據 中 原 網 頁 資 訊 系 統 及 市 務 部 高 級 副 董 事 何 紹 章 表 示 ， 該 公 司 在 發 展 到 相 當 規 模 時 ， 自 感 對 香 港 社 會 負 有 一 定 的 道 義 責 任 ，故 此 在 全 面 擁 有 資 訊 的 同 時 ， 更 大 量 投 入 資 源 ， 將 樓 市 數 據 歸 納 整 理 並 通 過 國 際 網 絡 免 費 提 供 給 市 民 參 閱 ， 達 到 市 場 公 開 資 訊 、 公 平 交 易 的 地 步 。 憑 此 ， 市 民 被 代 理 誤 導 或 遭 受 無 恥 之 徒 欺 騙 的 機 會 大 為 減 少 。 且 發 展 資 訊 科 技 系 統 ， 亦 充 分 表 明 了 中 原 在 響 應 特 首 推 動 藉 資 訊 科 技 帶 領 香 港 未 來 發 展 的 施 政 方 針。
而 是 次 參 賽 獲 獎 的 中 原 商 業 資 訊 系 統 Centaline Business Information System ， 包 括 了 「 中 原 網 頁 」 、 「 內 聯 網 」 及 快 將 推 出 的 「 自 選 傳 真 服 務 」 Fax - On - Demand 等 。
|優異獎||中原網頁||Centaline Business Information System|
|優異獎(金融業)||優利中國/香港有限公司||First Pacific Bank - Navigator Financial System|
|獲 獎 機 構 來 自 各 行 各 業 ， 其 中 有 大 有 小 ， 包 括 上 市 公 司 及 公 營 機 構 ， 以 其 成 就 及 社 會 影 響 作 為 衡 量 標 準 。|
中 原 發 展 資 訊 科 技 歷 程 ：
自中原向社會免費推出在網上查閱樓市資訊之後，其受歡迎程度與日俱增，短短十二個月內，已處理超越1,100萬次查詢。在普羅大眾認定了中原網頁的可信性之後，我們在發展此類工作的誠意及能力相繼被財經界、資訊科技界及學界所認同。在去年四月，中原網頁即被Microsoft Hong Kong所邀，成為香港首個I.E4.0瀏覽器的Channel Partner，而至今，中原亦是八位Channel Partner中唯一的非傳播媒界或非傳訊本業而能獲得青睞受選為Channel Partner的機構。由此樹立了中原在大眾心目中的高科技地產代理的形象，令中原在云云代理中有一與眾不同的地位，有利中原建立社會地位。
在我們發展網頁內容時所採納的手段均平衡了市民的使用方便程度、技術的多元化及製作時的效率追求。我們開發的網頁由最初的純輸送數據供市民查閱，到97年中已擴展到每天小雜誌形式刊登文字、圖像，適量地採用動畫效果以增加趣味性及推廣音像的網上發表。其中，我們在年初更成為首家本地機構，突破以數碼相機拍攝，再將檔案數據以Netshow技術重整並上網，利用此技術製作的Video-Flat Viewing。由於採用了video streaming方法，檔案數據可以於傳送的同時開啟使用，所以下載時間大大減少，有利於瀏覽者方便使用。而中原網頁選用來製作Video-Flat Viewing的軟件“Vivo Netshow producer”，亦是近來荷李活製片界在網上播放哥斯拉宣傳片同一套軟件，在本地固定網絡尚未全面以高速寬頻光纖連網的今天，Netshow技術的突破令網上廣播提供了快速而畫面清晰度又可接受的方法。再者，中原更是至今為止首家在香港成功突破在播放動畫片段過程中，能在移動畫面上連接及啟動其他動畫片段及網頁的公司，並大量地為各屋苑製作Video。此舉將可讓客戶預先瀏覽各大屋苑的環境、間格及設施，然後重點實地看有興趣的屋苑，減省了舟車勞頓之苦。亦可啟發客戶對有關屋苑的興趣。另一方面客戶事先對有關屋苑有一定認識，可減少營業員用於介紹資料的寶貴時間。
|Characteristics of the Hong Kong
Apart from being a traditional thinking of owning one's sweet home, local Chinese perceive real estate as the best investment vehicle. Given this social norm, many people allocate a majority of their wealth in residential properties rather than bank deposits and financial instruments like bonds and shares. Consequently, property and related industries have been the important pillars of the economy. Changes in property prices have wide implications in the community and therefore are of great concern to many people, irrespective of whether or not they own properties.
The society's quest for property market information and concern about price changes constitute a strong demand for vigorous, true and fair market data. As property transactions are in the order of millions of Hong Kong dollars, there are incentives for the estate agents to selectively provide information to the buyers and sellers to facilitate the closing of a deal, or the unscrupulous ones to cheat their customers for personal gains. This could happen because of the previous lack of readily available comprehensive information in the market. Government departments have not done enough in this respect to safeguard the public’s interest. Information supplied are not only out of date but also lack systematic analysis; making it very difficult to draw conclusions on the latest market conditions.
Centaline's Efforts in Providing Comprehensive Information to the Market
As Centaline Property Agency Ltd. (Centaline) grows, its market share increases. Recently, it has about 20% share of all transactions in the local roperty market, namely two out of ten transactions in the market are handled by us. This achievement has stemmed from our large branch network (over 200 branches) throughout the territory, plus a 1,900 strong sales force constantly contacting buyers and sellers for most up-to-date demand and supply information. This mass behaviour enables Centaline to gain information of over 90% of the properties put up for sale and information of similar percentage of potential buyers and tenants. Hence it would not be an exaggeration to claim that Centaline possess full knowledge of the market.
In the past, market researches and statistical analyses were undertaken by only few estate surveyors. Research results, being very valuable, were available to very few users, including major developers and investors. As a result only a very small group of people in the society could have access to such privilege information, leaving the majority of people uninformed of the market conditions.
In the course of its expansion, Centaline feels that it has a social responsibility to provide the latest information to the market. Instead of holding onto its privilege information for its own interest, Centaline chose to invest large amount of resources in the analysis and provision of comprehensive market information to the society free of charge via the Internet. This aims to promote fair market practices via open information. With the availability of comprehensive up-to-date free information, consumers are in a much better position to protect their own interest by viewing the latest market data and making their own informed judgement. Their chance of being cheated by unscrupulous agents would be greatly reduced.
Apart from giving rise to unscrupulous practices, the lack of market information also leads to uncertainties and hence difficulties in making a decision to buy or sell properties, especially in old developments and remote areas. Difficulties in making decision results in the lack of large number of transactions and hence benchmark for reference in the decision process. This results in the lack of liquidity in the market segment, and therefore difficulties for residents to transfer properties to improve their living conditions. Since the launch of Centaline‘s web site (Centanet.com), there were significant increases in the transaction volume and turnover rates in old areas and estates in which trading had been thin.
Centaline's Push for Open Information to Promote Fair Deal
Starting from October 1996, Centaline launched its web site, Centanet.com, which contains all transactions obtained from the Land Registry everyday during the previous six months: some 120,000 records are available for viewing. On receipt, the raw data are processed, classified according to types, areas and estates, and translated into Chinese with supplementary information added (including Building Age and Gross Area) through the use of an application program developed in-house. These records allow the users to identify market trends and patterns which previously were not available. As there is a time difference of about four weeks between the signing of a sales and purchase agreement and the registration of the document at the Land Registry, information on a transaction registered today is already four to six weeks old. As such, we choose to fill the information vacuum by including all transactions handled by Centaline but pending registration, so that the market will have a more complete picture of the market. In addition, we download all recent transactions handled and published in the Internet by another estate agent, and include them into our web site. It is estimated that they constitute some 40% of all market transactions and can better reflect the latest market condition than the data from official source.
With the presence of Centanet, the Hong Kong property market becomes completely transparent. This is not only useful to property buyers and sellers in making decision to transact, but also directly and indirectly forces estate agents to gradually give up their traditional practice of selectively giving information to customers. From now on, they have to focus on the quality of their service in order to compete for business and survive.
Technical Analysis of Property Market
With the accumulation of about 700,000 transaction records in our database since 1991, we are able to apply technical analysis on the property market for the first time in Hong Kong, and develop price trend charts in the Internet for some 800 estates. These charts are updated daily and supplemented by moving averages using selected time periods.
When these charts were first introduced in last September, many users were sceptical about their usefulness. Following the Asian economic crises in last October, Hong Kong saw property prices in various areas to follow declining trends. They have demonstrated the benefits of following these price trend charts and act according to the alert signals provided in these charts. The community is now interested in learning whether the system will work equally well in identifying the buying opportunities in the future. No doubt, the effectiveness of this system will be subject to stringent scrutiny by the public.
Centanet's Achievements in IT Application
Since the Centanet was launched some 18 months ago, its popularity has been growing. In the last 12 months alone, it handled over 11 million requests by visitors for property transaction records. With the wide acceptance of the Centanet by the community as a reliable source of market information, our efforts and sincerity in providing comprehensive free market information have been recognized by the Financial, IT and academic circles. Because of its popularity, Microsoft Hong Kong invited Centanet to be their first Channel Partner of their Internet Explorer 4.0 browser in April 1997. So far, Centanet is the only channel partner which is neither a mass medium nor one being associated with mass communication. Furthermore, an independent study by a group of MBA students of the University of Science and Technology showed that the Centanet has successfully created a hi-tech image for Centaline Property Agency Limited, significantly differentiating itself from all other estate agency firms as well as enhancing it social status.
Demonstration of Future Geographical Information System in the Internet
In early 1998, Centaline cooperated with the Lands Department and Census and Statistics Department to produce a web-based Geographical Information System (GIS) on three selected districts. The GIS was a graphical representation which integrated three sets of data, namely the Lands Department‘s digital map data set, summary statistics of selected attributes from the 1996 Population By-census supplied by the Census and Statistics Department and property market by the Centanet. Demographic data (such as median age and major occupations) and property market information can be retrieved both vertically for individual localities (namely Street Blocks), and horizontally across localities for comparison purpose by employing thematic mapping techniques.
A prototype of this GIS was demonstrated to the public in February 1998 at Hong Kong‘s first Information Infrastructure Expo, which was co-organized by the OFTA and the Trade Development Council. The general public was very impressed by the level of details and the patterns revealed by the GIS demonstration. The fact that Centanet was one of the eight sponsors demonstrated our support of the Chief Executive’s call for developing Hong Kong through information technology.
Application of Multi-media and Interactive Technologies
In the process of developing our web site features, we are mindful of the need to balance the ease of use, the varieties of technologies employed and the production efficiency. In the beginning, information available for public access was mainly transaction data. By 1997, we added magazine-type articles with suitable graphic, animation, and video to make the contents more lively and entertaining.
For video production, Centaline is the first local company which makes use of Microsoft‘s Netshow technology to enable video flat viewing in the Internet. This entails the use of digital video camera for shooting typical flats and it environment, and Netshow for processing and producing the file for display in the web. As the Netshow adopts the video streaming technique, the video can be displayed while video data are being received. This greatly reduces the time for downloading the video files and the visitor does not have to wait for a long time before the video is displayed. The video files are produced through the use of the “Vivo Netshow Producer” which is the same software used in Hollywood for producing web-based publicity video for the film “Godzilla”. As the broadband network is still not available for Internet use in Hong Kong, Netshow is a breakthrough in reducing the download time for video whilst maintaining an acceptable quality of the video.
Furthermore, Centaline is the first company which successfully attaches hyperlinks to moving targets in a video whereby other videos and web pages can be activated by clicking the moving target.
Centanet is taking action to build up a huge archive of these videos, plus location and floor plans, for numerous estates in Hong Kong. This aims to allow visitors to view large number of properties in the cyberspace without the need to commute between various districts. This would save them a lot of time and efforts in selecting properties of their interest at their leisure, and may stimulate their interest in some properties of which they may otherwise not aware. On the other hand, a potential buyer who have seen our videos would become a more focused buyer and require less explanation and suggestions from our sales persons, thus reducing the time and efforts required to explain the details to the buyers.
Centaline have also made good use of the interactive nature of web publishing. Several opinion surveys have been conducted in the web, each requiring very little effort and time. We have also opened chat rooms and forums in our web site, letting visitors the chance to share their views with one another in the virtual community.
Better Internal Communication Through the Use of Intranet
We have developed our Intranet in-house by using Microsoft‘s powerful Site Server. By producing the Intranet ourselves, we retain the skill sets in-house as well as allowing high flexibility in the development and enhancement of our Intranet. It enable us to produce an inexpensive but easy to use network for our sales persons, majority of whom are not conversant with computer. The Intranet provides great convenience to our sales force in communicating and cooperating with one another, sharing real-time market information, boosting morale among staff and enhancing our competitiveness in the market. The effects have been very satisfactory since the Intranet was in place a month ago.
A Breakthrough in the Fax-on-Demand Service
Centaline is aware of the fact that a large proportion of the local population still does not have Internet access. Hence, we aim to give these people an option by developing our innovative fax-on-demand service (Centafax) , which integrates the features of fax broadcasting and telemarketing. This new service will be launched in August this year.
First of all, we have achieved a breakthrough in the input method. A user does not have to memorize any complicated commands or pre-defined codes. They can retrieve the latest market information free of charge, simply by inputting the name of any building using the twelve buttons currently available on the keypad of a telephone or mobile phone. The computer will recognize the building from the input numeric string through its intelligent program and send the results to the fax machine designated by the user. The software was developed in-house by deploying concepts in natural language and artificial intelligence, and can recognize with high precision the names of some 10,000 buildings. We are now working on the enhancement the system so that it can recognize Putonghua input.
Through our fax-on-demand service, people in Hong Kong have an additional means to acquire the precise set of up-to-date free market information any time of the day. They only need to have access to any telephone and fax machine, which are very common in Hong Kong. Our computer will handle the technical side of the whole process.
As portable computers still are not yet wide used, our Centafax would be a very useful model for any company which need to undertake large scale direct marketing. On the other hand, we expect that, with the possible wide acceptance of Centafax, we will be sending the most relevant information requested by our customers without the need to print mailing materials ourselves. This will reduce the need to produce direct mailing materials, many of which may go to the dustbins directly without being read by the recipients. Hence the Centafax is environmental friendly and would substantially reduce our current cost on direct mailing, which is about HK$1.5 million per month. We expect to maintain a wide exposure with the minimum cost layout, thus achieving the highest efficiency from our marketing expenditures.
In this highly competitive environment and difficult market conditions, Centaline continues to invest substantial amount of resources in information technology applications. We firmly believe that this is the best strategy to enhance our efficiency and competitive advantage in the long term. On the other hand, by making good use the technology, we are providing better marketing information and quality service to customers and the society as a whole. We shall continue to make technology work harder for us.