The Perfect ‘Storm’: Malaysia as World’s Most Ideal Location for Digital Services

It seems only a moment ago that we were all counting down the seconds to welcome in 2019, closely followed of course by Chinese New Year!

The close of 2018 saw the unveiling of Malaysia’s Industry 4WRD Policy – which has been designed to speed Malaysia into the digital age with an especial focus on our manufacturing sector.

It’s an open secret that our manufacturing sector remains a key economic pillar of Malaysia contributing more than 22 percent of GDP [Gross Domestic Product]. At MDEC, we see this policy as a prelude to even more exciting milestones that lie ahead for Malaysia’s Digital Economy in 2019. 

Investor Confidence

Investor interest in Malaysia’s Digital Economy continues to grow in the areas of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data Analytics (BDA), Internet of Things (IoT) and cybersecurity.

We are seeing a surge of new accelerators and venture builders from abroad, which symbolises a healthy thumbs up for our nation’s startup ecosystem. This surge includes Lumenlabs (Insurtech) and Future Labs (AI and BDA). In fact, in the area of AI alone, Malaysia already is home to a healthy number of 70 startups – and growing rapidly.

As part of Malaysia’s digital transformation strategy, verticals such as healthcare, education and agriculture will be prioritised in order to speed up our rate of digital transformation. In the light of this, the Investment team will be on the lookout for innovative technology companies from abroad to spawn new opportunities in these sectors.

Healthy Confluence

As Head of the Investment team at MDEC, I see a recipe coming to the boil featuring a healthy confluence of vital ingredients: talent, capital and markets right here in Malaysia. In my ongoing engagement with many captains of industry – spanning the banking, oil and gas, consulting, technology and pharmaceuticals sectors, a common thread is emerging. And this is the tremendous power and potential of data. To use what is fast becoming a cliché, data truly is the oil of our rapidly dawning future economy.

As a result of Malaysia’s long-standing recognition as one of the world’s best locations for Digital Services, we are now poised to attract the capital, the markets and capabilities of large multinationals with nimble and innovative startups to generate the perfect “storm.” 

Key Digital Investment Hub

Despite the fragile global economy – with some MNCs revising their business models – Malaysia continues to be an attractive location for expansion of digital services. 

Indeed, another recent exciting instance of Malaysia’s attractiveness is the forthcoming expansion of the Shell Business Service Center, which has been operating in Cyberjaya for almost 20 years. 

By leveraging on Malaysia’s increasingly agile and versatile talent base, Shell has made another strategic move by bringing additional value adding activities to its Malaysia centre. With the transformation of the centre into a high performing competitive business operations hub, Malaysia is now the global hub for the Shell Group.

Powered by big data analytics, Shell’s Cyberjaya hub offers a wide portfolio of services, which goes beyond IT, finance, contracting & procurement functions, and now includes new, unique digital services such as legal, Retail Center of Excellence, Creative Solutions, and regional Human Resource Advisory Operations. Moving ahead, Shell will be providing more services from its Malaysia hub.

This translates into the creation of even more higher value jobs in Malaysia, which is in line with Malaysia’s aspiration to become a key regional digital investment hub.

More to come

As a teaser of things to come, MDEC is currently working on a national A.I. strategy that will provide a powerful platform to fuel this “storm.” 

On a related note, Malaysia’s continuous efforts in improving the ease of doing business is reflected in our international rankings considerably – we jumped 9 spots in World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Report

On top of this, Malaysia’s global talent ranking according to IMD jumped 6 spots in 2018, even ahead of UK, France and Japan.

In closing, I am pleased to share that Malaysia will be playing host once again to the World Congress of Information Technology (WCIT) in 2020. Malaysia first graced the global stage at WCIT 2008 in Kuala Lumpur with luminaries such as Craig Venter, who led the world’s first draft of the human genome, and Bill Gates (who appeared as a holograph).  

Stay tuned for more updates: We are all looking forward to an exciting 2019 – so let me close by wishing everybody a great year ahead! 

Hew Wee Chong is the Vice President for Investment & Industry Development, at Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC)

Talent: Vital Building Block for Malaysia’s Digital Future

In my previous article Outsmarting Smart Robots, I said that there is an increasing consensus that jobs are changing in drastic ways and getting our current and future workforce ready for such changes is critical.

More of the same will no longer be enough. This message has been recently affirmed by LinkedIn, the global professionals platform, with the release of its 2019 Emerging Jobs in Malaysia Report. The study, which analysed millions of unique, user-input job titles from the last five years, noted that the top five emerging jobs were linked to technology. And just as important, the report highlighted the demand for ‘hybrid’ skills.

Developing a rounded skill set, which rests on digital competency, needs to be balanced with other core soft skills such as problem solving, communication, creativity, and a measure of what has been called EQ (emotional quotient).

Our strategy to become a stand out nation in the global digital world is powered by five building blocks. Implementing much of this strategy lies within the remit of Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), a government-owned agency under the Ministry of Communications & Multimedia (KKMM). The KKMM Minister, YB Gobind Singh Deo, first outlined these building blocks towards the end of last year.

These building blocks, which are important drivers of a strong online ecosystem, are: high-quality infrastructure at affordable prices; tech talent development; increased cybersecurity vigilance; development of platforms and enablers such as Digital ID, open data and so on; and the legislation, policies and industry structures to support the growth of the digital economy.

While the building blocks are intended to produce two key outcomes – widespread digital adoption, and the enhanced growth of digital entrepreneurship throughout the nation – building the right talent is the fuel to power our trajectory into the our future.

Deepening the Momentum

When we look at the top five emerging roles highlighted in the LinkedIn report (data scientist; full stack engineer; drive test Engineer; user experience designer; and content writer), we note that the easiest to teach at scale are the technical skills. While advanced digital skills are usually top of mind – such as coding, data analytics, and so forth – the basics are just as important for all of us to adapt to the workplace of the future.

A vital aspect of our nationwide initiatives is inclusivity. Everyone has an opportunity in Malaysia’s digital future. The basic digital skills required to perform daily tasks online need to be shared across underserved communities, the disabled and the elderly.

Our digital future will increasingly come into the hands of the next generation. MDEC has been actively complementing the Ministry of Education’s initiatives to integrate and embed computational thinking, computer science including coding into the national school syllabus. We are also work closely with a premier group of local universities to strengthen tertiary-level Computer Science curricula and teaching.

Meanwhile, the collaborative approach amplifies another public-private-academia movement, MyDigitalMaker, to transform Malaysian youth from digital users to producers in the digital economy. Digital skills both feed and complement the hybrid skill portfolio by developing problem solving and creativity among our young generation. More than half million students are actively participating in digital making activities such as coding, robotics, data analytics and more.

Transformative support to help teachers includes learning tools and further training through an Educator network. Essentially, short courses and certification programmes on programming/coding, embedded systems, digital making and more offered by #mydigitalmaker partners and university-based teacher-training hubs during weekends and school holidays to support educator readiness. To-date more than 30,000 teachers have become part of this network.

MDEC’s efforts to prepare our future workforce includes working with 12 universities to act as local training hubs for teachers who need to get trained in various digital tools. MDEC provides a computational thinking specialist to train the universities and accredit them to be training centres for the teachers. Some of them are also acting as Digital Maker Hubs, which gives students another option outside of their schools to go and explore and learn about various digital tools. There are currently 48 Digital Maker Hubs around the country, some are hosted by private companies and non-governmental organisations.

MDEC and industry partners further develop students with especial digital innovation and creative potential to help them into tertiary studies with Premier Digital Tech Universities and Preferred Digital Tech Polytechnics. The Premier Digital Tech Institutions comprise local universities and polytechnics with high graduate employability in the digital technology sectors and which have the potential to becoming top regional institutions. To date. MDEC and the Ministry of Education have jointly endorsed 8 Premier Digital Tech Universities and 5 Preferred Digital Tech Polytechnics.

Learning as a Way of Life

Before I sign off, I would like to again stress the importance of remaining relevant in the world we have entered. We must together address the 4th Industrial Revolution as an opportunity to enrich our lives through evolving ourselves and our skills by constantly learning.

One of the results of rapidly evolving digital age is that most of us will have different jobs through our lives. Very few will remain in the job for which they were formally trained. I believe that every day is a day for learning something new: An essential sign that we are producing the right talent for a standout digital future in the world will be a mindset that includes adaptability and one that is tuned always to learning.

Sumitra Nair is the Vice President for Talent & Digital Entrepreneurship in MDEC

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