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Smart People Are An Essential Ingredient For Any Smart City

Does Hong Kong have what it takes to prepare its people to meet the future?

Cities aren’t shaped by the most important or wealthiest individuals in the public and private sectors.They are influenced by EVERYONE who lives and works in the overall environment.

That is particularly true in the case of smart cities. Certainly, a clear and precise vision and mission are important factors. But so is providing people with the tools they need and the skills to use them as effectively as possible. That’s because the drivers of any successful smart city aren’t just the exciting technologies that form the underlying infrastructure. They include the knowledge and imagination to turn an innovative idea into a tangible and transformative solution!

Education is the key to implementation

The most effective way to deliver knowledge is through education. And the Hong Kong SAR government re-emphasized the importance of education for the city’s future in its 2018 Policy Address. As well as boosting total education expenditure by 28.4%, the administration demonstrated a long-term commitment to learning with a recurrent provision of HK$3.4 billion reserved solely for educational use.1

That lined up with the Government’s 2017 Smart City Blueprint2, which presented a 5-year vision for turning Hong Kong into a world-class smart city. One of the Blueprint’s six pillars, aimed at enhancing the effectiveness of city management and improving the quality of living as well as Hong Kong's attractiveness and sustainability, is “Smart People.” Major themes include enhancing innovation, promoting an entrepreneurial culture as well as nurturing young talent. There are also measures to encourage a highly adaptive population, embrace changes in technology and build a knowledge-based society to support the future development of I&T.

What the public thinks

While the Government has put its education ambitions on the table, the public is critical about what is currently missing. For example, a KPMG study1 on Hong Kong’s future as a smart city revealed that over half (52%) of the business executives polled, and 39% of ordinary citizens, view Hong Kong’s education and research system as worse than other developed countries.

When asked about the kind of actions needed to improve the situation, executives and ordinary citizens agreed that the two most important areas were:

  • Encouraging creativity in the education system (83% of business executives, 51% of citizens)

  • Encouraging continuous learning (58% of business executives, 52% of citizens)

These two action items are essential to the success of the Government’s Smart City Blueprint.

Putting local challenges into a global perspective

Hong Kong is not alone. Other economies have had to execute similar education transformations to cope with macroeconomic factors, such as societal change, advances in technology, shifts in the labour landscape and the subsequent need to create and incubate new talent.

Together with institutions around the globe, SAP has established an ecosystem designed to build the talent-base needed to support a digital future. SAP aims to help individuals develop the skills and capabilities that are essential for success when they enter the job market. And is doing so by providing resources and solutions addressing crucial topics in education, such as encouraging creativity and continuous learning.

Encouraging creativity

In recent years, a number of methodologies aimed at liberating minds and maximizing a student’s learning experience have emerged. One of the most popular is “Design Thinking.”

Based on a human-centric philosophy, Design Thinking adopts a solution-based approach to problem solving. According to the Hasso-Plattner* Institute of Design at Stanford – known as d.school4 – the five stages of Design Thinking include:

  1. Empathize – Uncover the needs behind an issue

  2. Define – Re-frame the problem in human-centric ways

  3. Ideate – Create ideas by brainstorming

  4. Prototype – Adopt a hands-on approach in prototyping

  5. Test – Redefine the problem in concert with users through an iterative process (This is different from the traditional lecture-focused model, because it promotes innovative thinking, teamwork and student responsibility for learning)

The methodology has evolved quickly and is now moving beyond the field of design, becoming widely applied in other disciplines, like business, technology and education. Accordingly, SAP has established a variety of channels to promote the use of Design Thinking in both business and academia. These include openSAP – a Massive Open O­­nline Course platform (MOOC) where users can learn useful lessons, such as how to apply the methodology in software design and development for free.

For individuals who prefer a more structured, in-depth learning experience, SAP Education offers certification courses on Design Thinking methodology, processes and workshop organization/facilitation.

In an academic context, there is SAP University Alliances. This global program enables more than 3,500 educational institutions in over 113 countries to integrate the latest SAP technologies into teaching. It now offers Design Thinking workshops to its members, in conjunction with

Topics discussed include “How to include Design Thinking methods in a curriculum,” as well as “Managing your classroom with design-led projects” and “Designing courses that leverage a multi-disciplinary perspective.” The advantage of gathering academic professionals under one roof is that such a peer-based experience helps participants learn how to incorporate Design Thinking into a classroom setting.

Many institutions worldwide have already leveraged SAP’s resources in design thinking to transform their campuses. In Saudi Arabia, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is developing its next generation mobile apps with the SAP Cloud Platform and Apple iOS.

SAP helped KAUST to align its requirements and maximize the user experience. This involved organizing design thinking workshops to collect student feedback on scenarios, ranging from courses to events and IT requests, all of which can be supported by apps.5

Encouraging continuous learning in practice

In 2002, the Hong Kong government launched the Continuing Education Fund (CEF) to prepare the city’s workforce for the knowledge-based economy. However, despite promotional efforts in recent years, concerns have been raised about its effectiveness.

According to a research brief published by The Hong Kong Legislative Council Secretariat, the participation rate in continuing education dropped from 28.1% in 2005 to 25.4% in 20136. This is in strong contrast to the results observed in other OECD countries, such as Australia (50%), Singapore (55%) and New Zealand (64%).7 The research suggests that, among other things, the government should improve the CEF by increasing subsidy limits and enhancing the variety of registered courses through the inclusion of MOOCs.

Singapore has already done something similar. In 2015, the government launched the SkillsFuture program to incentivize individuals and firms to invest in continuing education. Singaporeans are now eligible for cumulative, non-expirable credits to pay for approved courses. With the advent of MOOCs, citizens can enjoy a 24-hour access to an on-demand experience and learn at their own pace.

Always at the forefront of technology and innovation, SAP has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to launch SAP Skills University Singapore. The collaboration includes SAP SE, the city’s five polytechnics and SkillsFuture Singapore.8 Through this virtual university, individuals who are interested in developing their skills and employability in IT can:

  • Participate in specialized training programs in fields that are in high demand within industries

  • Gain access to the SAP Learning Hub Platform for continuous learning and SAP certification

  • Receive subsidies of up to 90% for courses funded by the government

The Richfield Graduate Institute of Technology in South Africa is another example of promoting continuous learning through SAP technology.9 To meet the tech industry’s growing demand for market-ready graduates, the institute has partnered with SAP to offer its students a range of practical courses from the SAP Learning Hub.

This self-contained, all-inclusive online learning resource provides on-demand access to SAP’s technical product knowledge and expertise. By completing any of the SAP Certifications available on the SAP Learning Hub, Richfield students can enter the workplace with skills that are already in demand.

Putting the pieces together

With Hong Kong’s “Smart People” initiative moving into full swing, stakeholders like policymakers and education institutions need to address the challenges ahead. By filling in the missing pieces, such as encouraging creativity and promoting continuous education, our talented young people will be more comprehensively equipped to embrace changes in technology and build a knowledge-based society that is ready to support the development of the information and technology on which smart cities depend.

SAP Commitment in Higher Education & Research

At SAP, we believe people are at the heart of digital transformation, and together we will make the world run better. With more than 20 years of accumulated experience working in Higher Education & Research, SAP has developed an ecosystem that offers resources and programs to build talent for the digital future, including but not limited to -

  • SAP University Alliances: SAP University Alliances is a global program enabling more than 3,500 educational institutions in over 113 countries to integrate the latest SAP technologies into teaching.Program members have access to a wealth of resources developed in collaboration with faculty, students, and SAP partners and customers around the world.

  • SAP Learning Hub, academic edition: On-demand access to a variety of ready-to-use learning content – in conjunction with hands-on SAP systems practice – educators can leverage the latest SAP technologies to deliver practical and future-oriented education.

  • SAP Young Thinkers: The SAP Young Thinkers Community provides learning material, interdisciplinary workshops and event for teachers and students, as well as access to a network of partners from education, politics, non-profit organizations and businesses. The portfolio offers learning content for coding, data analytics, the Internet of Things and business processes with a clear relevance to day-to-day life. It also has a strong focus on soft skills, such as holistic thinking, creativity, empathy, solution-oriented thinking and collaboration.

  • SAP Next-Gen: The SAP Next-Gen program is a purpose driven innovation university and community for the SAP ecosystem, enabling companies, partners and universities to connect and innovate-with-purpose and support the 17 UN Global Goals for sustainable development.

Learn more customer references at here.

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Listed below is research that was used as supporting material for this article.

  1. Government, H. S. (2018, 10 10). Chapter 4, Professional-led Quality Education. Retrieved from Policy Address 2018:

  2. Government, H. S. (n.d.). Hong Kong Smart City Blueprint. Retrieved from Hong Kong Smart City Blueprint:

  3. (2018). Retrieved from Connecting Hong Kong - Perspectives on our future as Smart City.

  4. Stanford, H. P. (n.d.). An Introduction to Design Thinking Process Guide. Retrieved from

  5. Spinger, U. (2017, 2 27). SAP and Apple Enable the Digital Campus. Retrieved from SAP News Center:

  6. HKSAR, L. C. (2017, 11 17). Continuing education in Hong Kong. Retrieved from Legislative Council Secretariat Research Office:

  7. (2017). Educational Opportunity for All: Overcoming Inequality throughout the Life Course. Retrieved from OECD Publishing, Paris.:

  8. Singapore, S. (2018, 7 27). SAP, SkillsFuture Singapore and Polytechnics sign MoU to launch SAP Skills University Singapore. Retrieved from SkillsFuture Singapore:

  9. IT-Online. (2015, 11 25). SAP Learning Hub gives Richfield students the edge. Retrieved from IT-Online:

* Hasso Plattner is the co-founder of SAP