Deep Dive: the critical case for creative disruption in Malaysia

TM One Leap Summit 2019

According to a World Bank report, digitalisation, automation and other 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) trends are already disrupting Malaysia’s economy, resulting in creating a lot of winners but also some losers.

While national confidence has dipped as detailed in the newly-released Merdeka Centre study, the growth of Malaysian digital economy posits a positive lifeline.

On average, the digital economy has grown 9% annually in value-added terms between 2010 to 2016, according to the Department of Statistics Malaysia. This is faster than Malaysia’s overall GDP growth. Indeed, the IDC predicts that by 2022, more than 21% of Malaysia’s GDP will be digitalised against the current level of 18.5%.

While the Malaysian government’s role is to enable rapid digital transformation to counterbalance the vagaries of a fragile global and domestic environment, it also must ensure all segments are helped in transitioning to the new economy.

The report calls for a ‘gentler, softer, and kinder policies’ from the government to enable a smoother, more positive transformative experience. This echoes the words of Malaysia’s Minister of Finance Lim Guan Eng in his keynote speech in early 2019 at the Word Bank HQ in Washington.

“While we embrace the emergence of digital economy, any form disruption must be creative and sustainable to the economy,” added the minister.

These four important policy goals, highlighted in the study, to unlock the full potential of the digital economy in Malaysia are: (i) create a more dynamic digital ecosystem with increased competition; (ii) achieve universal, fast, and inexpensive internet connectivity; (iii) improve human capital through better curricula and life-long learning opportunities; and (iv) safeguard future digital tax revenues.

Industry must take the leading role in kickstarting and amplifying the key moves needed to build a sustainable, future-proof digital nation, according to many commenters.

Echoing this sentiment, Ahmad Taufek Omar, the CEO at the helm of TM ONE, the business digital solutions arm of Telekom Malaysia (TM), said in an earlier interview with me: “As Malaysia, and indeed the world, steps into the watershed year of 2020, the case for positive creative disruption is even more urgent. Possibly many companies have already missed the boat and are on a course to obsolescence.”

Three keys to creatively disrupt your business

As part TM ONE’s role as a potent transformation partner for businesses, the company set out to inspire leadership digitalization thinking to faster, more practical heights.  Its flagship summit in November 2019  – LEAP 2019 – gathered the region’s industry leaders to focus on answering how to best implement a cleaner, integrated transformation strategy while avoiding the pitfalls of complexity.

The answer rests in unlocking the potential of positive creative disruption, which was borne initially as an advertising term during the early 1990s.

Among the keynote speakers invited to Malaysia, former Google UK MD Dan Cobley, who now helps prepare companies for the digital future, urged leaders to dive deeper into the dynamics of creative digital disruption.

Cobley echoed Ahmad Taufek’s warning of companies heading for oblivion by pointing out that the displacement of companies is shrinking. This can be seen by comparing corporate lifespans. “Fortune 500 companies used to fly high for about 60 years in the 1960s, today that lifespan has shrunk to 20 years and could be just 15 years in the next 10 years.

It is often said that digitalisation two faces: it can be seen as a challenge or an opportunity. When you plan your strategy, you need to be able to see both faces at the same time.

Cobley stresses the following message to leaders. “Positive disruption comes from people who most effectively adopt new technology.”

An overview of Cobley’s message in KL laid out detailed case studies, suggests three major considerations that could help kickstart the actual process of creative disruption.

The steps are simple in theory. First, clearly define the problem you want to address. Examples of these could include a customer crisis or a critical internal process.

“Then develop an innovative solution, something enabled by some recent change,” he advised. A successful blueprint of creative disruption is driven by one or more of three factors: a change in or a new technology; and a change in behaviour and expectations of customers.

Lastly, you must get the culture right: Cultivate a motivated team, one which is dedicated to fixing the problem and to pushing the envelope to unprecedented levels.

“To shift an organisation to a disruptive mindset, you must reward people who dare, and not punish those who tried and failed,” Cobley emphasises. Think in the long term: “As leaders, tackle the fear of failure, fail fast and cheap, and learn.”

TM ONE’s Ahmad Taufek agrees that culture is a critical factor underlying a successful transformation. “If the culture of the organisation does not embrace agility, business leaders will find that their digital transformation strategy will falter.”

He recently told me that, “mindsets form just one element within a company culture. Today, it is crucial that we ensure people’s mindsets are primed and ready for the digital journey. Companies, whether big or small, must be ready to change mindsets to stay relevant, and to adapt to the new order of today’s economy.”

Next-Level Partnership

Digital transformation requires agility and speed, he added. “Another very important driver behind a winning transformational strategy is to pick a trusted partner with the right technologies, timely advice and the right talent.”

“In addition to providing our customers with smart solutions, our knowledge-sharing and capability-building with our customers in a longterm partnership has resulted in a strong traction towards the adoption of AI/IoT and Big Data Analytics recently,” said Ahmad Taufek.

“At TM ONE, our role as the enabler of a digital nation is to develop the capabilities of enterprises and the public sector in order to speed the transition into 4th Industrial Revolution,” he also told me recently. “Part of that role includes increasing the adoption of advanced technologies in Malaysia such as IoT, AI, Big Data, blockchain, and cybersecurity.”

In today’s digital economy, collaboration and long term partnerships have also become key, he said, adding that TM ONE has a record of successful collaboration with customers who are on the transformational road. “Collaboration has enabled our customers to transform their business with the help of the right technology partner. I am pleased to say that the relationship between TM ONE and our customers has evolved beyond just a vendor-customer relationship.”

Tipping Point?

Speaking recently with Sudev Bangah, managing director for IDC ASEAN, who pointed out that encouraging signs: “2019 was a point where Digital Transformation took a turn into deeper understanding in the region, and a lot of this was brought upon by the advent of tangible sectorial use cases that benefit organisations. This caused more discussions to occur at the right levels, and as such, IDC sees majority of Asia Pacific organisations at stage 2 (out of 5) of AI adoption.”

To speed up this adoption, Ahmad Taufek’s closing remarks at LEAP 2019 emphasised: “Every disruption pivots on creativity. A new vision, a new insight of how technology can uplift people and their goals onto a more agile, faster path.”

This practical focus on creative disruption is just one catalytic factor needed to fast-track the nation into grasping the digital promise and realise the vision of “Digital Malaysia”, which is indeed TM Group’s key clarion call for 2020.

Looking ahead, the year 2020 will see digital infrastructure come further into the spotlight with the government’s National Fiberisation and Connectivity Plan (NFCP) embrace of fifth generation (5G) connectivity as another major component in enabling emerging technologies such as AI.

“Against the current backdrop of 4IR – and the trends of greater automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies and processes – we want to challenge our partners into self-examining whether we are ready to face the change,” concluded the TM ONE chief.

By Avanti Kumar – former weekly consumer tech & devices review columnist for five years with CNet, The Sun and Sunday Mail in Malaysia. Now independent columnist for various media. Reformed consultant/executive coach.

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