And the brains behind this "super" team is Raymond Wong, assistant director of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Immigration Department (ImmD).
Currently responsible for formulating and implementing the government agency's overall strategic IT plan, Wong joined Hong Kong's ImmD in 1972.
He was the driving force behind several key IT projects in Hong Kong, including the Identity Card Information System in the 1980's, the Travel Document Information System for the HKSAR passport, the Smart Identity Card Information System, as well as the soon-to-be launched Biometric Passport System.
Wong, who is well-versed in both the British and Chinese law systems, has multiple degrees under his belt, including four law degrees from China and the United Kingdom, two business degrees and one technology degree. He is currently working toward his PhD in Business Administration--through foreign correspondence--from the University of Newcastle in Australia.
In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Wong discusses the importance of IT for the ImmD to provide quality service for its citizens and describes IT as the bloodline, "flowing across every section, sub-division and division of the department".
Through IT, he adds, the ImmD's staff has been transformed into a team of "supermen and superwomen" who can work faster, more effectively and efficiently to serve the public in the territory.
What role does IT play in the Immigration Department's overall management strategy?
A: It's like the blood of the department, flowing across every section, sub-division and division. Without IT, it would be hard for our department to survive and provide quality service to the public.
To what extent would you attribute the department's success to IT?
We implemented the Information Systems Strategy (ISS), which comprises 32 projects totaling US$296 million, in a shrewd building-block approach to meet priority business needs and maximize the synergy between those projects.
The ISS is divided into five stages:
- Phase 1: Smart Identity Card System (SMARTICS)
- Phase 2: Control Point System (CPS)
- Phase 3: Automated Passenger and Vehicle Clearance Systems (e-Channel)
- Phase 4: Application and Investigation Easy System (APPLIES), which handles processes such as visa application, extension of stay, birth, death and marriage
- Phase 5: Data Warehousing-Management Information System (DW-MIS)
Through IT, our department has successfully transformed into a highly-effective and efficient organization in delivering our services at a lower cost. I am proud of being involved in these projects and leading an elite team to accomplish the projects.
What typical issues and challenges does the IT department face?
To provide better public services at lower cost, we use IT as an enabler to transform our staff into 'supermen and superwomen', or, to allow them to work faster, more effective and efficient through IT.
We let the IT systems do the 'donkey (labor-intensive) work' and our professional staff handle the more difficult cases.
How do you measure the success of an IT project?
On top of the ability of delivering a system on time and within budget, wide acceptance of the project by our end-users as well as the public is a crucial factor to measure the success of the IT project.
What technology efforts are in the pipeline, and what do you deem is most important?
Several of the key projects in the pipeline include the implementation of the e-passport, APPLIES, the Electronic Records Program, as well as the Data Warehouse.
These projects are of great importance as they comprise all the essential functions in the ImmD, including issuance of e-passport, visa application, registration of birth, death and marriage. All transactions will be processed online after the implementation, and the workflow engine will automate everything. At the backend, every record will be digitized and made available online, resulting in a paperless environment. Most of the applications including biometric passport and visa applications, can be submitted electronically.
The public can access most of the e-services provided by the ImmD round-the-clock, including the booking of appointments, submission of applications and payment of service fees. They can also check the progress of applications and obtain information provided by the department through these electronic initiatives. Additionally, the public can also communicate with the ImmD offices through the electronic service delivery channels.
Furthermore, with the introduction of APPLIES next year, our case officers can handle paperless files under the more effective workflow environment and processing time will be shortened into days.
The full implementation of more e-services to the citizens (G2C), whereby the general public can apply through self-service, will also save a lot of our counter staff's time and effort. The implementation of e-Brain, a form of artificial intelligence, will also help us deal with more straightforward cases.
When did the ImmiD start offering e-services?
The embryonic stage of our e-services commenced in 1996 when our departmental home page provided information to the public online. Since December 2000, we have participated in the Electronic Service Delivery (ESD) scheme to facilitate members of the public with access to online immigration services. Over 80 percent of the appointment booking of our New Identity Card Issuing Offices are now done online.
In addition, we have taken up the responsibility for maintaining the immigration cluster of the GovHK, which is a one-stop portal of the government of the HKSAR. GovHK makes it easier for users to get information and services from the public sector in Hong Kong.
How successful has the department been in its e-government efforts, and how does the department deal with online security risks?
Through our e-government efforts, we have shortened waiting time for customers. For instance, customers no longer have to wait in long queues to make appointments to register their marriage on auspicious days.
The public can also search and retrieve the data they need from our site more quickly.
As for security, all our critical systems are closed systems and are deployed in compliance with the Hong Kong's Government Security Regulations and Guidelines.
The Smart Identity Card Information System was launched in 2003. How has the response been like, and what are some of the privacy and safety measures implemented?
Since its implementation in 2003, we have received more than 1,000 letters of appreciation from Hong Kong residents. The system has brought a revolutionary change to the fabric of our residents' daily lives, and has laid a solid foundation for the delivery of e-government services.
With its implementation, each and every resident will have the opportunity to directly experience the application of advanced IT, thus enhancing the population's awareness of the benefit of such technologies.
Smart identity cardholders can also enjoy a variety of public services through the Internet or by making use of the self-service e-channels for immigration clearance.
In addition, the system has also won five awards from different organizations in recognition of the application of IT and provision of quality services to the public.
To ensure the public has adequate privacy and safety, we have conducted privacy impact assessment, security audit and privacy audit on our systems.
Some countries are moving toward biometric passports. Has Hong Kong rolled out e-passports, and what is being done to counter security and privacy risks?
No, but we will start issuing e-passports very soon--in early 2007. Hong Kong's e-passport will contain a contactless chip in accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recommendations for global interoperability.
Personalized data will be secured on the chips by employing Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) technology, such as digital signature for further enhancing the security level.
To counter security and privacy risks, the backend system will be protected in our closed mission-critical network and will not be connected directly to other systems.
How would you rank your department, amongst other Asian countries' immigration departments, in terms of the maturity of its IT adoption?
Technologies such as biometrics, smart card, communication, electronic, electrical and mechanic engineering, used in the ISS have transformed the Hong Kong Immigration Department into one of the most mature IT application organization.
However, it would be rather subjective if I were to just give you a ranking. Instead, I think it would be better for the public to rank us. The following are some feedback from our counterparts in recognition of our information and communications technology (ICT) efforts for a more objective view.
David Merz, director of international business relations at Australia's Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, said he was amazed to see how the Hong Kong ImmD can efficiently handle the processing of 320,000 people per day at the borders, by a system relying heavily on facial and fingerprint recognition technology. This equals to approximately the population of the Australian city of Canberra traveling across one border-crossing every day.