Amplifying Malaysia’s digital vision: National 4IR Policy

4IR Malaysia
Image by World Image | Bigstockphoto

Intending to forge a more integrated path for its socio-economic recovery and development efforts, Malaysia recently unveiled its new national 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) policy.

Presented by two ministers on 1 July 2021 – Dato’ Sri Mustapa Mohamed of the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) in the Prime Minister’s Department and Khairy Jamaluddin of the Science, Technology and Innovation ministry – the 4IR policy seeks to align ministries and government agencies towards generating benefits for the nation through more finely coordinated plans to implement frontier technologies.

The redoubled emphasis on digitalisation as a key economic catalyst for Malaysia to overcome a currently fragile environment, exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19, was initially sounded earlier in the year with the 10-year digital economy blueprint – called MyDigital.

According to the EPU, this new 4IR policy is also in support of Malaysia’s Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 and five-year development plans.

In his speech, Mustapa said the policy comprised four main thrusts for society, business and government, to help people develop 4IR-related knowledge and skillsets, building a nation with connectivity through the development of digital infrastructure, providing regulations that are appropriate for future needs to adapt to technological changes, and accelerating innovation and adoption of 4IR technology.

“These four policy thrusts will guide ministries and agencies in formulating 4IR-related programs and will be implemented based on 16 strategies, 32 national initiatives and 60 sectoral initiatives that have been identified,” he added. 

Meanwhile, minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the government has also identified five core technologies to build local capabilities, namely artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT), cloud computing and big data analytics (BDA).]

“The National 4IR Policy is a testament to the Government’s commitment towards realising the digital revolution,” he explained. 

“The policy is built on a whole-of-nation approach through people-private-public partnerships to address and optimise the challenges and opportunities that the digital age will have on our economy, society and environmental development.”

Early steps

Developmental steps had already been taken by various sectors prior to the announcement of the policy. 

These include Malaysia’s national applied R&D centre MIMOS, which takes a proactive line with technology-related innovation geared to 4IR and the increasing convergence of technologies. 

In addition, MIMOS is a policy advisory for 4IR, and operates a government-driven R&D programme to nurture and commercialise innovative projects in sectors including national security, public safety, healthcare, energy, finance, and agriculture. Recent solutions include real-time supply chain tracking using blockchain, data analytics and machine learning; license plate recognition with the aim of enhancing road safety; off-grid smartphone connectivity; healthcare and medical solutions; smart manufacturing intelligent service platforms, among others.

This work is complemented by research into data security, analytics, IoT and the electrical & electronics (E&E) sector.

Industry reactions

Early insights from industry leaders on the Policy kicked off with TM ONE, the enterprise and public sector digital solutions arm of Telekom Malaysia. 

COVID-19 Malaysia
Ahmad Taufek Omar

Ahmad Taufek Omar, Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer of TM ONE reaffirmed its national mission, which he summarised as: “Enabling digital society, digital business, digital industry and digital Government to serve Malaysians – through our extensive, reliable network infrastructure and connectivity excellence has always been imperative for TM Group as a whole. As the enterprise and public sector business solutions arm of TM, TM ONE is fully committed to helping drive the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) towards realising a Digital Malaysia.”

“Taking the transformation of economic sectors forward will enable digitalisation at all levels of the community – providing enterprise-grade solutions through premium market positioning and investment in new technologies,” he says.

“Development of new enterprise solutions, customised products and services for individuals, businesses and industry will further strengthen our economy and improve our lives in general,” continued Ahmad Taufek. “TM ONE is ready to provide the best and enhanced customer experience with our innovative and reliable solutions towards fulfilling the objectives of the 4IR Framework, MyDIGITAL digital economic blueprint and in supporting widespread quality connectivity for Malaysians nationwide.” 

Catherine Lian

Meanwhile, IBM Malaysia Managing Director Catherine Lian opened with the comment: “The pandemic has accelerated Malaysia’s digital transformation at an unprecedented scale and speed. No doubt that data and digital will continue its expansion throughout business and society in the decade to come.”

“The launch of this policy is timely with more integrated efforts in transforming Malaysia to become one of the major digital economies with the use of emerging technologies such as Hybrid Cloud and AI, and to address gaps in infrastructure, skills and policy.”

“Retraining and reskilling the existing workforce are equally important levers in embracing a better economic future for Malaysia. Supporting continuing development of both local and global tech talent will be key in ensuring we have a workforce fit for the future,” she continued. “Malaysia’s path to successful digital transformation depends on coordinated efforts and effective collaboration as well as a common vision for digital integration. Given the enormity of the task, public-private partnerships will be vital to Malaysia’s digital transformation. Only by working together can we navigate the best route through the river of change ahead,” she adds. “We are eager to see Malaysia push digital transformation forward to benefit the people, public and private sectors.”

Chiew Kok Hin

Another opinion that takes in a wider ecosystem view was shared by Chiew Kok Hin, Chairman of Malaysia Internet Exchange (MyIX), a non for profit organisation and the first neutral Internet Exchange connecting local internet service providers (ISPs) and content providers to exchange internet traffic, who opined: “The Fourth Industrial Revolution is about increasing human productivity, enhanced by advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, robotics and automation augmenting operations; resulting in greater flexibility and leaner processing with companies becoming more agile.”

“With Industry 4.0, production, logistics, and customer services are aligning themselves with digital technology. AI is increasingly taking on more complex tasks and can further optimise production, thus accelerating processes, cutting the number of errors, and reducing costs. Robotics is able to take that information and execute on the instructions,” he said.

Looking ahead, Chiew said: “Ultimately for Industry 4.0 to succeed in Malaysia, it is about the ecosystem and public-private partnerships to make Malaysia more competitive as a nation. The government needs to take a proactive role and allow industry to take it forward.”

“Organisations, particularly manufacturers, need to embrace strategic digital strategies while creating a ‘digital first’ workforce. Employees, in turn, would ultimately need to upskill and reskill to become the ‘workforce of the future’.”

Talent conundrum

One of the 4IR policy’s aims is to increase productivity across the board by a factor of 30% by 2030 compared to 2020 levels, according to the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Economy) Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed.

Another is to be among the top 20 countries in the Global Innovation Index. Of the four main thrusts, fostering 4IR skills requires especial focus as digital transformation is largely about people transformation, a view expressed by many industry commenters in recent years.

Simran Kaur

Simran Kaur, Country Manager of JobStreet commented: “Given the critical role of the manufacturing sector to the Malaysian economy, Industry 4.0 adoption is an urgent requirement to retain competitive advantage, reduce costs, and improve productivity for Malaysian manufacturers, more so in the ‘new norm’.”

“The essence of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is to transform factory-focused operations to a wider competitive strategy via digitisation, combining automation with enterprise business execution by being customer-centric, reinventing production to enable customisation in a mass-production environment, and connecting the entire operations end-to-end.”

She adds that, “As a result, it is critical for employees to have vital skills for the future of work in operations. The workforce would need to upskill (gaining new skills and expertise) and reskill (to take on different or entirely new roles).”

Affirming the need for urgent focus, she also said: “JobStreet foresees that these percentages for ‘digital first’ skills and expertise could increase even more due to rising demand for digital tools and processes. Hence, there is an urgent need for people to upskill themselves with knowledge of digital technologies coupled with digital literacy and transferable skills.”

Fundamentally, a mindset change at individual and national levels is probably the major catalytic driver to lasting and beneficial advancement into the world of 4iR.

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