COVID-19: CIO of the Year?

Source: BSP, MDEC Files

There has certainly not been a shortage of anecdotes on how COVID-19 should be declared the CIO of the year. I have been in many conversations that have variously blamed or credited the pandemic as being the single most significant event that has got organisations scrambling to rethink business models and accelerate their digital transformation – something that had previously been at the back of the mind, now pushed to the forefront of every business decision.

The old adage – necessity is the mother of invention – seems more apt than ever, as the world starts to reconfigure its approach to work, education, entertainment and, more fundamentally, well-being. Businesses have begun experimenting with previously untested methods and mechanisms – and this in turn opened the floodgates to accessing digital tools for solutions. Beyond business operations and Work-From-Home initiatives, it has expanded to on-demand food and services, telemedicine and online financial services.

As the dust settles after COVID-19, questions will arise as to how businesses and the workforce will bounce back into the new normal. In fact, the first question to arise will be what the new normal looks like.

For organisations that have boxed themselves in with operations-as-usual at the expense of digitalising their business and long-term resilience, the current pandemic is a bolt from the future. Businesses that have shifted to digital platforms will better mitigate the effect of the outbreak and will more likely ensure smooth operations immediately after the MCO and over the long term.

Remote Working

A remote workforce is no longer a novelty. In May 2018, Zug, Switzerland service office provider, IWG, found that 70% of professionals worldwide are already working remotely.

While working from home is seen as advantageous by many employees, on the contrary, companies may lack the technological infrastructure to run without disrupting operations. Continued success not only rests on the ability to pivot processes but also company cultures. In China, when the government encouraged millions to remain at home, Chinese companies could immediately adapt due to technological capabilities. Even so, company cultures were simply not ready, resulting in other unexpected social and mental health issues.

In Malaysia, as the gig economy continues to gain momentum, employers will have to reassess rigid work policies that would have been crafted in times when work was centralised. In the interest of long-term effectiveness, even organisations that revert to pre-COVID-19 work practices must transform so they are prepared for a whole new environment.

Innovations in Telehealth, Telemedicine

One of the first instance of innovation I noticed during the early stages of the pandemic was the CoronaTracker app, created by a team of researchers in Malaysia.

Telehealth and telemedicine are now getting attention as well. The government’s move to quickly adopt technology and transform by developing virtual health advisories and using live chats and webinars is in line with this.  Malaysia’s telemedicine blueprint, crafted in the late 90s, envisioned a time when patients could receive remote healthcare. In the wake of the pandemic, a Malaysian tech startup, DoctorOnCall, has offered a virtual health advisory platform for people to consult doctors amid the coronavirus outbreak. Innovation, being cited as one of the areas of emphasis of Malaysia’s future health care system in the blueprint, is now in full effect.

Moving forward, solutions in telehealth and telemedicine will require the promise of better data management and security. The public also expects platforms for these purposes are designed to protect the safety of all personal data. Internationally, organisations involved in contact tracing apps or devices have ensured all data collected will be stored privately and anonymised on their platforms. Their approach also includes the data being held in trust until requested by relevant local authorities who will, with their respective contact tracing protocols, choose to contact users.

E-Learning

90% of future jobs will require digital literacy. However, the world has fast-forwarded to the future in a matter of weeks. The call for schools, institutions and universities worldwide to instantly begin offering virtual learning options is gaining momentum. Malaysian institutions offering online courses in areas such as cybersecurity, data analytics, coding, artificial intelligence and other digital skills, have received very good response.

Meanwhile, many varsities have shifted to online classes to minimise the spread of infection, said Universiti Malaya’s Academic Enhancement and Leadership Development Centre (ADeC) e-learning Head, Dr Zahiruddin Fitri Abu Hassan.

To ensure effective learning continues, institutions in Malaysia offering online courses include MDEC’s Premier Digital Tech Institutions (PDTIs).

Fundamental challenges prevail in elearning, all of which need to be addressed if Malaysia wishes to accelerate the digital economy. In a recent report by a local newspaper, Professor Dr Abdul Karim Alias, Director of the Centre for Development of Academic Excellence (CDAE), Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) states that there is a dire need for an efficient system to be developed. He stresses on the challenges like the experience and skill of those imparting education online, the readiness of connectivity and devices, as well as resistant mindsets towards adopting technology. This will be the next barrier to break.

Digital Banking Services and Fintech

The population of the unbanked in Malaysia stood at 8% or two million of the country’s 24 million adults, according to Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM)’s Financial Stability and Payment Systems Report 2017. Essentially, they are unserved or underserved.

There has been a rise in fintech activity of late, rightly canvassing to be inclusive. After all, the marketplace will adjust to new realities and fintech is already adapting to these changes since the start of the pandemic. Perhaps, ultimately, the fintech companies who are able to tweak their solutions to solve today’s problems will emerge strong after the crisis, according to Dato’ Ng Wan Peng, COO of MDEC.

Concurrently, the present observation is that digital payment players that service e-commerce platforms have a strong position in this MCO scenario. This is due to the surge of online purchase brought about by millions of Malaysians who are staying at home.

As businesses and consumers turn to digital banking services, traditional financial institutions will be compelled to hasten their digital innovation efforts. Consequently, many traditional banks may seek fintech to bring more inclusive digital banking solutions to the economy. This will, possibly, make the visit to a bank an increasingly rare occurrence.

Recovery with the Digital Economy

We may be bent by COVID-19, but we will not be broken. At a dialogue session organised by Ministry of Finance (MOF) and Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation (MOSTI) recently , discussions focused on engaging our local tech startups and tech funding agencies.  Such efforts from the government and its agencies show strong commitment to continue to work and find ways how it can help mitigate the negative impact of COVID-19 on various communities.

Over the past weeks, the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) has collaborated with various industries and ministries to bring tech assistance to businesses and entrepreneurs whose source of income have been affected by the pandemic and MCO.

In line with the government’s announcement of the People-Centric Economic Stimulus Package (PRIHATIN) and the subsequent enhancements, MDEC launched the #DigitalVsCovid movement to support businesses and consumers by providing a list of e-services, e-learning and e-businesses for their convenience, and to obtain information and benefit from our digital ecosystem

Malaysia may be in the thick of battle, but as a nation, we are prepared to emerge victorious as various efforts are made to accelerate the development of digital tools and solutions and thus, hasten Malaysia’s healing.

#DigitalVsCovid

# LetsBuildTogether

Malaysia: App Innovation in Tough Times

Necessity is said to be the mother of invention. The digital economy, which has been on a winning streak over the last decade or so, is also not exempt. The result is that many techpreneurs are seeing their startups facing tough challenges, and techies are back at the drawing board, thinking up the next big thing.

Still, isn’t it possible that the world is at the crux of a renaissance in innovation?

As people adapt to spending more time indoors, creative solutions for real life problems will come from repurposed home tech laboratories. The Movement Control Order (MCO) has moved many folks online, including the younger tech-savvy entrepreneurs, who are quietly etching out their own, and likely the nation’s digital futures.

Malaysia Leveling Up

In February this year, a team of Malaysian researchers was officially recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for developing a website that provides accurate public information concerning the Covid-19 outbreak. The website, https://www.coronatracker.com, allows the public to keep track of the latest developments on COVID-19, while collecting data for further analysis. 

Malaysian Made Apps To Tide Over the MCO

We can be sure that the CoronaTracker won’t be the only instance of innovation from Malaysia during this pandemic. Data presents a huge opportunity for businesses attempting to solve problems in customer experience, eCommerce and eBanking, and the need for urgent solutions will trigger demand-led innovations, even as the economy looks to all form of assistance to recuperate over the year.

There are more stories of innovativeness in the Malaysian app scene. And in challenging times like these, they may be our next favourite go-to app:

Health is everyone’s primary concern at present – and pilot programme, a Malaysian-developed app has been introduced to help monitor the spread of Covid-19; The app allows users to perform health self-assessment on themselves and their families. Launched on 6 April 2020, it enables the MOH to monitor users’ health condition, and then take immediate action in providing required treatment to those in need. MySejahtera is available in the Galeri Aplikasi Mudah Alih Kerajaan Malaysia (GAMMA), Apple App Store, Google Play Store and the Huawei AppGallery. The MySejahtera app is free and everyone is encouraged to register.

Using digital technology to curtail and control the pandemic in Malaysia, the app is managed by administrators within the Ministry of Health (MOH), with the assistance of National Security Council (NSC) and Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit (Mampu).

Hospitalisation expenses are on the mind of every household head now, and for good reason – Covid-19!

Rare indeed, has an event otherwise seen as force majeure, been covered by insurers. In AXA’s case however, the eMedic plan for hospitalisation has been tweaked so that customers do not have to wait for 30-120 days to use the plan for Covid-19. Purchasing this insurance on the Vsure.life app, the plan will now cover customers regardless of waiting time. The Vsure Malaysian app “brings insurance protection right into the hands of the people, especially to the masses in the M40 & B40 groups”, according to its Malaysian founders Eddy Wong and Jason Ho. 

As we get used to life indoors, wouldn’t it be great to also get our health back on track?  Naluri, which is co-founded by Dr. Jeremy Ting, Dr. Hariyati Shahrima Abdul Majid and Azran Osman-Rani, Naluri is a digital therapeutics solution. It provides professional health and life coaching services, connecting the app’s users to health professionals such as psychologists, dieticians, and fitness coaches. During the MCO period, it is important to keep your mental health as strong as your physical strength. Having access to professional medical support is an important consideration.

Just when the MCO was extended, out came Apple with the news that they are making several premium mobile games free to download during the MCO. This include’s Malaysian developer Kurechii’s brainchild! If knights and dragons can keep you occupied, this is your go-to.

And if not, there are other Malaysian made options; Perhaps Tiny Guardians or Kaigan Games’ SIMULACRA. Aside from these, Ejen Ali: Emergency or Mak Cun’s Adventure may be your pleasure, among many other Malaysian game app creations!

The number of users in the mobile games segment in Malaysia is expected to reach 7.3m by 2024. However, that statistic could increase significantly boosted by the current spike in home-bound customer base. With video games serving as a great motivation to ‘stay at home’, chances of both, demand and supply for games increasing, is pretty good!

Boost is a Malaysian homegrown lifestyle e-wallet app. While the QR scanning function is not going to be Boost’s most used function as people may have temporarily reduced visits to brick-and-mortar stores, “Malaysia’s award-winning homegrown e-wallet with an edge”, can still be used for settling bills and grocery-delivery!  Meanwhile, ringing up those rewards and cashbacks as you pay, is a nice-to-have too.

The Future of Malaysian Apps

So exactly where are our youngsters starting their app creating journeys?

Malaysian teen, Lim Wern Jie confided a few years ago in a local news report, that he had learnt how to develop apps by watching tutorials on YouTube. With 50 app creations to boast of, his most successful application was the Phone Security Alarm, his first iOS-based app that was successfully published on the App Store. It tracks lost phones.

He subsequently caught the attention of MDEC’s #mydigitalmaker programme, which develops future digital makers by exposing Malaysian youths to the fun parts of digital technology – including coding, app development and data analytics. He was then able to be a part of the accelerator sessions held by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Malaysian app creators like Lim Wern Jie are testimony to Malaysia’s creativity “bug” making its way through Malaysia’s youngest minds.

One thing is for sure; regardless of how tough the times are, Malaysians like the team or researchers behind the CoronaTracker, are constantly working in digital spaces, bringing Malaysia the apps we need, when we need it the most.

by Raymond Siva, CMO of MDEC

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