office without losing the collaboration essential to sustain the culture of a company.

Offering working conditions such as these will not only offer the flexibility and independence that young people crave, it will also encourage more women to join the industry. If Hong Kong’s IT companies join forces in promoting initiatives such as Women in Comms, that will also inspire more young women and connect them to a network of mentors.

And it’s worth bearing in mind that a smart Hong Kong will bring with it change in the way every company operates, not just those in the IT space. Rather than resisting the change or waiting for it to be forced upon you, CEOs should proactively aim to understand where their companies can fit, to add on, scale up, and identify new products and services to adapt to the challenges of the future.

Most important, every company has the responsibility to nurture the talent that will help them plug into a smart city.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Hongkong Business. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Anthony McLachlan

Anthony McLachlan

Anthony McLachlan is currently Vice President and General Manager, Asia Pacific at Ciena Corporation. He joined the Ciena team in March 2010 through the acquisition of assets from Nortel's Metro Ethernet Networks (MEN) business, where he served as Vice President of Carrier Sales in Asia. In Anthony's 16 years at Nortel, he held several senior management positions across Asia and the United Kingdom.

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