From the 60s and 70s, Malaysia has moved a long way away from relying primarily on agriculture to embracing value added manufacturing during the 80s and 90s to eventually embracing the Internet and all the waves of innovation that followed suit.
First, we went through the dramatic shift of sending mail electronically rather than sending it via foot. Then we made the shift from shopping at brick and mortar stores to shopping online. The age of e-commerce had arrived, and giants like Amazon.com and ebay.com were at the forefront of this movement.
E-commerce offered us millions of choices, and it gave us the liberty to make our choice right from the confines of our homes. While that definitely was a great step, the next wave of the Internet made things even better through immersive experiences and by connecting us to the rest of the world through social media.
While these shifts were crucial to the way we live out our lives, recently we’ve been experiencing a new wave—the wave of ‘Digital Disruption’. Digital disruption is used to refer to the process of digitization that cities, startups, businesses and SMEs are actively pursuing. Digital disruption is the umbrella term that can be used to describe startups like Uber and Airbnb, smart cities and also wearables like the Apple watch.
Given that this era refers to the act of digitizing various services and products, it’s relatively the largest transition that we are currently experiencing. And it’s one that Malaysia needs to capitalise on.
Where does Malaysia currently stand in terms of innovation?
What else can we do to ensure that we reap the highest value from the Internet?
These were some of the questions that were pondered upon by Albert Chai (Country Manager of Cisco Malaysia), Abel Cheah (Regional Manager of Teach For Malaysia), and Viren Doshi (CEO & Co-founder of CatchThatBus) at the Driving Digitization for Malaysians panel held on the 30th November. Each panelist spoke about the need to define the future in a way that will allow technology to change the way people work and prosper.
Albert Chai kicked off the discussion by highlighting the context of the discussion along with the overview of where Malaysia currently stands in the scope of things. The Malaysian government has been driving continuous investment in information and communication technology (ICT) through efforts like MSC, Digital Malaysia and even allocating significant funds to the National Budget. Much of these efforts are focused on promoting the pervasive use of ICT, generating further demand and transforming key sectors.
In fact, MSC projects have contributed more than RM295billion (US$67.60 billion) in revenue to the Malaysian economy, so far and have created more than 147,000 jobs. Such initiatives have definitely helped Malaysia in securing the 18th spot in the World Economic Forums’ Global Competitive Index 2015-2016. The index essentially measures the productivity, economy and the prosperity of a nation through 114 indicators that are grouped into 12 different indexes.
While Malaysia’s ranking in the top 20 most competitive economies is commendable, it did score significantly less in technology readiness and higher education and training. Those two sectors were essentially the underlying themes of the discussion.
Abel Cheah is the regional manager of Teach For Malaysia (TFM), a non-profit organization that aims to address education inequity in Malaysia, and he highlighted that statistically 45% of Malaysians are between the ages of 0 and early 20s. This essentially makes students the largest and most homogeneous group in Malaysia across the board and education a pivotal aspect to the success of the digital disruption movement in Malaysia.
In regards to education, he feels that it can’t just be improved by providing students with more access to technology as many of them especially in semi-rural areas have smartphones. In fact, most of them at least have access to netbooks. He believes that it can be improved by equipping the faculty to better implement technology for the purposes of education and to empower them to utilize the best tools while inspiring students to aim bigger.
Technology in essence is democratising the process of learning by providing similar opportunities to both urban and rural kids. By bridging this gap, we provide more and if not equal privileges to students in rural and semi-rural areas that they can in turn use to innovate.
In fact, some schools have access to Internet in classrooms and some of their teachers even use classroom management tools that parents can see. Students can access YouTube to learn particular skills and simple tech-based platforms provide them with the option of voicing out their concerns and opinions.
However, the gaps are still wide and there’s a long way to go, as many teachers are both unaware and ill equipped to make use of proper technology.
Personally, I feel that although much is being done to make the learning process more interactive, students are still being measured by a grading system that’s simply outdated. Given that the current grading system places a greater emphasis on academic standardisation rather than individual performance and ability, I feel that we spend an extraordinary amount of time to find new ways to help students learn subjects that they are naturally not inclined to pursue ever in their lives.
But then again, standards are a necessary evil.
Viren Doshi leads a team of about 40 individuals from 5 different nationalities and different age groups to help connect the many people that travel long distances for work or pleasure through his startup, CatchThatBus.com.
One thing I found very interesting is that majority of his team aren’t from the bus industry per se and that helps them maintain a fresh perspective on industry related problems. It helps his team prioritise the entire user experience without focusing on just one business process and inherently that helps disrupt the old way of doing things in a way.
Given the flexible structure of startups, they are able to bring together people with a digital flare to address problems. To further equip such people, Cisco over the years has garnered a partnership with the government to effectively roll out the Cisco Networking Academy. The academy provides a technology and technical based curriculum to over 2,000 students and helps them develop a skill set that’s more relevant to the industry. This further equips them to drive innovation in their respective industries once they join the workforce.
This also places an imperative responsibility on startups, SMEs, and businesses to embrace creative and innovative ideas from different sectors of industry and to also make use of today’s available technologies like cloud computing and even concepts like the Internet of Things (IoT).
While education, technology and talent is essential to optimising digital disruption, the fact of the matter is that there is a much bigger need to foster partnerships and collaborations between the public sector, non-government organisations and the private sector, so that we can develop holistic solutions to the problems that we are confronted with.
The government definitely plays a crucial role in defining policy, investing in and developing an infrastructure and an ecosystem that’s can fuel on-ground innovation and unite the different sectors of industry. This is also a belief that Cisco holds in that people can essentially live out enriched lives if public agencies, private MNCs, NGOs, startups among others recognise the transformative power that collaboration inherently provides.