Spurring the E&E sector onwards

  • Applies passion for tech on a national level as CEO of CREST
  • Get E&E players excited about collaborating on R&D to up value chain

Spurring the E&E sector onwards

 

TECHNOLOGY has always played a key role in the life of Jaffri Ibrahim (pic above), chief executive officer (CEO) of Collaborative Research in Engineering, Science and Technology (CREST).

“When I was growing up, the personal computer industry was still at its exciting early stages. I loved technology... I would scour magazines for details on how individuals could actually own their own computers,” he recalls.

Like most tech enthusiasts, Jaffri remembers the sweet moment when he first got his own computer as a teenager.

“Back then, the computer to shoot for was the TRS80 sold by Radio Shack as the Apple II was too expensive, but little did I know that my mother had decided to buy me an Apple II.

“There wasn’t any doubt what I was going to study in college,” says Jaffri, who graduated from University of Iowa with a major in computer science and a minor in business studies.

Today the 52-year old is applying his passion for technology at a national level. CREST is a Malaysian Government initiative to spur research and development (R&D) in the electrical and electronics (E&E) sector.

In order for E&E players to move up the value chain, they need to eventually move away from their low-cost or labour-intensive outlook, and to develop more high-value products. This requires more emphasis on R&D.

One of Jaffri’s tasks is to get E&E players “excited about moving up the economic food chain by collaborating on R&D,” and thus, also developing industry-relevant talent along the way. Malaysia’s E&E sector was at one point very prominent, especially with the northern state of Penang housing some of the world’s top tech companies which were attracted to the country’s multilingual skilled workers and low-cost base.

However, it has lost some its shine over recent years as emerging markets in Southeast Asia have risen as even more low-cost alternatives, with many multinationals moving part or all of their activities from Penang to countries like Vietnam.

Since its establishment in 2012, CREST has made some encouraging progress in stemming the tide, Jaffri believes.

“As of 2015, we had a total of 97 R&D projects under our CREST R&D grant portfolio valued at RM83 million, with 14 projects having been completed. A total of 34 local companies, 17 multinationals and 21 universities are working on the 97 projects,” he says.

Surprisingly, Jaffri – whose career includes technology and management roles in multinationals like Oracle and Arthur Andersen, as well as government agencies like Malaysia Debt Ventures – says he was slightly sceptical when he was first approached to take on the role at CREST.

“The E&E sector has been around and well established in the country for over four decades, with prominent multinationals involved. My prior experience as a technologist and a management consultant tells me that, in most cases, companies would tend to keep to themselves, and not want to contribute or share and risk helping their competitors.

“I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was taken aback when I was invited to lunch with industry captains – some of whom were avid competitors with each other – in the same room. They put aside their differences to discuss how to jointly develop the ecosystem together. I thought I was dreaming, but sure enough, the progress we see today at CREST is primarily due to this.

“I remember thinking: If this can come true, I would love to be the guy to see it happen,” he says.
 
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