How to be smart | Macau Business
Despite the government’s actions and promises in recent years, there is still much to be done to accelerate Macau’s digital development and transform the territory into a smart city – from better formulation of a master plan, updates to infrastructure, culture of local talent and stakeholders.
Technology has been fully integrated into our daily lives, especially over the past two years in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. We can now settle our transactions with electronic wallets, make online requests to different public entities, check the real-time location of buses in the territory via a mobile application, etc. All of this has been partially facilitated by the government’s drive to turn Macau into a smart city – but observers believe much more needs to be done to make this ‘smart’ vision a reality.
In the city’s second five-year plan, covering the period 2021-2025 and published in December, the government aims to use smart technologies (self-monitoring, analysis and reporting technologies) in many areas to “improve its governance and its level of service. , including government affairs, municipal affairs, health, education, elderly care, culture, tourism and transportation. The authorities would also improve data enforcement, as well as data sharing and interconnection between authorities and the community, with the aim of “accelerating the digital development of Macau”, the official document said, adding that more Public bodies would be encouraged to publish their data so that the community could ‘explore the value’.
And this is not the first time that the authorities have made such a promise. Macau’s “smart city” ambition was first affirmed in the first five-year plan for 2016-2020, culminating in the “smart city” partnership framework agreement between the Macau government and the giant Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba Group Holding Ltd in 2017. The pact was divided into two phases. The first stage, between 2017 and June 2019, involved the construction of a local cloud computing data center and helped the authorities to launch big data service projects to accelerate the city’s development in the fields of tourism, transport management, health services, urban management and training of information technology (IT) professionals. The second phase, between July 2019 and June 2021, was to continue optimizing the city’s IT infrastructure and launch projects in the areas of environmental protection, customs clearance procedures and economic forecasting.
Although, now that we are watching the conclusion of the four-year partnership, the two parties have so far provided few details on the results of their collaboration. The authorities only indicated that the Covid-19 pandemic – which began in early 2020 – imposed challenges on the execution of the agreement, and some of the content of the pact had to be adjusted. Both sides pledged to gradually promote smart city development here “to the extent possible,” the administration said. According to local media, at least MOP 440 million ($55 million) has been spent on the pact, with most capital spending focusing on infrastructure development.
With the help of Alibaba, the administration completed the construction of a cloud computing data center here, as well as improving common access to public services for the public with a single online user account. The Macao Government Tourism Office (MGTO) has also launched three projects, including “Tourism Information Exchange Platform”, “Visitor Information Application” and “Visitor Flow Smart Application” leveraging technologies offered by Alibaba.
Alfred Wong Seng Fat, president of Macau’s Smart City Alliance Association, said authorities should release a detailed report assessing the pact’s implementation over the past four years as soon as possible. “The partnership has delivered results, but there is still a lot to do,” says the academic.
“Macau’s smart city development still lags behind other places in the region despite recent improvements,” he adds, as one of the reasons for the slow progress could be due the absence of a government department in charge of this specific issue.
It is known that the general manager’s office has been tasked with coordinating with different government agencies to communicate with Alibaba for the smart city partnership in the administration led by former general manager Fernando Chui Sai On, through the so-called Smart City Development Group under the Committee of the World Center for Tourism and Leisure chaired by the EC. The group was made up of representatives from different departments and led by officials from the CE office. Nevertheless, the CE office would not continue this coordination function after Ho Iat Seng took over as head of government in December 2019, leaving each public body to follow with the tech giant on its own projects.
“The government should charge an existing department or create a new unit specifically dedicated to Macau’s smart city development,” Wong suggested. “The department should be able to report directly to the chief executive so that it is easier for the department to access information and coordinate with different government agencies under different government secretaries.”
To further accelerate the development of the smart city, the academic suggests that the government should improve public education about it to reduce their worries about data privacy, as the city strictly abides by regulations on the use and data confidentiality. Taking the real name registration system for bus users as an example, he said that part of the community was against it at first, fearing that their personal data would be used and abused in other areas, but they did not know unclear about the rigid requirements for accessing and using this data.
IT and legal infrastructure
Meanwhile, Legislator Ella Lei Cheng I stresses the importance of advancing the legal infrastructure. For example, the e-governance law that came into force in 2020 provides guidelines and a basis for public bodies to manage official communications and document processing electronically, to offer the electronic version of certain types of documents to the public. instead of the paper version, and others .
“Besides the legal infrastructure, it is also of paramount importance for the authorities to improve the telecommunications infrastructure – namely, the quality of telecommunications service such as fees and security, – to support the development of the ‘ smart +’ in many areas”, adds the legislator. . For example, the issuance of 5G licenses has been delayed for years, and the government has only committed to issuing licenses this year after failing last year.
Another lawmaker, Ngan Iek Hang, also questions progress in issuing 5G licenses that could delay the city’s development. “The development of a smart city requires a series of IT infrastructures and the ability to manage a gigantic amount of data. The 5G network, which is known for its high speed and multi-connectivity, is a key for such a development”, he illustrates, also inquiring about the state of progress of the legislation on telecommunications which , according to the government, will pave the way for 5G. licensing process.
Regarding the government’s vision to mainstream smart technology in various fields, the legislator says that a general framework and a master plan are needed. “The idea of smart city development has dispersed into multiple areas, from healthcare and elderly care to governance and municipal affairs, to tourism and culture. It’s hard for the audience to grasp the idea all at once,” he says.
A public consultation exercise on smart city development strategies and key development areas in Macao was undertaken in 2018, but the administration has yet to release the final version of the document.
From Mr. Lei’s perspective, talent cultivation is also crucial for the development of smart cities. “It’s not just about importing professionals from elsewhere to meet demand, but the government should think about how these imported professionals could help train locals who will accelerate development in related fields,” says -she. “Other jurisdictions like Hong Kong have detailed policies and measures to cultivate talent in IT and innovation, but the resources available to Macau authorities in this regard are still not sufficient. “
During a session in the Legislative Assembly late last year, Administration and Justice Secretary Andre Cheong Weng Chon confirmed that authorities would continue to work with Alibaba to facilitate the development of smart cities. Disclosing few details, the official noted that the partnership would particularly strengthen staff training on cloud computing and network security, in which Alibaba would send instructors to teach officials, who would also be sent to Alibaba to gain hands-on experience. first-hand learning.
“This training should also be given to mid- to high-level government officials, who I think may not have the best idea of what a smart city is,” says Wong of the Smart City Alliance Association of Macau. .
In addition to working with Alibaba, the academic adds that the administration should also work with local companies in the sector. “One of the reasons for the development of the smart city is to accelerate industrial diversifications in Macau. Thus, the authorities should work with local companies in the segment and help them develop,” he concludes.