Driving the Digital Economy Transformation

I consider myself an IT industry veteran of 30 years. I entered the industry immediately after graduating in Computer Science and Applied Maths from Australia.

Since then, this small-village girl from Pasir Mas has been privy to the exciting journey of the industry, both globally and locally.

And now, more so than ever, the ICT industry continues to be a volatile one that moves at tremendous speed. This stems from the various disruptive technologies which I had touched on in my last commentary.

My career was built in the private sector, eventually moving into managing director positions in companies like Dell and Microsoft. Due to “conditioning”, I cannot help but have private sector blood coursing through my business veins. It’s something that I bring to work with me at MDeC every day.

Sixteen months ago I was asked to assume the CEO role in MDeC. I was both excited and terrified; excited because of the incredible opportunity to serve our beloved country; and terrified because it’s such a huge national responsibility.

Encouraging FDI into Malaysia

Since joining MDeC as CEO, I have often been asked two questions. The first: “Why did I decide to take this position?” It’s an easy answer; “It’s an absolute honour to be able to serve my country.”

The second and perhaps more pertinent questions is “What does MDeC actually do?”

It began in 1996, with the inception of the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) and the promise of building world-class infrastructure across 185,000 acres of land, Cyberjaya being the anchor.

If you visited Cyberjaya back then, it consisted mainly of oil palm trees, broken by a crossroads with a few office buildings on the intersection.

Today Cyberjaya is a thriving city, growing rapidly and organically. From my own office window I can see regional offices for IBM, Experian and DHL. As I look further, I can see hotels, shopping malls, serviced offices, condominiums and a university campus.

Cyberjaya epitomises how the ICT industry has the power to change a nation, Malaysia or any other.

Today, the MSC footprint has expanded to 38 other locations over the country, playing host to 2,600 companies from more than 40 countries, employing 150,000 high-income knowledge workers, 85% being Malaysians.

Attracting foreign direct investment is a big part of “what MDeC does”. We are part of the Investment Promotion Agency (IPA) which rolls up into MIDA. Malaysia is ranked in the top 3 in AT Kearney’s Global Services Location Index for 10 consecutive years, with only China and India ahead of us.

MDeC also follows through to ensure investments made are successful. A great example is Scope, a wholly owned subsidiary of Standard Chartered Bank. They started operations in Malaysia back in 2001. Since then, they’ve grown to a local workforce of over 4,000 people. Last year they announced further investments in Malaysia, setting up a 24/7 “Collective Intelligence and Command Centre” here, for Standard Chartered’s global operations. This is their first in the world and makes these operations a key component of the IT division for the bank globally.

Scicom is another good example. It’s a Malaysian home-grown MSC company that was supported by MDeC since its humble beginnings in 1997. Now it’s listed on Bursa Malaysia, employs close to 2,000 people, servicing over 40 million customers in 90 countries, in 30 different languages.

At the end of the day, it’s also about numbers, though.

Cumulatively, we have been responsible for securing RM285bil worth of investments into the country. In fact last year was a record year of sterling results, with an 11% increase in revenue to RM38.52bil, a huge turnaround from the marginal increase of 3% previously. Meanwhile, total export sales from MSC Malaysia companies also grew to RM13.73bil, a 11% increase from the previous year.

Malaysian success stories on the global stage

In recent weeks, I have come out to stress on the importance of scaling up local companies into global icons. We do have them in our fold – the likes of Silverlake, a renowned solutions provider for the global fintech industry, Fusionex, a multi-award winning Analytics and Big Data company that is based in Malaysia and listed in the London Stock Exchange. Even Jobstreet had its humble beginnings as an MSC company before being acquired.

Have we created our very own Malaysian Microsoft? Perhaps not. But do we have the opportunity to create more of the Silverlakes and the Fusionex? Absolutely yes. And this is a mandate and a national agenda that has to be accelerated.

Last month, we launched our Gain (Global Acceleration Innovation Network) initiative, where we have identified companies that have the potential to be accelerated into major global icons, such as Sedania Innovator and iPay88. Through our newly set-up Silicon Valley office, we connected 21 of such companies to the SV ecosystem of mentors, accelerators and venture capitalists (VCs). It was an eye-opener for me when one of them, whose company is currently looking at a valuation of US$30mil, was in fact valued at US$150mil by one of the VCs! This goes to show that we have gems among our companies.

Hence, there is a critical need to “fast track” local MSC companies to enter and compete in the global marketplace.

I have also come out to say (which may invite some controversy) that Malaysian ICT companies have start-up ceiling syndrome, i.e. many companies stay in start-up mode, unable to scale up. As such, it’s also important that we help smaller local companies with technologies at the heart of today’s digital disruption to scale up. Companies like Speedminer, that delivers sentiment analysis technology and Neuramatix, a pioneering machine learning company.

Digital Malaysia: The National Digital Economy Agenda

In 2011, MDeC was given the mandate to go beyond MSC and look at the Digital Economy of the country in a more holistic manner, towards a Digital Malaysia agenda. This includes driving specific ecosystems for Digital Economy growth such as BDA, IoT, Creative Technologies, eCommerce, Cloud Content & Services. At the same time, we have a strong focus to ensure Digital Economy participation is inclusive under our “Merakyatkan Ekonomi Digital”.

In my next commentary, I will expand on this further how the Digital Malaysia national agenda draws from the opportunities created by the digital world to harness the building blocks already laid by MSC Malaysia.

By Datuk yasmin mahmood, The Star Malaysia, 6 Feb 2016