Japan to spend billions to promote IT-enabled society

The Japanese government released its “e-Japan Strategy” this July. The thrust of this strategy is to promote Japan as a ubiquitous network society where IT is seamlessly interwoven into all devices used by its citizens.

By implementing a number of government-initiated projects, it is expected that the total value of markets supporting ubiquitous networks — including infrastructure, e-commerce, network services and content as well as information and communications devices and platforms — will reach 59.3 trillion yen (US$540 billion) in 2007 and 87.6 trillion yen in 2010. The latter figure is triple that of 2003.

Why does Japan believe that this ubiquitous network society can serve as a driving force for their economy? There are two reasons. First, Japan’s broadband development has advanced in recent years in terms of the number of subscribers and mobile networks as well as the use of mobile services.

The use of wireless networks — including the application of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags and the use of contactless IC cards — is also generating new forms of network use. All these technological advancements have provided fertile ground for Japan to establish a networked society, with accompanying ease-of-use benefits for their population.

Second, unemployment, the aging population and other social problems facing Japan provides additional motivation to push for this national goal. It is expected that various services using ubiquitous network technology will have extensive application in various fields.

This will not only create new industries and business markets and strengthen Japan’s industrial competitive power, but will also help improve quality-of-life and alleviate social problems for Japanese society.

Looking at the ubiquitous network development in Japan, I believe that moving towards a Ubiquitous Information Society (uIS) is of great importance for Hong Kong. This is not only because we have a similarly well-developed infrastructure, high mobile penetration and technological edge, all of which gives us a solid foundation to support the establishment of a uIS. More importantly, our IT industry is also in need of new direction that will revitalize our industry, because ubiquitous network technologies will be the global trend in the next decade.

To make uIS a realization in Hong Kong, we have to work on the following areas. First, we must expedite the development of high value-added industries, such as digital content, e-commerce, wireless broadband services, RFID-based services, embedded software and digital multimedia broadcasting services. With our information-infrastructure expertise, the emergence of these new industries will further open up new markets, strengthen the competitiveness and create jobs in our sector.

Raising adoption I further suggest that the government invest more in local R&D activities in a way to make Hong Kong become a living ICT lab: a place where innovative and new ICT solutions are created, tested, commercialized and then widely deployed throughout the PRD region.

Second, the wider adoption of ICT presents a perfect opportunity for local businesses to raise their level of efficiency. Despite our robust infrastructure and high Internet penetration rates, use of IT in the business sector stands at a disproportionately low level.

To accelerate the wider adoption of IT in the business sector, more sector-based action plans should be put into place to assist all industries in capturing the potential of IT. In addition, the government should also collaborate with the relevant IT industries to promote the enablement of technologies that can transform individual sectors.

The third area we need to focus on is the issue of IT manpower in Hong Kong. Highly skilled IT manpower is key to the success of uIS. But sadly, the number of students pursuing IT-related programs has declined substantially over the past few years. The decrease in enrollment has not only affected the strategic development of IT departments in universities but, more importantly, can stifle the healthy development of the IT industry.

To improve this situation, the government must to work with schools, universities and IT businesses to implement IT career promotion programs in order to encourage and prepare more young people to enter IT careers. Moreover, it is also important to push for a centralized accreditation system in our profession, to ensure that the status of IT professionals continues to improve.

Last but not least, the proliferation of unsolicited e-mail, privacy issues that revolve around RFID technologies, piracy of copyright materials and security concerns about wireless technologies have awakened us to the massive potential damage of cybercrime upon our industry. These examples clearly illustrate the vulnerabilities of our information society and the growing need of the government to take tougher action to protect citizens against potential information security threats, while shifting towards a ubiquitous network environment.

—With files from Sin Chung-kai, Hong Kong’s Legislative Councillor for IT

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