Friday, January 27, 2006

More IT management

If you can still remember, I wrote about IT management work for EO last year and explained three categories of IT projects handled by EO, and the specific work involved.

There are some recent development in government IT management, mainly outsourcing of services. It makes IT technical work for civil servants easier, but places more responsibilities on IT management.


At the end of 2005, the government introduced the arrangement of Standing Offer Agreement for Quality Professional Services (SOA-QPS) for the provision of professional services to undertake IT projects in the government. This new arrangement replaces the ITPSA arrangement mentioned in my previous article, which expired by the end of 2005. The scope of the new arrangement is expanded. 22 companies are awarded agreements. The number of standing offer agreements increases from 23 under ITPSA to 40 under SOA-QPS. There are four main categories of IT services: Category 1 pre-implementation & independent programme /project management services; Category 2 on-going services; Category 3 implementation & full system development life cycle services; and Category 4 information security services. These in effect cover almost all types of IT projects, and are restricted only by monetary value. I note from the project list that many departments made use of the previous ITPSA for the implementation of small office systems such as upgrading of email systems, small database management systems and eLeave, etc. SOA-QPS will provide them with more flexibility and support. Any manager tasked with an IT project could just invite proposals and tenders under SOA-QPS and assign it to an appropriate contractor.

One point of interest is that the government agreed to opening up the intellectual property in government IT systems developed by contractors for commercial exploitation. I do not know how this works. But it seems the government is willing to let contractors make use of the system design and program codings they developed under a government contract for business with other parties. It will surely encourage better participation and innovation by contractors, but it has far-reaching effects in terms of patent and security.

Central Computer Centre

Another development is that the government has contracted out services of the Central Computer Centre this month. A contract has been awarded to a private company to provide hosting services for a number of government information systems. Under the contract, the service provider is responsible for providing the computer hardware, system software as well as operation, management and support services for operation of the departmental information systems for seven years.

The central information system hosting service at the central computer centre is an attractive arrangement for IT managers. Just imagine that a department is no longer required to have a large computer room with file servers and application servers. Everything is placed in the central computer centre somewhere out of sight, with someone else taking care of the tedious task of hardware, software and data maintenance. Coupled with SOA-QPS under which system development is also contracted out, the IT managers can just simply manage.

However, when the central information system hosting service was first introduced, some departments felt uneasy for an entire IT system to be moved out of their control. The major concerns are system security, communication security, data security and service quality. It seems that these worries have been overcome as even the central computer centre is now in the hand of a private company instead of the government.

It was announced that this outsourcing project will achieve some 20 to 30% savings on the government's total investments on the relevant data centre facilities and operating costs in its seven-year contract period. As professional HR managers, we will surely ask what is the impact to manpower. Yes, same as other outsourcing exercises, there will be surplus staff. The government will launch a Targeted Voluntary Retirement Scheme (TVRS) through which some computer operator grade staff may apply to leave the civil service on voluntary retirement. They may be employed by the contractor, but they will lose their status as civil servant. Haven't we see similar cases in Housing Department and in PCCW?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Rachel Cheung with HK Phil 張緯晴與港樂

Rachel Cheung 現年只有十四歲,今晚(13日)與香港管弦樂團合作演奏貝多芬 Beethoven 的第四鋼琴協奏曲 Piano Concerto No. 4。Rachel 是本港新進鋼琴家,演藝學院高材生,已經獲取多個國際鋼琴比賽獎項。我曾於去年的藝術節聽過她的獨奏音樂會;當時她彈奏了幾首Liszt 的作品,令我非常驚訝。一個小女孩,坐在 9 尺的鋼琴前,身形顯得很細小,但應付 Liszt 的艱深和澎湃的樂曲,卻是綽綽有餘。但今晚演奏貝多芬,我覺得台型和音樂更為匹配。十四歲的女孩子,不消幾年便會長大,到時她的演出又會更上一層樓。

今晚的音樂還有莫扎特 Mozart 的後宮誘逃序曲 Overture: the Abduction from the Seraglio,布烈頓 Britten 的青少年管弦樂隊指南 Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,旺威廉士 Vaughan Williams 的綠袖子幻想曲 Fantasia on Greensleeves 和約翰威廉士 John Williams 的星球大戰組曲。

下午曾再看莫札特傳,其中描述莫札特被委託寫這首德文歌劇後宮誘逃,音樂十分精彩,皇帝想不到怎樣回應,就說太多音符了;莫札特大為光火,就此得罪了皇帝。另一首布烈頓的青少年管弦樂隊指南,聽來好似上音樂課。其實我很喜歡這首樂曲,不論是 Pucell 的主題和布烈頓的賦格曲樂段都好聽,旁白反而有點干擾。但今晚做旁白的林家琦 Kathy Lam,是第四台節目主持,人漂亮聲音又甜美,我都無話可說了。

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A private school in Discovery Bay

I have a bad habit of reading the agenda and papers of LegCo and its committees and panels, probably an occupational hazard from the old days. But it is now leisure reading instead of work, and so the joy is a bit different. The facts contained in the papers are much more accurate than reading the news.

Colleagues who are living in Discovery Bay may be interest to know that PWSC will discuss this Wednesday the construction of a private school in Discovery Bay, which is a project I briefly encountered in 2001 in its early stage. I do not have a clear impression on the geography of Discovery Bay. I just know it is a low density community and is accessed by ferry from Central. The access road in Lantao is a big detour and is not frequently used, and not by public transport.

The project arouses my interest in two areas: one is the source of students and the other is the curriculum. Briefly, the details of the project are as follows:
- It is a non-profit-making private independent school.
- The school will comprise a 30-classroom secondary section and an 18-classroom primary section.
- The cost to the government is $137 million.
- Government will give $137 million to the school sponsor as capital grant for her to design and construct the school.
- The school sponsor will raise another $88 million towards the project.
- The school will offer a curriculum based on the International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes.

With all the discussions going on regarding surplus classes, surplus teachers as well as the intensive reform of education, the first question is why build school and why build there? I have sympathy towards EMB on the dilemma of having a shrinking student population on one hand and insufficient schools on the other. There was a grand promise in the policy address a few years back that we must have full-time education for all primary students. As a result, all AM/PM schools must be converted to full-time primary schools. This target has not been reached and thus more new schools are needed. But in some mature community with an aged population, the number of primary students has decreased. It is a problem of uneven distribution of schools and students, owing to the policy of district-based primary education that primary students should not travel too far from home to go to school.

So why built in Discovery Bay? The explanation is that this private school is not subject to the EMB school place allocation system. It will accept students from all over the territory and operate on a self-financing basis, thus its operation will only have a marginal impact on the supply and demand balance of public sector school places in Islands District, which still has a projected shortfall of school places. The Islands District always puzzles me as a district as the islands are so scattered and inconvenient to access. I think it is merely for expediency that these small clusters of communities are grouped together for district administration purposes. I wonder whether families in other islands will send their children to Discovery Bay to school. The number of children in Discovery Bay may not be sufficient to use such a large school. So, a large transport system (by land or by sea) will have to be set up for the daily commute of more than 1500 students to and from Discovery Bay. Colleagues who are Discovery Bay residents may have a more realistic assessment of the situation.

The second puzzle is the IB curriculum. For that matter, nearly all international schools and most private schools in Hong Kong adopt this internationally recognised curriculum. EMB claims that it will provide more diversity in the school system and give parents more choices in the selection of schools for their children. It will increase the capacity of our school sector in catering to the needs of investors and executives from overseas. Again, I remember there was a grand promise that the present education reform will improve our education system, hopefully to international standard commensurate with the image of Hong Kong as an international city. How come our school curriculum is not developed towards the internationally recognised curriculum? The present arrangement is that we have a local education system, with 9 years free education in public schools, which is greatly criticized by all quarters. At the same time, a small proportion of the population are given the choice of another (probably better) school curriculum offered in self-financed private schools.

I know many colleagues who are sending their children to the private schools because the teaching method is better, the learning environment is better and the children are happier. This is an excellent and sensible choice. But shouldn't all schools be like that? Some of our education administrators are suffering from schizophrenia in developing the best local school curriculum while sending their children to another.

Monday, January 9, 2006

EGRIN consultative committee

A friend informed me about the discussions in the last EGRIN consultative committee meeting held in November. It is important that this modern communication platform be given due attention. Online interactive communication is growing so fast that new approaches are coming up every month. EOs are ahead of many other grades in having such a modern platform for grade members since several years ago. However, being an official site, there is very little interactive discussion there, making the site a notice board rather than a cyber meeting place. It is essential that the situation should be regularly reviewed and improved.

I was told that the meeting focused on three themes: increasing the flow of traffic, finding a niche for the website, and promoting the website and making it more appealing.

There are many ways to increase the traffic, and I have made some suggestions before but to no avail. The topics covered in the meeting included allowing non-work related soft subjects, allowing anonymous posting of messages and encouraging the forming of interest groups. Allowing soft subjects seems to have a negative tone. I wonder what would happen when someone posted such subjects before. There is no policing so far, and what good would it do by allowing such subjects now. This, and the allowing of anonymous entries were implemented some time ago, but there was no improvement in the traffic of the discussion forum whatsoever. The last one depends on the traffic. If no one writes, how could interest groups be set up?

The next big idea was finding a niche, i.e. carry something others do not have. I think EGRIN is a niche in itself. Grade members can only find documents concerning the grade in EGRIN. But it is nice to keep improving the content. One suggestion is interesting: posting a list of EOs by work stream for searching; such as "per" or "fin". I think colleagues are better off just looking up the government telephone directory.

There was a suggestion on redesigning the front page. I think it is important to always give the site a fresh look. For many popular websites, the layout is redesigned regularly. For my own website, I even use 10 different layouts of the front page and rotate them randomly so that visitors always see a different look each time they log in.

The many wonderful suggestions make me think how enthusiastic were the committee members in loading the cart. It would be decorated beautifully and loaded with valuable stuff. However, where is the horse that pulls the cart. It is left behind the cart without much attention paid. I mean the horse is the driving force of pulling the cart out of the ivory tower. The problem with EGRIN is not that it lacks valuable information, nor the website is not attractive. The problem is that grade members do not communicate interactively there. A friend told me that there are very little messages in the interest corner, except some announcements. The discussion forum only contains IHRM daily digests, which should actually be posted in the bulletin board. The DS corner is struggling with a little contribution, and so is the anonymous writer arrangement. This is the issue which the EGRIN consultative committee should try to solve.

One last joke about the suggestions: it was decided that retirees could be provided with the newsletter Keep In Touch on request. Retirees are considered members of the public instead of retired colleagues. But mind you, Keep In Touch has been publicly available for a long time in the CSB website.