Geographic information is important infrastructure - EJ Insight



Geographic information is important infrastructure

The Government Chief Information Officer, Wong Chi-kwong, recently said that the Digital Policy Office set up in the middle of this year will encourage government departments to make greater use of information technology and data, and to promote the integration of information among various departments to provide more convenient services to the public while strictly complying with the requirements of personal privacy.

This is an important step in unlocking the value of our data. Statistics Canada, for example, estimated the total value of the country's data, including government and public-private inventories, related software and intellectual property, at between C$157 billion and C$217 billion (HK$899 billion to HK$1,242 billion) in 2018, accounting for more than 10% of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) in the same year.

As the former President of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors, Sr Leung Shou-chun, pointed out in his column in the Hong Kong Economic Journal, the effective use of data requires resources and manpower for "processes such as measurement, collection, filtering, arrangement, storage, distribution and updating". I think in times of economic downturn, this use of resources is likely to be questioned.

Leung's article mentions that in order to build a smart city in Hong Kong, everything needs to be digitised, and "most data is inseparable from geographic information". This is in line with the conventional wisdom in the industry that 80% of data is related to geospatial location.

But can the digitisation of geographic information be measured in terms of monetary value? At present, there is not much research on this, most people cite estimates from the Geospatial Commission of the U.K. that local private companies can generate between £6 billion and £11 billion (about HK$600-110 billion) of economic value from geographic information every year.

However, the difficulty of quantifying monetary units does not indicate that geographic information is of low importance.

Leung points out that the benefits of geographic information digitisation may be hidden in the field of long-term or indirect impact. "On ordinary days, when the wind and drizzle are gentle and the world is peaceful, the public may not be aware of the importance of flood mitigation measures. It is not until the time when heavy rain and floods come that people are shocked to realise the horror of flooding, and the consequence of inadequate infrastructure leading to buildings and property being damaged. By then, they would recognise the value of good infrastructure."

Geographic information is an important infrastructure to prevent natural and man-made disasters, which is why I recommend the government to improve and digitise the information of the underground network of drainage pipes during the epidemic, and ensure that the record is updated to prepare for the next wave of the epidemic. The authorities have also been reminded to consolidate geographically the scattered tree data in Hong Kong so as to systematically monitor the effectiveness of tree conservation and reduce the incidences of tree falling onto people.

To conserve wetlands and mitigate flood hazards which are absolutely indispensable for the Northern Metropolis while building a "Silicon Valley of Hong Kong", geographic information is again playing a vital role.

The conclusion of Leung's article hit the nail on the head: "Digitisation of geographic information is the cornerstone of smart cities, and it is the only way to develop, and it is not appropriate to insist on quantifying its value as a way to undermine the determination to implement it." With such insightful opinions, officials should consider thoroughly.




Dr. Winnie Tang
Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong