Becoming a digital economy is not just about making money, nor merely the GDP impact
Also depends on accessibility and manner in which technology is used across all levels of society
WHILE Malaysians are generally digitally savvy and connected, there are challenges that still need to be addressed to transform the nation into a digital economy, according to a panel discussion organised by national ICT custodian Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC).
The recent ‘MDeC Online Community Gathering’ discussed Malaysia’s digital adoption and what it means for the country’s digital economic future. MDeC manages the Digital Malaysia programme which aims to transform the nation into a digital economy.
“We are already leading the digital lifestyle. We use digital technology in all aspects of our lives, be it to learn, socialise, interact and even make money,” said Sumitra Nair, director of the Youth Division at MDeC.
“This is something that we need to tap into in order to successfully transition into a developed digital economy,” she added.
While monetary gains and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) impact are fundamental aspects, a successful transition towards a digital economy will be highly dependent on the accessibility and the manner in which such technology is used across all levels of society, MDeC said in a statement.
While Malaysia already has a strong base of digitally savvy and connected citizens, there are challenges that still need to be addressed across the board. According to Sumitra, over 70% of SMEs (small and medium enterprises) in Malaysia still do not have an online presence.
This is a very high rate given that more than 90% of Malaysian businesses are SMEs and they form the backbone of the nation’s economy, she noted.
Likewise, the bottom 40% (B40) of the population with the lowest income, do not have the right access to technological tools that can help them generate more income and improve their standard of living.
Sumitra outlined the four key communities that MDeC is approaching through its Digital Malaysia programme: Youth, digital entrepreneurs, SMEs and the B40.
“We have many young people with great social and innovative ideas that can be turned into commercially viable businesses,” said her fellow panellist Zhariff Afandi, founder of the Zhariff Initiative, a social entrepreneurship effort.
“However, many do not have the basic understanding of [how to start] a business and technical knowledge. Therefore, it would be good to have programmes and awareness efforts to help these young people,” he said.
“I believe social entrepreneurs who are just starting out have very limited means to promote and sell their products and services. This is why platforms available in this new digital age are crucial for us.
“For example, social media channels allow us to spread the message about our products and services while also engaging our customers on a personal level, whereas e-commerce tools enable us to sell and buy products through a secure channel,” Zhariff added.
Meanwhile, although homegrown solutions are crucial to move Malaysia towards a high income nation status, they don’t have to be the sole focus, said panellists Google Malaysia’s Andrew Olah, and Zalora director Luca Barberis.
Malaysians can also take ideas, solutions and digital services that have been available in other countries and repurpose such ideas and implement them in the local context to suit market needs, they argued.
“A good example is the taxi booking app for your smartphone,” said Olah. “These apps have been around for a few years in countries like the United Kingdom, United States and Australia. However, it was only introduced to Malaysia last year through the launch of locally created apps such as MyTeksi and TaxiMonger.
“While these are not original homegrown ideas, their introduction within the local … context are indeed timely, given the challenges that Malaysians used to face when trying to book a taxi previously,” he said.
Beyond this, Malaysians who are already immersed in the social media space with their own unique followers should also look at moving from just creating engaging content to monetising that content, some of the panellists proposed.
According to Olah, Malaysia is one of the most YouTube savvy places in the region. In a new study released by YouTube, for most subscribed channels, fully half of the most watched music and training videos are Malaysian-based content. This is complemented by a recent study that indicates that 80% of Malaysian Internet users stream or download videos each month while 51% of Malaysians online have an active YouTube profile.
Therefore, the market is ripe for creators to look into monetising their content, he noted.
“All my music videos are available on YouTube and some have received up to 500,000 hits,” said singer-songwriter Nadhira Nishaa, also a panellist.
“I will definitely look at monetising opportunities for my videos in the future,” she added.
Ultimately, the panel discussion – which was moderated by Niki Cheong, a digital media and journalism specialist – concluded that access to digital technology and infrastructure alone is not enough.
There is also a need to complement that with training and development, starting with the younger generation. MDeC’s Sumitra highlighted that countries like the United Kingdom and Australia are already teaching basic computer programming and app development skills to children as young as six.
Likewise, through the Digital Malaysia programme, MDeC has conducted computer literacy programmes and workshops for children between the ages of eight and nine in rural areas, teaching them the basics of games and app creation.
Malaysians must not just be consumers but also producers of technology, Sumitra argued, noting that this is one of the Digital Malaysia thrusts.
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