The pandemic has transformed Malaysia’s traditional businesses into digital businesses and forced them to go online, leading to rapid growth in the digital economy in 2020.
To give a carefully considered vision and shape to this growth, the government has created the Malaysia Digital Economy Project (MyDIGITAL) which lays the foundation for the country’s transformation into an advanced digital economy. It is designed to pave the way for the country to strategically position itself as a competitive force in this new era for the region and globally.
Fabian Bigar is the Managing Director of the Strategic Change Management Office (SCMO), now officially known as MyDIGITAL Corporation since April 2021. He drives national change management and ensures the successful delivery of MyDIGITAL. Previously, he was Undersecretary for Policy and International Relations in the Ministry of Health, Director of Civil Service Delivery Unit in the Prime Minister’s Department and Director of National Key Economic Area – Health as well as Director of national key results area – Low income households in the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU) under the Prime Minister’s Department.
In an exclusive interview with Mohit Sagar, Group Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief, OpenGov Asia, Fabian Bigar shared in-depth insights into what the Malaysian government intends to do to accelerate and prepare local businesses and society for navigate the rapidly changing digital and technological landscape.
Malaysia’s digital ambitions
Malaysia aims to be a regional leader in the digital economy and achieve inclusive, responsible and sustainable socio-economic development.
MyDIGITAL encapsulates the government’s ambitions to transform Malaysia into a digital and tech-enabled high-income country. The Master Plan is designed to articulate the vision, set the direction, set the strategy and establish milestones to lay the foundation for the growth of the digital economy.
Its three goals are to inspire industry players to become innovators, users and adopters of new business models; harness human capital to thrive in the digital economy and cultivate an integrated ecosystem that enables society to embrace the digital economy.
It has six strategic axes which have been identified and which are supported by 48 national initiatives, 28 sectoral initiatives and 22 strategies. These are driving digital transformation in the public sector; boosting economic competitiveness through digitalization; build an enabling digital infrastructure; train agile and competent digital talents; creating an inclusive digital society; create a reliable, safe and ethical digital ecosystem.
One of the main functions of MyDigital is to make sure it accelerates some of the changes that Malaysia wants for its economy. Part of that is increasing private-public partnerships and collaboration and not being afraid to introduce new, innovative ways of pushing certain things to happen, such as introducing the concept of catalytic projects, which is likely to a game-changer to accelerate some of the initiatives under the Malaysia Digital Economy Blueprint.
“We have to learn from others. Based on the experiences of other countries, international bodies like the World Bank and the World Economic Forum, I think we need to be open about our shortcomings and how we improve and collaborate with these people,” acknowledges willingly Bigar.
Implementation of MyDIGITAL
The implementation is divided into three phases. Phase 1 started in 2021, will continue in 2022 and aims to strengthen the foundations of digital adaptation. Phase 2 will drive inclusive digital transformation from 2023 to 2025. Phase 3 will position Malaysia as a regional leader in digital content and cybersecurity from 2026 to 2030.
Of course, during and at the end of each, the team will monitor and review progress to implement adjustments, changes, or redesigns. And at any time, the agency is open to collaboration.
“We want to increase digital literacy in Malaysia by working with several organizations to fill the gaps we have discovered,” says Fabian. “It is essential to identify gaps early and determine how to obtain the necessary assistance available from the private and public sectors.”
Malaysia’s cybersecurity strategy has clear plans to make the country more resilient to cyberattacks. Regulatory policy requires that regulations be revised as needed to get rid of old ones that could slow the growth of digitization and compromise safety.
Addressing the main challenges of digital adaptation
MyDIGITAL recognizes the importance of the growth of the digital economy. They have various programs such as leadership programs and collaborate with various entities to produce joint publications and webinars that will better engage more people and raise awareness about the digital economy.
According to Bigar, genuine and widespread digital adaptation in Malaysia will start with creating awareness. This can be tracked by accelerating the adoption and use of these technologies and showing some successful cases where organizations have successfully contributed to the growth of the digital economy.
The team seeks contributions from MSMEs to drive social change and income generation. To facilitate their integration, the government must support MSMEs in their digitalization journey towards e-commerce.
MyDIGITAL itself has several initiatives and programs to support the digitization of MSMEs. It organizes sessions where agencies involved in Malaysia’s digital economy – federal or state – are invited to learn more, develop skills and then roll out initiatives for MSMEs.
Simultaneously, the Malaysian government is keen to improve digital literacy and adoption among small and medium players. They are exploring online financial initiatives, working with the Central Bank to introduce cashless transactions across the board, including QR codes, wallets and similar options.
A watershed moment with “Cloud-First”
Cloud usage is an integral part of the Blueprint, and the Digital-First program aims to ensure federal and state usage of cloud services. This program focuses on two main areas: reducing the use of physical storage files by moving to a “cloud-first” strategy and embracing a “paperless culture” at work by finding and using the right technologies to enable paperless workflows and transactions.
This should make better use of government resources and automate tasks by implementing digital workflows. It will also improve access to data and information by centralizing data storage in the cloud and make it easier for officials to work remotely.
By the end of 2022, MyDIGITAL is targeting 80% cloud storage usage across government, in addition to integrating cloud computing for businesses to procure services without having to own and maintain assets.
Bigar crafted the plan to give all businesses a “digital compass” – a technology roadmap customized for different industries and businesses with different levels of digital maturity. The Compass will provide businesses with a step-by-step guide to digital solutions they can use at different stages of their growth. As part of this initiative, there will also be an awareness program on the benefits of intellectual property (IP) registration to help and encourage businesses to do so.
Bigar thinks the cloud should also be introduced to small businesses to enable them to adopt new technologies. If you look at digital literacy across the population as a whole, a lot of work has been done for education or for those in the workforce. This is mainly due to a top-down approach for schools and educational institutions or, in the case of employees, perhaps because they are more intrinsically motivated. MyDIGITAL wants the understanding and adoption of technology to be more widespread – across demographics and geography – by creating programs for everyday citizens.
Bigar wants to bring awareness to the level of work in each industry; to educate people about the digital economy and available technologies. He strongly believes that government leaders and politicians should better understand what digitization is by establishing specific programs for them as well.
“We are facing this transition in the digital economy; we need to collaborate and take the necessary steps to embrace the new normal and work together. The journey will not be easy, but we must be brave enough to take this big step forward to improve the quality of life for all Malaysians,” Bigar concludes optimistically.