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Information Technology Services Industry in Hong Kong

Overview

  • The information technology (IT) sector of Hong Kong is among the most advanced in the world. According to the World Economic Forum's Networked Readiness Index 2014, Hong Kong ranked second in Asia and 8th globally in terms of readiness to participate in and benefit from IT developments.
  • A key factor contributing to Hong Kong's advance IT status is the top-notch telecommunications infrastructure of the city. Hong Kong leads the Asian region in terms of international call time and the penetration of telephone lines, mobile phones and fax machines. It also operates Asia's largest commercial satellite-earth station.
  • According to a survey conducted by the Vocational Training Council (VTC) in April 2014, 82,973 persons were employed in principal jobs of the IT sector in Hong Kong. 33.2% of them were employed by suppliers of IT products and services, and the remaining 66.8% were employed by IT-user organisations.
  • Thanks to their technical competency, flexibility, and international exposures, many Hong Kong IT service providers are able to compete internationally while delivering effective solutions at home. 

Industry Data

Table: Employment in IT Sector
Table: Employment in IT Sector
Table: Employment in IT Sector
Table: Employment in IT Sector

Range of Services

IT professionals provide services to clients from a wide range of businesses:

Banking and finance

Some of the world's largest and most sophisticated computer applications can be found in Hong Kong's financial sector. The electronic off-platform trading system of the Hong Kong's stock exchange and the inter-bank real time gross settlement (RTGS) system leapfrog many of the similar systems in the world. Technological innovations have brought about not just new types of electronic money, but also new bank-customer relationship through Internet/mobile phone. Online/wireless investment, securities and banking services are gaining increasing popularity.

With online financial transactions becoming increasingly popular, Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing Ltd. (HKEx) upgraded its trading system to AMS/3.8 in December 2011, making a 10-fold improvement to achieve an initial capacity of 30,000 orders per second, and scalable to 150,000 orders per second. Further, HKEx launched the “HKEx Orion” programme in 2012 to improve its core trading platforms, including connectivity networks, a data centre and systems for order matching, market data dissemination and market access services. The new HKEx trading infrastructure is expected to provide investors and service providers with improved price information and faster trade execution.

Shipping, freight forwarding and logistics

Many shipping and freight forwarding companies have been using electronic data interchange (EDI) and Internet-based networks to transmit information and documents among themselves and with traders. Traders are able to track the flows of their goods online. Advanced applications such as global positioning system (GPS) are used in warehousing, transportation, container management and other supply chain related activities. Radio frequency identification (RFID) is used to facilitate warehouse management and supply chain management. The Hong Kong International Airport is considered one of the biggest champions for this technology in facilitating air cargo transportation.

Trading

All import and export shipments involve government documentations. Tradelink provides an electronic platform to facilitate those transactions such as certificates of origin and trade declaration applications. In turn, these documentations could be shared between government departments and different stakeholders along the supply chains. Tradelink also offers a number of value-added transaction management facilities including message checking, matching and validation, message authentication and security, electronic billing and payments, message archiving and audit trail services. Tradelink has built and maintained a customer database of over 54,000 companies.

Transportation

Founded by major transport operators in Hong Kong, Octopus Cards Limited developed and launched Octopus card in 1997 using RFID technology, making it the world’s second contactless smart cards system in the world. Besides being used in paying transportation fee, this micro transactions and clearing system is also being applied in small retail payments.  According to Octopus Cards Limited, there are more than 20 million cards in circulation, about three times the population of Hong Kong.

Wholesale and retailing

Many retail shops have installed bar-coding and point-of-sale (POS) systems for inventory control and sales analysis. Some retail chains have linked up their POS systems with vendors, exchanging purchase orders and invoices. Data mining technology has been applied to analyse the vast amount of information collected by POS to support managerial and marketing decision.

Manufacturing

Manufacturers are automating their ordering, production management, sales and distribution systems. Computer-aided design/manufacturing (CAD/CAM) is also widely used in the manufacturing sector. The collaboration with manufacturing engineering in the use of IT has improved the workflow of operation. The efficient flow of information also allows the growth of discrete manufacturing (digital manufacturing) by which manufacturing process is so flexible that customers can participate in the design, engineering, assembly and production of specific products.

Graphics and multimedia

Hong Kong possesses the best design and multimedia capabilities in the region. Computer graphics has a wide application in various Hong Kong industries. Computer generated images are becoming trends in electronic games, advertising, film production and web design.

Service Providers

According to the 2014 Manpower Survey Report conducted by the Vocational Training Council (VTC), 82,973 persons were employed in principal jobs of the IT sector. IT products and services suppliers were the largest category of IT users, accounting for 33.2% of total IT employment, followed by the wholesale, retail, import/export, restaurants and hotels sector (20.0%), the financing, insurance, real estate and business services sector (18.3%), and the community, social and personal services sector (11.7%).

IT services can be broadly divided into software and hardware services:

Hardware service providers

Most hardware service providers are distributors of large international computer companies, and the largest ones combine service provision with software development and consultancy.

Software service providers

Software service producers in Hong Kong can be grouped into the following categories:

  • Value-added resellers
  • Custom software developers / software houses
  • System and network integrators
  • Electronic data processing departments
  • Information system consultants
  • Hardware manufacturers who also design operating systems

Exports

Table: Exports of Telecommunications, Computer and Information Services
Table: Exports of Telecommunications, Computer and Information Services
Table: Major Export Markets of Telecommunications, Computer and Information Services
Table: Major Export Markets of Telecommunications, Computer and Information Services

i) Software distributors

Local dealers are growing in terms of size, scope of operations and sophistication. Many services that were once performed by computer vendors are now done by dealers. Proprietary software companies also enter overseas markets through local dealers.

ii) Software developer

Many software houses undertake software development projects for Hong Kong companies expanding overseas. They help Hong Kong companies to install the same computer systems which they used in their Hong Kong headquarters in their overseas offices. Hong Kong software firms also export services, such as designing web sites and developing "secure software" for electronic trading, to other Asian countries.

Industry Development and Market Outlook

The development of the IT industry is key to underpinning Hong Kong's position as a world centre of business and has brought innovations to many sectors. Examples include Octopus cards in public transport, the Airport Management System, the Modern Port Management System used in the container ports, the Online and Wireless Banking System in the financial sector, and the Smart ID of the public sector. In return, demand for premier financial and business services has provided a suitable environment to nurture the growth of Hong Kong IT businesses.

In terms of infrastructure, Hong Kong has provided the industry with the Cyberport, a hi-tech multimedia hub costing HK$ 13 billion, under the joint efforts of the public and private sectors. It provides support to the IT industry in different aspects, such as training, organising business matching events, offering financial assistance to nurture companies and entrepreneurs in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector. During 2011-2014, it helped more than 130 start-ups to raise angel funding of more than HK$100 million. As of March 2014, there were 216 companies in Cyberport, increasing 66% year-on-year.

The Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Centre opened in 2008 with an aim to promote the use of electronic product code (EPC) and RFID in different industries, such as manufacturing, logistics and retailing. Through enhancing visibility in the supply chain operations, allowing trading partners to share real-time data with related parties along the global supply chain, this can boost operational efficiency and eventually enhance the economic competitiveness of Hong Kong in the global marketplace.

Financially, the establishment of the Growth Enterprise Market (GEM) in 1999 has provided a fund-raising venue for Hong Kong IT-related companies. As of March 2015, GEM's total market capitalization had reached over HK$ 207 billion, with 210 companies listed.  As the GEM also functions as an exit platform for venture capitalists, it continues to facilitate venture capital firms to consider financing local software startups.

The Hong Kong government's Innovation and Technology Fund (ITF) has provided an alternative source of funding for the IT industry.  As of end-January 2015, the ITF had approved 4,356 funding applications on projects related to IT with a total of HK$ 8.9 billion.

In 2014, Hong Kong topped the Asia Pacific Information and Communications Technology Awards (APICTA) with 3 Winner Awards and 7 Merit Awards. APICTA is an international awards programme which is aimed to stimulate ICT innovation, offer opportunities for business matching between IT innovators and investors, and facilitate technology transfer and application. Participants included 14 economies in the Asia Pacific region like Australia and Singapore.

In the future, Hong Kong businesses should continue to leverage this receptiveness by using Hong Kong as a platform for commercialising and exporting technologies to the world. Recent successful cases include:

  • A subsidiary of Octopus Holdings Limited, the Octopus Knowledge Limited, has been providing consulting services in overseas countries, such as the Netherlands, the UAE and New Zealand, based on its know-how on the operation of smartcard system.
  • Senior Citizen Home Safety Association, which is a Hong Kong social enterprise, has been providing consulting services to Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Macau based on its know-how on the 24-hour Personal Emergency Link Service for elderly and people in need.

The Mainland-Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership (CEPA)

Under Supplement to CEPA, Hong Kong service suppliers (HKSS) in the sector of information technology are allowed to apply for computer information system integration qualification certification in accordance with the provisions of relevant Chinese laws, regulations and rules.  Under Supplement III to CEPA, application for qualification of computer information system integration is assessed with the following criteria:

  1. there will be no assessment on the requirement in respect of professional job title, but related academic qualifications and working experience should be assessed;
  2. business turnover in system integration includes projects undertaken on the mainland and in Hong Kong; and
  3. in respect of enterprises applying for Level 3 Certification, the number of persons involved in software development and system integration should not be less than 40, of which the number of persons holding academic qualification at undergraduate or higher university degree should not be less than 80%. Under the Supplement to CEPA, Hong Kong residents are allowed to take the qualification examination on computing technology and software. Hong Kong IT professionals can render services related to systems integration after they have passed the examination.

With the approval of China’s Ministry of Personnel and Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, an examination centre for the National Computer and Software Technology Qualifications Examination has been set up in Hong Kong. The non-profit Beijing-Hong Kong Academic Exchange Centre is a centre for enrolment of mainland professional qualification examinations, and at the same time, it provides examination consultation services to examinees.

Hong Kong IT professionals who have obtained the required qualification can participate in large-scale IT projects, which usually require system integration services at the senior level of project management. Besides, HKSS with the Computer Information System Integration Qualification Certification are allowed to plan, design and develop computer application system for Chinese mainland companies. In short, Hong Kong IT companies and professionals are expected to benefit from the CEPA arrangements with enhanced access to the mainland market.

Under Supplement IV to CEPA, HKSS are allowed to set up wholly-owned company to provide software implementation and data processing services on the Chinese mainland. Under Supplement IX, HKSS are allowed to provide cross-boundary database services in Guangdong’s Qianhai and Hengqin on a pilot basis. They are also allowed to set up joint venture enterprises on the mainland to provide database services,[1] with the equity share of HKSS not exceeding 50%. Under Supplement X, which will take effect from January 2014, contractual service providers employed by HKSS are allowed to provide software implementation services on the mainland in the mode of natural person movements.

In December 2014, the Agreement between the Mainland and Hong Kong on Achieving Basic Liberalisation of Trade in Services in Guangdong (i.e. the Guangdong Agreement) was signed for implementation from March 2015. Under the Guangdong Agreement, HKSS are granted national treatment to provide computer and related services,[2] such as consultancy services related to the installation of computer hardware, software implementation and data processing services in Guangdong.

As of end-March 2015, 19 Hong Kong services suppliers (HKSS) of computer and IT related services were granted HKSS certificates under CEPA.


[1]  Confined to internet data centre services, store and forward services, and content services only.
[2]  Except network operation services and value-added network services.

Content provided by Picture: Jacqueline Yuen
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