A makeover for HK’s data platform

OGCIO's Nicole Wong (left) and Gavin Wah (right)

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam is announcing her first policy address next week. As IT leaders expect new policies to drive technology development and education, data is expected to play a brand new role in building public services and driving innovations.

Aiming to better facilitate the use of government data for both public and private organizations, the OGCIO is giving a facelift to its data sharing platform DATA.GOV.HK. Expected to be relaunched by the end of 2017, the data sharing platform will provide a brand new look-and-feel, navigation enhancement and new data sets.

OGCIO’s Nicole Wong, assistant system manager, and Gavin Wah, senior system manager, spoke with Computerworld Hong Kong recently to share a glimpse into this upcoming facelift.

Encouraging results

Since its debut in 2015, DATA.GOV.HK has achieved encouraging and positive results, according to Wah. He noted the platform is providing 3,100 unique data sets, which support more than 70 mobile apps.

Despite the controversy around the lack of machine-readable application programming interface (API), Wah said the platform is currently providing more than 1,000 sets of API. He added that the API format was available only a year ago and more than 100,000 downloads were recorded. Two hundred more sets of API are expected to roll out in March next year.

“We find this result encouraging and the response from the public is positive,” he said.

To expand the types of machine-readable data, Wong said the OGCIO has worked with the Lands Department to share data generated by the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and Digital Terrain Model (DTM). GNSS is a satellite navigation system that takes advantage of multiple satellites to provide more precise location identification than GPS. Meanwhile, DTM enables the creation of 3D renderings in surveying.

“These data sets are traditionally used for surveying, civil engineering and urban planning initiatives,” said Wong. “The Lands Department uses them for developing maps, but it recognizes the potential of these data sets for developing other applications, thus agree to share them with the public.”

Other new available data sets within this year include parking vacancy data provided by Energizing Kowloon East and election results data shared by the Registration and Election Office.

To meet the rising interest and demand for public data, particularly in geo-enabled format, Wah said the OGCIO has decided to do a makeover for the DATA.GOV.HK platform.

Map-based visualization

One major change of the revamp will be a map-based presentation and navigation of public data. According to Wong, more than 100 data sets are expected to be geo-tagged for presenting them through a map.

“We are adding geographic coordinates to existing data sets,” she said. “This will allow data to be presented in a map. It will also allow users to select a region in the map and search for data accordingly.”

Wong noted information presented in this map is expected to include locations of public clinics, licensed restaurants, electronic car charging stations, as well as demographics and census data.

“The information selected to be geo-tagged are based on general citizens’ needs,” she said. “By geo-tagging this information, citizens can easily access data related to their neighborhood and businesses are encouraged to develop new services and innovations.”

Map-based visualization is common among many e-government initiatives around the world. In the City of LA, data related to crime, schooling, health and transportations are presented in a map at the GeoHub. New York also presents information of road construction through NYCityMap. In Hangzhou China, a similar map is available via a mobile application. The NationalMap in Australia also presents data from different government agencies across the country within a single map.

Navigation enhancement

In addition to map-based visualization, Wong said another enhancement in the revamp is the navigation. Historical and updated data of the same data set—used to be presented in two different sessions—will be consolidated. The platform will also provide a download queue, allowing users to select a list of data sets before downloading them together. It will also highlight the top five most popular data sets that are being downloaded.

“The new platform is going to have an entirely new look-and-feel,” said Wong. “Users will definitely find it much easier to navigate and access information that’s related to their needs.”

She noted that new data sets are also expected to be added in the new platform, including the vacancies of K1 among different kindergartens from the Education Bureau and latest 2016 by-census data.

Challenges of sharing data

Wah added that the OGCIO continues to encourage more government departments to participate in sharing data. But this is a challenging effort that is shared by many governments around the world, according to Peter Runcie, business leader, future communities, at Data 61 from Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia.

At the recent HKPC’s International Conference on Smart Future: A Global Perspective, Runcie shared the organization’s effort in using data to build a smarter city. Similar to the role of Hong Kong Productivity Council, CSIRO’s Data 61 aims to lead the country’s data innovation initiatives. The group collaborates with different government agencies, universities, industry associations and the private sector to manage the country’s open data platform.

Runcie noted that curating the right combinations of quality, accurate and usable data to bring insights is a constant challenge.

“Data is hosted in different government data operators; we are all still working on getting them to share the data,” he said.

When asked about opening up the platform for the private sector to share their data, Wah noted that the OGCIO preferred to remain status quo. Currently private organizations that would like to share their operational data with the public through DATA.GOV.HK can contact OGCIO to arrange individually. But no automation to enable such sharing.

“We are open for any private organization to contact us to make individual arrangements for sharing their data on the platform,” he said. “But the OGCIO needs to ensure the data quality, and the existing process enables that objective.”

Currently, a few private organizations are contributing to DATA.GOV.HK. They are mainly utilities and public transportation operators, including CLP Power, Hong Kong Electrics, MTR Corporations and Hong Kong Tramways.

Measureable performance for smart city development

Wah noted that “the revamp aligns with the direction of the Chief Executive’s policy address” early this year about building a Common Spatial data Infrastructure (CSDI) and the government’s smart city initiatives.

Moving forward, he noted that OGCIO aims to continue encouraging more government departments to share public data and drive more public involvement and innovation from these data sets.

“Hong Kong’s DATA.GOV.HK is a good starting point to make data available,” noted Runcie.

But he added that the challenges to drive collaboration for data sharing and developing smart city initiatives rely on clear priorities and measurable results. He noted that the Australian government is developing the National Cities Performance Framework to understand and measure the performance of the top 21 cities in the country.

The proposed framework includes 12 contextual indicators to understand the city’s characters and 41 performance indicators. These indicators measure the performance of the city in meeting 18 development objectives and policy priorities.  Runcie added that these indicators are also aligned with the City Deals, initiatives that allow local, state and national governments to collaborate with private sectors for smart city development initiatives.

“Government officials are encouraged to design programs that align with these performance indicators,” he said. “Smart city initiatives must be measureable to be successful.”