Dr. Winnie Tang, Honorary Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Hong Kong

 

Recently, Convener of the Executive Council Bernard Charnwut Chan reviewed the city management performance during Typhoon Mangkhut in a local newspaper. He recalled that “the Observatory, the police, other government departments and transportation operators have all released news updates, but we do not have a one-stop platform for people to check the status of bus, MTR, road conditions and public facilities”. Therefore, he believes that “it may be a good time to study how the government can collect and use real-time updates on traffic and other service disruptions.”

I cannot agree with him more.

This year, the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report  advised us to get ready for the dynamic and changing future. The WEF has repeatedly reminded us that the Fourth Industrial Revolution driven by innovative technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and big data, will bring tremendous changes to the world. To survive this dynamic and chaotic transitional period, flexibility and preparation in advance are the key to success. To make this happen, every party in the society, from individuals, enterprises to government, must work together.

In fact, a city well prepared for the future should equip itself with three tiers of data platform to serve the citizens, the business sector and the government respectively.

First – See and know

The first tier of the platform involves collecting and making available via application programming interface (API). Take the Singaporean government as an example. It announced in the middle of this year that a central data platform will be established. On one hand, it will list data of public interest, such as traffic conditions (real-time schedule of bus and MTR, accidents), public health issues, employment information, and more in an API format, and share it with the public, while application developers can make good use of the data. In this way, when an accident such as a subway signal failure occurs, the public can find a solution as soon as possible with the assistance of the mobile application, instead of being delayed by the accident upon arrival at the subway station.

Second – Understand

The second tier of the platform should be an information system for coordinating situation response action using the data platform. The Chicago Marathon that took place in October was an example.

The Chicago Marathon is one of the six World Marathon Majors, with more than 1.7 million participants and spectators. Given that the trail spans 29 jurisdictions, the risks associated with the marathon is quite high. The event organizer therefore used a platform to assemble all relevant information on electronic maps, including constant updates on the location of each runner, data from various government departments and agencies, including data from local and state police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, many voluntary groups, and even thousands of CCTVs throughout the city.

In case of emergency, this information platform immediately becomes a central coordination centre, allowing the commander to understand the whole picture of the situation in order to allocate resources and issue orders. This centralised reporting of coordinated analysis is the second tier of information platform.

Unlike the pure raw data of the first tier, the second tier of platform turns data into smart action.

Third – The top-level view

However, for everyday governing purposes, the need is quite different. In addition to grasping the whole picture of an isolated incident, it is also important to update leaders constantly on topics of public concern, such as housing, transportation, economy and public security. We need a Mayor’s Dashboard in such case.

One of the users of such a mayoral Dashboard is Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles, the USA. It lists the data in four categories, namely:

  1.  Prosperity – is subdivided into three categories: Economic development (such as the number of new jobs); economic opportunity (family rental burden, poverty – the proportion of elderly and children, homeless); and military veterans (employment ratio and industry), this being America.
  2. Livability – includes three aspects: Urban services and sustainable development (such as the ratio of girls and youth participation in sports, working days of repair for street potholes, etc.); water and electricity (such as household daily water consumption, solar power supply); and traffic matters (i.e. traffic accidents, bus punctuality, etc).
  3. Public safety – analyses real-time crime information, including types of cases (violence, theft, drunk driving), display of the cases’ distribution on a map; police and firefighter manpower, helpline response time, ambulance arrival time, and more.
  4. Efficiency – means government efficiency, such as the number of civil servants, number of visitors to the city’s website, urban reserve; and the performance of non-emergency 3-1-1 hotline, and much more.

 

In this way, it is easy to discern which area has improved and which has not yet met the pre-determined standard. Through this third-tier platform, the knowledge gained from data analysis can be applied in city management, allowing decision-making to be more rational, scientific, and convincing.

In this fast-changing world, as we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution, intelligent use of data can stimulate urban innovation and generate rational discussion, promoting smooth governance. Therefore, the government should perfect the infrastructure needed to provide for a three-tier data platform as soon as possible.

Only then will Hong Kong be transformed into a smart city with full “readiness for the future”.

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Winnie Tang

Winnie Tang

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