Text by: Chloe
I was quite looking forward to this visit as I had heard about the Data Studio on several different occasions and the comments were all positive. I was glad that I finally got to check it out myself!
Although not a very big space, the Data Studio has a futuristic design and impressive visualization displays and exhibits along its wall. Upon entering, the sleek multi-screen wall easily stood out and grabbed the most attention from the group. These displayed data in real-time in the background while our Data Studio consultant Andy gave us an overview and highlighted some featured applications and projects. The data showcased on the screens included real-time update on bus arrivals around Science Park, the number of electric vehicles registered in Hong Kong, sign-ups on the Data Studio portal, and the number of Whatsapp messages sent today.
A relatively new initiative, the Data Studio was launched in Feb 2017 to bring the business and startup community, corporations, and academia together to innovate with big data. In addition to government data, what makes the Data Studio unique is that it also provides data from the private sector in Hong Kong. These data are usually not open, hard to get, and even if they can be obtained, they may not be in formats that are easily accessible and usable.
According to Andy, one big part of their job once they receive the data is to clean them, standardize them, and convert them into json format so they become machine-readable and ready for API applications. Once these data are put in their Data Portal, they then go through a “speed dating” process. Potential data users/developers can sign up for an account for free on the Data Portal, access the data for 90 days, and explore whether a meaningful relationship can be formed. There are 3 areas of focus: transportation (e.g. smart mobility), fintech (e.g. insurance companies), and medical. So far, they have gathered the most data in transportation, and the least data in medical due to data privacy concerns. They have compiled around 300 datasets since launch.
Ultimately, it is about bringing together data providers who have all these data but don’t know what to do with them, and data users/developers who are eager to experiment with the data to test new possibilities. In the end, through collaboration, they add value to the data by creating applications, solutions, and innovations based on them, which benefit both sides.
The Data Studio is still relatively new. Not all the initial speed dates end up in second dates. Andy shared that they are currently working on generating more user cases and examples that can help others understand their work better. A key part of that is to try to build a community around data, which includes organizing events and activities such as Data Training Workshops, Big Data Course, and the Big Datathon at HKUST. One of its latest initiatives is the Data Valley platform, which is an online community for data engineers and data scientists located in Hong Kong to explore and create value for data.
As an instructional librarian, I often get questions about where to find data, especially data about Hong Kong. DATA.GOV.HK is one of the platforms that I often point to students. Although the platform has been improving, it still has a long way to go in terms of the types of data made available on it. It was useful for me to learn about the Data Studio and I will certainly introduce it to students and staff who may find it relevant. I was also happy to learn about its efforts in data skills training and data literacy education. It is true that people need some basic knowledge of programming before they can make use of the data on its Data Portal, and that is why the training and education provided are crucial in enabling more people to access to the data and see the possibilities.
Finally, the Data Studio is a refreshing and much-needed initiative in a city where smart city development has been rather slow. Hong Kong has been ranked 68th in a global smart city index – way behind some of its counterparts in Asia such as Singapore and Tokyo. Although the Government recently released a Smart City Blueprint for Hong Kong, it has been met with some skepticism.
This visit made me more aware of issues around big data in Hong Kong. I hope other mentors and mentees found it useful as well. Lastly, here are a few related resources I gathered for anyone who may be interested:
- Blog post on Data Studio when it was launched
- News coverage on Oriental Daily
- Data Valley Hong Kong Facebook
- Radica* Facebook
- Radica* Twitter
*Radica is the company behind the Data Studio