In Hong Kong’s Chief Executive policy address last October, 5G was cited for its high penetration rate – a precursor for a “smart” city. There is a wide variety of uses for the technology: traffic control, manufacturing, shipping management, waste disposal, “distance maintenance support”, construction site surveillance, telemedicine, and even farming. Is the oft-touted smart city finally here? To get some perspective, let’s take a look at the most digitally connected countries in the world, as ranked by the UN’s e-government survey: Denmark, South Korea and Estonia.
Smart countries: Denmark, Estonia and South Korea lead the way
The Danish government has created a digital platform to connect disparate ministries and NGOs, as well as different levels of government to provide health services. Patients and healthcare professionals can find information and communicate securely via a portal. Patients can book appointments there, receive notifications for a visit, and obtain drug prescriptions. A separate website allows patients to manage medical insurance and share that information with the providers. All of these savings, in postage fees, amount to DKK one billion (HK$1.2 billion). Since the pandemic, the integration of the platform allows citizens to have control over their health, according to the deputy director-general of the Health Data Authority, who also claimed that their systems have never been compromised.
South Korea, on the other hand, has issued a long list of systems and apps that capitalise on real-time data. The Transport Advice on Going Anywhere system informs the public and businesses on using different types of public transportation. The General Information Center on Maritime Safety and Security monitors operation data provided by ships and sends out security alerts to relevant vessels. Allbaro, a waste treatment management system, displays waste discharge, transport and treatment reports for an array of audiences. It connects several ministries, the customs and the coast guard. Finally, government officials, food experts and citizens can use the Food Safety Information System to obtain information about food safety: restaurant profiles, licences and permits, and food that has been suspended from sale or reported for uncleanliness.
Estonia’s commitment to a digital society has reaped great returns. Allowing citizens to use a digital signature to engage in government transactions has saved 2% of its GDP. By linking up thousands of databases, users of the government’s integrated system save 820 years of working time annually. Popular services include digital tax filing, filling drug prescriptions, and paying state fees. Registering a business online there is 14 times faster than on paper. In healthcare, paramedics have been using an e-ambulance app to save lives. It displays a patient’s medical records and vital signs before arrival at the scene, crucial in emergencies. The app also pre-registers the patient at a hospital and sends information to the emergency room en route.
The business of being a smart city
Hong Kong’s readiness to become a smart city hinges on one of its greatest beneficiaries: the businesses. They seem digitally connected. According to the latest government survey on technology usage among businesses, 70% of the employees in large companies are using computers, and 84.8% are using the internet at work. While 58.6% of employees in the manufacturing, energy, and waste management industries are using computers, 76.8% are using the internet. The numbers are similar in the transportation, storage and courier industries.
Companies in Hong Kong also show a willingness to conduct transactions online. All of the large businesses have conducted electronic transactions or deliver – and 94.1% of all small businesses. Of the business that have made purchases online, 81.1% settled their payments online as well; of the businesses that have received orders online, 76.9% settled their payments entirely online.
Hong Kongers’ smart healthcare services, however, may be demand-driven. According to the government’s latest survey on its residents’ health, 16.9% of all surveyed had visited a doctor in the past month; 60.6% are 55 years old and over; and 86,200 people were admitted to the hospital two times or more in the past month, more than half of whom were elderly. This is a group that is vulnerable and will demand more smart, real-time healthcare, if there are tech-savvy people around to help them.