In building Malaysia’s Digital Economy, there’s no ‘You vs Me’ says MDEC’s Surina Shukri
By Karamjit Singh March 7, 2020
- 2020 all about accelerating digital adoption in Brick&Mortars, especially SMEs
- Focused collaboration with state govts key to scaling efforts to build Digital Malaysia
“I knew back in December 2018 that once I stepped into the role, it was going to be sprinting all the way. I mean, we have a lot of work to do,” says Surina Shukri, chief executive officer of Malaysian Digital Economic Corporation.
But she also recognises that it’s not all about MDEC only. For while it is still the primary driver for Malaysia’s Digital Economy and is staffed by some of the most savvy digital experts in the country, technology has moved from being a vertical to a horizontal, touching every aspect of life and business.
Along with that MDEC’s role has continued to change along the way as well. It is now much more about collaboration and leveraging on partners to drive digital consciousness into the nation’s DNA.
And 2019, her first year in the hot seat, was a big year as it was about “making sure everyone understood what the narrative was and MDEC’s role,” she says.
She particularly loves the #Let’sBuildTogether hashtag. “For me, that’s what we’re all about. We’re in this together. We’ll be happy when all of Malaysia goes digital. There is no ‘you vs me’ here,” she stresses adding that there will be more such collaborations in 2020.
State governments a key stakeholder in scaling MDEC’s impact
One key area she is excited about is in working with all the state governments. It is something MDEC has not done too much of in the past. “We invited all the 14 states for a full day sharing session on what MDEC was doing and they shared what they were doing with some of the states already having their own teams.”
One key outcome of the event was that everybody walked away with a much greater awareness and appreciation that they were all in this together and that building digital capabilities and supporting digital adoption was critical to the nation being competitive globally.
“It was a fantastic shearing of ideas and enthusiasm about where digital is taking us and as we talk about scaling up our work, I think our partnership with the state agencies is going to be super critical, because without their support we can only do so much. But if you empower them, train their trainers then you will see greater impact. And, in fact, some of the programmes that they’re doing is even more mindblowing,” she enthuses.
It all traces back to having a digitally savvy talent pool
With strong connectivity being a given on which to build a digital economy, it then is all about having a digitally skilled talent pool that drives digitally powered businesses. This in turn drives demand for the services its tech companies provide.
As she notes, a company can be great in delivering data analytics but if businesses don’t know how to leverage that, then it doesn’t work either. “You need digitally powered businesses, and in order to do that you need people to understand the importance of digital and investing in digital.”
Hence Surina pointing to all the intervention programmes, its advocacy work, the conferences MDEC organizes. “That’s all about imparting people with skills.”
She highlights a Young Heroes Summit that was a collaboration with the Ministry of Sports last Dec as an example. With MDEC having the digital know-how and the Sports Ministry having the core constituents, they came together to achieve scale.
To target was to train 10,000 youth in digital skills. “That was the goal but we ended up training 20,000 youth through our existing e-Usahawan (the Malay language word for “entrepreneur”) and then brought the best of them together for the Young Heroes Summit where they were further inspired by successful role models.”
The goal is to get these youth to go out and build their own businesses or help micro and small medium enterprises to add a digital layer to their businesses. “Even if you sell keropok (fish crackers) we want you to think of adding a digital layer to the business,” she says.
This is part of MDEC’s “huge agenda” for 2020. “When you think of the Digital Economy and the 2020 budget, it’s all about accelerating digital adoption, so you need our brick and mortar businesses to be digital as well.
Mantra 1 in 2020: Digital Digital Digital
Hence for 2020, MDEC’s mantra for SMEs and micro SMEs is all about “Digital, Digital, Digital” through the various programmes announced in Budget 2020 and the various existing programmes as well.
But are Malaysian SMEs ready to adopt digital and do they truly see its strategic value?
Surina believes so, based on her interactions last year with SMEs where she is surrounded by SMEs every time she sits on a panel or gives a talks on SMEs and digital.
And then there is the response to the SME and digital sessions MDEC organizes. One was a session where MDEC invited some SMEs to Alibaba’s campus in China for an exposure trip. A sharing session was then planned for these SMEs to talk about their experience and key take-aways.
“I was worried not many people would show up,” she admits. MDEC planned for 200 attendees. It got 400 RSVP and shifted to a larger venue. Now as a rule of thumb, organisers will expect at least a 25% drop off rate from any RSVP list. But 700 SMEs showed up on the day. “That shows us there is an appetite to adopt digital among our SMEs,” she feels.
Then there was the e-commerce day last December that was targeting 1,000 participants, saw 2,000 RSVPs and saw 2,200 people turn up – even with the event live streamed. “That goes to show that a lot of SMEs want to know how to embrace digital and e-commerce.”
Mantra 2 in 2020: Global Global Global
MDEC is hoping that the demand for digital services from these SMEs can be met by Malaysian technology providers. Creating this supply pool was the key mission of MDEC in the first decade and a half of its existence but over the past few years it has ramped up efforts to build the demand side while also helping create role models of successful home grown tech companies as well. Which is why when it comes to Malaysian tech companies, especially the ones MDEC works with, to Surina 2020 is all about “Global, Global Global”.
“It’s really important to build up our tech companies that we have, and make sure that we become globally-recognised names,” she says. Particular attention is being paid to MDEC’s cluster of GAIN (Global Acceleration and Innovation Network) companies, many of which have already achieved some measure of regional success. Aerodyne stands out as being the most global of the group, currently. The Drone-as-a-Service startup is ranked among the top three drone services companies in the world and its founder and CEO, Kamarul Muhamad is effusive in his praise of MDEC in helping him connect the dots and expanding globally.
"MDEC's contributions to Aerodyne when it comes to visibility and stakeholder's management and support has been phenomenal! I am moved by the energy and sincerity shown by every MDEC personnel that we worked with. On top of that they helped connect the dots for us globally with various business and investment opportunities."
But that’s not enough for MDEC and Surina who want to see 10s of Aerodynes created, and soon, because the foundation is already there with more than 25 GAIN companies registering over RM200 million in revenue.
This was the backdrop to her launching the Global Growth Acceleration division last month to accelerate the export capabilities of Malaysian tech companies while seeing the first Malaysian company achieve revenues of RM1 billion.
That focus on revenues is important she says as the goal is not to create unicorn’s from the valuation point but to create highly profitable and sustainable businesses.
“To us it is about imparting know-how to them in terms of market access, connecting them to investors and driving visibility to them,” she says adding that, “in that regards, my job is like being a mom.”
Next: MDEC’s big hairy audacious goal of making Malaysia the Heart of Digital ASEAN and clearing wrong perceptions about the DFTZ (Digital Free Trade Zone)