Malaysia can overtake Singapore in big data race: Bob Chua

  • Malaysia is slightly behind Singapore in big data race, but can catch up
  • Country has many advantages it can leverage on to become regional hub

Malaysia can overtake Singapore in big data race: Bob ChuaMALAYSIA has what it takes to overtake Singapore as the regional big data hub, backed as it is by a pool of resources as well as commitment by the Government and its various agencies.
“We know we can't compete in the outsourcing space, neither would we want to. It is a high-volume, commoditised game,” says Pulsate chief executive officer Bob Chua (pic).
“It is fine for the Indias, the Philippines and Vietnams of this world because they have the scale, the masses of population to provide call centre type of stuff. Those are the areas we don't want to play in,” he says.
Speaking to Digital News Asia (DNA) recently, Chua says that based on population size [30 million, according to the latest census data] and education level, Malaysia can win the game in knowledge process outsourcing, where big data fits into.
He acknowledges that the closest competitor in the region currently is Singapore, which despite its population of under 5.5 million, seems to be a few years ahead in the big data race.
Chua says that as far back as 2011, Singapore in its annual Budget announcement, declared that big data and data scientists needed to be part of its national agenda.
The island-republic’s Economic Development Board (EDB) has a team specially focused on attracting data-centric companies to its shores, he adds.
“They have an investment fund under the EDB that invests in (big data) companies. So, we are slightly behind,” says Chua.
Good news is, there is still time to catch up, as the trend is still relatively new in Asia. According to study conduct by Hitachi Data Systems, almost half of respondents believe that big data can help improve revenue by more than 25%.
However, the study also noted that there is a slow advancement in big data adoption, with almost 60% of respondents saying they haven't made much progress/  haven't started/ or don't know much about big data.
It is a game that Chua is betting big on to win. In 2012, he took another company he had founded, Pulse Group, off the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) on the London Stock Exchange to make it private again.
Then in mid-2013, he announced he was setting up Pulsate to make his big data play, launching the company later that year with partners such as Dell, Intel and Revolution Analytics. The aim is to provide the ‘insights into action’ layer in the big data analytics arena.
Meanwhile, Chua believes that Malaysia can capitalise on its advantages to become a regional big data hub.
“We have a lot of advantages. First, we already have a pretty established data centre business here, which shows that we have the (bandwidth) capacity to do so.
“We also pretty much have a good set of guidelines in terms of censorship and privacy information, and hopefully it stays in place,” he adds.
As part of the commitment to the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC Malaysia) project, which aims to develop the ICT industry here, the Malaysian Government has committed to allowing no censorship of the Internet. Meanwhile, the much-delayed Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) is now in force.
Other advantages also include low electricity tariffs for big data centres, the big data talent pool, and also importantly, the desire to “make it happen” by relevant government agencies, says Chua.
In July 2012, Multimedia Development Corp (MDeC) – which oversees MSC Malaysia – was also appointed the lead agency for the Malaysian Government's Digital Malaysia initiative, which aims to transform the nation into a ‘digital economy.’
Within 14 months from launch, there were eight initial projects under Digital Malaysia and these products contributed RM288 million (US$87.7 million) in Gross National Income (GNI) and created 3,335 high-value jobs.
This year, the Digital Malaysia initiative has shifted into second gear with the unveiling of the Digital Malaysia 354 Roadmap (DM354 Roadmap).
The DM354 Roadmap, which was announced a few weeks ago, is partly aimed at fast tracking the growth of big data analytics adoption by the industry.
As part of his commitment to the Digital Malaysia vision, Chua is setting up a Big Data Academy in Kuala Lumpur, which will be facilitated by MDeC. The institute will train fresh graduates to move up the income value chain and become data scientists.
In announcing this last year, Chua then said if the Academy is successful, “Malaysia may finally create the niche play in Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO) that we are hankering for.”
That is also part of MDeC’s gameplan for MSC Malaysia, with the government agency’s chief executive officer Badlisham Ghazali telling a press conference last year that the objective is to target “higher-value, higher-income investments in areas like KPO, rather than creating thousands of call-centre type jobs.”
“It is now dependant on the Government and [its] agencies to make it happen,” Chua tells DNA. “While we are the private sector, we can do it, but we have a commercial agenda.”
Related Stories:
Bob Chua’s RM60mil big data bet
Pulsate assembles its big data dream team
MSC revenues grow nearly 6%, MDeC touts quality
Next step for Digital Malaysia: The ‘DM354’ roadmap
Big data picking up pace rapidly across Asia Pacific
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