Industry leaders and analysts have posited a generally warm welcome to the apparent re-envisioning of Malaysia’s digital aspirations with MyDIGITAL, a 10-year digital economy blueprint to reboot and implement the nation’s transformation into a technologically-advanced economy by 2030.
Announced 19 February 2021 by Malaysia’s prime minister Tan Sri Dato’ Muhyiddin Haji Mohd Yassin, the blueprint’s ambitious objectives include boosting digital economy contributions to 22.6% of national gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025 and opening up 500,000 new job opportunities.
Essentially MyDIGITAL’s digital economy blueprint (including six thrusts and 22 strategies) is to be implemented in three phases :
- Phase 1 (which starts from 2021 to 2022) focuses on strengthening the foundation to drive digital adoption.
- Phase 2 (2023 to 2025) focuses on inclusive digital transformation among all citizens and businesses
- Phase 3 (2026 to 2030) seeks to place Malaysia as a regional digital content and cybersecurity leader.
These phases underpin a determination to firmly attune Malaysia to the global digital revolution, as pointed out in the prime minister’s speech: “The digital wave continues to impact the global community, reaching a scale that has never been achieved before and has completely changed the lifestyles of most communities all over the world.”
Some of the finer implementations of these phases of this announcement are outlined in the Malaysia Digital Economy Blueprint at the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) website and in the prime minister’s full speech, and a few highlights include:
- Public sector agencies to provide digital transaction facilities as the primary method by 2022
- 875,000 micro, small and medium enterprises encouraged to tap eCommerce
- Catalyse 5,000 startup companies in the next five years
- MyDIGITAL as a mechanism to draw new investments in the digital sector of RM70bn from within and outside Malaysia
- By 2030, the government is targeting the level of productivity of the economic sector to increase by 30% from today’s level
Early industry reactions from multinationals were positive and included SAP Malaysia managing director Hong Kok Cheong who commends the government for the MyDIGITAL initiative, saying that it would enhance the economy and improve the quality of living for Malaysians.
This was echoed by K Raman, managing director, Microsoft Malaysia, who said the blueprint painted a bold digital vision and pointed to several areas in which Microsoft was contributing.
Among these is talent, Raman explained: “We believe that expanded access to digital skills is an important step in accelerating economic recovery. As Malaysia is open for business with its future anchored on a digital-first economy, the digital workforce will be an important driver for the nation’s economic recovery. People are the most important renewable resource that we must continue to invest in, especially job seekers who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Speaking to Disruptive.Asia, IDC ASEAN managing director Sudev Bangah believes the reset and clarification of within myDIGITAL is mostly welcome.
“The Malaysian government appears to be thinking in the right direction, although much of the blueprint is a case of Hobson’s Choice. The move to digitalisation is an inevitability for all.”
However, he points out: “Many of these initiatives – especially those connected to 5G, Cloud infrastructure, artificial intelligence and so on – are certainly overdue. Certain of these initiatives are essentially a re-envisioning; however, the effort to accelerate these is apparent.”
“Other initiatives are almost a given, and I will be more interested in the tactical plans and the partners/agencies they have on the ground to roll this out.”
This article will feature a few of the key themes driving myDIGITAL, starting from the possibly the most crucial part, the bottom: digital infrastructure.
Commenting on internet infrastructure initiatives, Chiew Kok Hin, Chairman of Malaysia Internet Exchange (MyIX), an initiative under the Malaysian Communications Multimedia Commission (MCMC), said: “Malaysia has its strengths in internet infrastructure due to our strategic geographical location, ease of access and relatively lower cost of entry.”
“However, for continued growth of the Digital Economy and even higher than the 22.6% GDP contribution in years ahead, Malaysia would need very stable internet infrastructure that’s robust and reliable as internet usage would inevitably surge in the years ahead for government, businesses and the rakyat (the people).”
Infrastructure together with cloud computing play significant roles as chief enablers, and these are duly recognised within a major component of the MyDIGITAL initiative: an investment of RM21 billion (US$5.45 billion), generated through public-private partnerships, has been earmarked to strengthen the digital ecosystem in the next five years.
Specifically, this investment will be directed towards an optical fibre network to link near 100% of the population in stages, from 7.5 million premises by the end of 2022 to 9 million premises by the end of 2025.
Meanwhile, telcos will spend RM1.65 billion on strengthening the submarine cable network connectivity by 2023. The target under this strategic thrust is for Malaysia to have the highest number of submarine cables landing in SEA by 2025.
However, the concern of some industry commenters are distilled by Chiew’s comments about cabotage: “The elephant in the room is the fact that cabotage exemption for foreign vessels to conduct undersea cable repairs was revoked last November.”
Malaysia’s previous Cabotage Law Exemption allowed non-Malaysian ships to provide timely, faster repairs to sub-sea fibre optic cables.
“This has resulted in undersea cable repairs taking up to 27 days in Malaysia which is way behind other countries in Southeast Asia. As a comparison, undersea cable repairs are said to take 20 days in the Philippines, 19 days in Singapore and 12 days in Vietnam,” he said.
“For Malaysia to attract more submarine cable investments, this cabotage issue needs to be resolved as soon as possible; and specifically that cabotage exemption for foreign vessels to conduct undersea cable repairs to be reinstated soonest possible.”
“Since the Prime Minister has placed on record this strategic thrust as a priority, government ministries and agencies should follow suit and not be a stumbling block for Malaysia to realise its aspirations of being a fully-fledged Digital Economy,” Chiew further added.
Cloud as a hyper-scale enabler
myDIGITAL’s focus on hyper-scale data centres also speaks to the importance of cloud computing, which has seen a pandemic-inspired surge. It is prioritised as a prime enabler of the future of work and society.
The prime minister noted that cloud services “will allow big data, AI (artificial intelligence), IoT (internet of things) and other applications to be utilised to enhance and strengthen government services”.
As infrastructure builders, cloud service providers (CSPs) have a fundamental role as digital transformation enablers. He added that conditional approvals had been given to four CSPs to build hyper-scale data centres in Malaysia over the next five years: Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Telekom Malaysia. The CSPs will invest between RM12 to RM15 billion during the next five years.
Telekom Malaysia’s (TM) managing director and group chief executive officer Imri Mokhtar said: “[myDIGITAL] is a holistic approach encompassing digital connectivity (fibre and 5G), digital infrastructure (cloud and cybersecurity) as well as digital skillsets and talents, towards making life and business easier for Malaysians as a connected nation. TM is ready and excited to play a significant part in this accelerated journey.”
Confirming TM’s support of the initiatives, Imri’s reaction included: “TM supports Jendela [the national plan to provide wider coverage and improved broadband] and is an active and major contributor in the nationwide fiberisation effort to greatly improve broadband coverage and quality. The expansion of the fibre network is not limited to home and business premises but also enables fiberisation of mobile towers to improve the current 4G service quality and, next, to expedite 5G rollout. The current 570,000 km of fibre length across Malaysia is expected to grow rapidly over the next years, in tandem with the Jendela implementation.”
Securely driving transformation forward is among key mission objectives advanced by Ahmad Taufek Omar, executive vice president and CEO of TM ONE, the enterprise digital solutions arm of TM.
“Cloud is the technology foundation that will enable the Government to roll out new innovations, achieve cost efficiency and enhance its public service delivery to all Malaysians,” he pointed out.
“We are committed to complement and enhance the Government’s existing cloud infrastructure with TM ONE Cloud α [Cloud Alpha, TM ONE’s end to end cloud infrastructure and services portfolio]. It is ideally suited to provide the technology and services needed to realise the MyDIGITAL aspirations and propel our country towards a full-fledged Digital Nation by 2030 – and a more digital society, digital business and digital government. This is befitting TM Group’s unique role as the enabler of Digital Malaysia.”
TM ONE has established itself as a full-service cloud and data centre service provider serving public sector and enterprise customers. It currently has seven (7) data centres, with four (4) of them certified by the Uptime Institute as Tier III that provide world-class Cloud services, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and advanced cybersecurity.
myIX’s Chiew added that: “As it stands, a growing number of data centre operators have moved and are moving to Malaysia to enhance data speeds to cater for densely populated cities within the Southeast Asian region. This includes hyper-scale data centres, which are owned and operated by a company it supports, and which offer robust, scalable applications and storage portfolio of services to individuals or businesses.”
“Our country has had some strategic wins from both local and international providers. Foreign players with data centres operating in Malaysia include Alibaba, Hitachi, NTT, Microsoft, IBM and Bridge Data Centres.”
5G back in the spotlight
In January 2020, Malaysia’s 5G intentions suggested much promising potential, and the country held a pioneering spot in 5G rollouts.
A collaborative effort to display 5G technology as a catalytic enabler of digital transformation was on display on Malaysia’s Langkawi archipelago through a 5G testbed that would eventually pave the way for 5G services across the country with multiple benefits, including healthcare, urban safety, agritech, and so forth.
The Telekom Malaysia (TM) group deployed the highest number of 5G use cases among collaborators with 11 use cases demonstrating active use of 5G across smart city, smart tourism, smart agriculture, among others.
While the coming of Covid-19 lockdowns in early 2020, as well as a change of government, placed the nation’s 5G rollout plans back on the drawing board to some extent, the myDIGITAL framework recontextualises 5G as a significant channel to provide faster and broader internet connectivity to Malaysians in the next decade.
The government will spend some RM15 billion (US4 billion) on the country’s 5G network, and the rollout will begin in some areas by the end of this year. Beneficiaries of this push forward include 105,000 jobs, according to the government.
The 5G rollout is another critical aspect if the RM22 billion National Fiberisation and Connectivity Plan said the prime minister, and will help advance the country’s household Internet penetration rate – which has improved from 87% in 2018 to 90.1% in 2019 (according to the national regulator MCMC).
The government estimates that building the network will result in about 105,000 jobs and will also need to be implemented through a special purpose vehicle (SPV), overseen by the government, which will also manage the spectrum. All the licensed telcos will have equal access to the infrastructure to market 5G services to their customers.
IDC’s Sudev Bangah: The 5G use cases cited weren’t the strongest to make the case, but we’ve seen numerous use cases and case studies globally of 5Gimpacting traditional sectors positively. So we hope that the focus for solutions will shift primarily towards industry use cases that help enable these sectors that ultimately drives the digital economy.
SAP’s Hong commented: “The combination of 5G capabilities with latest technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, advanced analytics and blockchain will support the digital transformation of many Malaysian industries.”
He added that the availability of 5G connectivity would re-ignite Industry 4.0 (4IR) adoption among local businesses.
“4IR readiness is an important priority for businesses to embrace cutting-edge digital technologies to realise productivity and efficiency gains,” Hong continued. “It will further accelerate the transformation of local businesses into becoming ‘intelligent enterprises’, which in turn empowers them to deliver superior experiences that drive success in the new economy.”
Industry must lead
To conclude, here is a roundup of different opinions on related topics, beginning with:
Choong-Fook Fong, CEO of global IT security services firm LE Global Services who spoke to carving a smoother recovery path: “myDIGITAL is timely in at a good timing. However, any sudden moves to digitalisation also brings another spectrum of risks. I would welcome more stringent government initiatives to support the cybersecurity aspects of Malaysia’s digital blueprint.”
This is echoed by TM ONE’s Ahmad Taufek who adds: “Through CYDEC [TM ONE’s managed security service] – we help Malaysian enterprises and public sector institutions build digital trust and cybersecurity resilience, by managing five (5) key areas of risk – cybersecurity, compliance, privacy, ethics and social responsibility. These managed security services ensure access to real-time, continuous, predictive cybersecurity, quickly and without complexity, for added assurance.”
Regarding the government’s digitalisation role, Carmelo Ferlito, chief executive and economist at The Centre for Market Education (CME), was one of the voices who told local media that the market could only meet myDIGITAL’s goals. While welcoming the new blueprint’s broad intention, he said that profit opportunities in the markets primarily drive innovation.
Other commenters said the MyDIGITAL initiative might help clarify the various digital economy roles of government agencies, which has recently seen overlapping initiatives.
Government policies should always be investor-friendly if Malaysia is to attract foreign investors continually.
‘[In addition] while governments have a key role in creating enabling policies and frameworks, industry will have to, in the end, do the heavy lifting,’ industry commenters noted.
Indeed, Malaysia’s digital progress so far owes much to its public-private partnership (PPP) platform, a collaborative approach.
Shawn Tan, Group CEO of AI ecosystem pioneer, Skymind, acknowledged that while the blueprint is another effort to transform Malaysia into a digitally-driven, high-income nation, he too noted that: “Businesses and entrepreneurs whether local or foreign must play their part to also be part of the acceleration programme.”
“The business communities can support the government in leading the charge in certain areas, leveraging upon appropriate business strengths. There are a lot of opportunities in Malaysia for businesses to tap in order to enjoy competitive advantage and help grow the country’s economy,” said Tan.
In addition, he pointed to the importance of talent development. “To ensure the blueprint is successful, it is important for the country – together with the tech industry – to find, attract and retain talents to support the growth strategy. The rising demand for digital technology is placing increasing pressure on the talent supply chain. There is much opportunity here for the private and public sectors to collaborate. Industry experience and knowledge can help the government shape and drive the talent development agenda forward.”
“Skymind believes that Malaysia has a great deal of untapped potential, which is essential to building AI talent and an AI ecosystem that can compete with the largely American-dominated software industry,” he added. “A number of talent programmes have been developed by Skymind to ensure that Malaysia will have sufficient talent to make Malaysia an innovation hub in the region.”
myDIGITAL’s enabling initiatives and incentives, if well implemented, will help clarify the road to recovery and to realising Malaysia’s digital nation imperatives.
In conclusion, IDC’s Sudev Bangah turned to strategy three under the second thrust delineated in the MyDIGITAL document: “The intention to update regulatory requirements in relation to the digital economy will help foster innovation and enable a more ‘friendly’ tech environment. If Malaysia gets that aspect right then, I anticipate the country can easily become an ASEAN hub for innovation and digitalisation and will attract new investments, as well as startups to favour Malaysia as a home base.”