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MDEC’s big ambitions for big data & analytics

  • Simultaneous initiatives to drive demand, increase supply in BDA ecosystem
  • Private sector driven ASEAN Data Analytics Exchange to play neutral party role

MDEC’s big ambitions for big data & analytics

ALREADY past the awareness and education stage in terms of inculcating greater corporate understanding of the strategic value of the application of Big Data and Analytics (BDA) in business, the Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) is now on a dual drive to bring up more use cases that prove the value of data when analytics and insight is applied to it and to accelerate the demand side from corporate Malaysia.

One example of proving the value of BDA was through the soft copy publication of “Exposing the Promise of Big Data Analytics – Case Studies in Malaysia” in 2015 that brought together 16 case studies from manufacturing to services to farming in a compelling set of examples of how BDA offers clear competitive and customer service advantages.

At the same time it remains committed to its mission of deepening the talent pool of available Big Data executives and data scientists through various training programs and educational courses. A new focus in 2016 has been in exposing more senior leaders to the power of BDA, specifically with the introduction of a Big Data course in May, organized in partnership with Harvard Business School through programme owner, Center for Applied Data Science (CADS).

Education efforts aside, recognizing the value of fostering a stronger sense of community in the BDA ecosystem, MDEC also introduced its ‘Big Community,’ a portal that aims to bring together individuals and organisations to learn more about BDA.


Pinning hopes on ASEAN Data Analytics Exchange

Those programs aside, MDEC has also put in a lot of effort into launching its ambitious ADAX or the ASEAN Data Analytics Exchange in its efforts to position Malaysia as a BDA hub in the region. One anchor of that target is to ensure that by 2020 Malaysia itself has a deep pool of big data experts and MDEC has set the target of ensuring the nation has at least 20,000 data professionals, of which 2,000 are Data Scientists.

MDEC sees ADAX as playing a key role in its big data ambitions and plans to execute it via a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model.

“We want private sector energy to drive this initiative and have appointed one party to run ADAX but it will be working with multiple private sector partners to make it successful,” says Dr Karl Ng, Director of Innovation Capital, MDEC.

To ensure ADAX plays an integral role in building the BDA ecosystem in Malaysia, it will have three components which includes an innovation and showcase lab where companies can bring in their big data projects to the lab which will also have a dedicated data science team including a Chief Data Scientist to help them.

Having a dedicated data science team is crucial as is providing a data platform to encourage data sharing as MDEC foresees that companies will be reluctant to share their data. “But through our data platform, they can fence up the data of any project they bring to ADAX and their data can be anonymized to encourage sharing with other parties,” he says.

ADAX will play the role of neutral third party to encourage more companies to share their data.

While it will also offer training programs to help upskill and deepen the talent pool, the third component of ADAX involves partnering with the Open Data Institute (ODI) to launch an ASEAN data accelerator. The application for accelerator is currently open to all ASEAN startups.

MDEC has partnered with the ODI since April 2015. Founded by Professor Nigel Shadbolt and the world wide web inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, the ODI is part of the World Wide Web Foundation’s assessment method for Open Data that analyses the readiness, implementation and impact of Open Data initiatives around the world.

“We feel that Malaysia already has success factors in place that will help Malaysia unlock economic, environmental and social value using open data. Our collaboration will include helping Malaysia to develop its open data strategy, its capability and its capacity for innovation,” Richard Stirling, international director at the Open Data Institute was quoted as saying in May 2015.

ADAX will open its door end of the year and is expected to be launched early next year.


Strong interest in “how to”

Having been involved in MDEC’s BDA push over the past three years, Ng has clearly seen how the businesses have shifted from questioning the value of BDA to being firmly in the camp of wanting to adopt BDA in some shape or form with “how to” being the key question on every executive’s lips.

“On the corporate side we see quite a number of brick and mortar companies embarking on their big data journey and this is especially strong with the banks, where almost all of them have big data teams, but most don’t talk about this as they see it as a source of competitive advantage,” he shares.

Beyond banks, Air Asia has been an aggressive adopter as well. Some corporate players have also approached MDEC for help in their big data journeys.

Startups have also seen the value of BDA, especially once they are in the growth stage and are scaling. As Ng notes, once startups are in the scale phase of their growth, they need to measure and some of them have started to rely on big data teams for this with Ng highlighting ServisHero and iPrice as two prime examples with both having data scientists with post graduate qualifications on their teams.

Beyond use cases, the larger goal is to have data driven organizations. “We already see this with some startups and that’s down to the belief of the founders on the importance of BDA but the progress is still slow with traditional companies,” says Ng.

Here the journey usually starts with the big data proponents needing to highlight a use case where BDA has been applied successfully. And once management has been convinced, to then form a team, train the team, look at building out the IT infrastructure to support the big data push and then to figure out how to scale big data usage to the rest of the organization.

But MDEC sees its ADAX playing a valuable role here as well by offering companies support from the view of pointing them to the consultants it has partnered with, the open source tools available, the type of training suitable for their needs. “Right now, this neutral advice is not available as everything is pretty much vendor driven and companies get confused with the advice they get from the different vendors,” explains Ng, stressing the value of ADAX filling the market gap as a neutral party.


Blended approach to talent

The talent gap though looms large in MDEC’s mind and even though there are already more than 10 universities in the country that offer data science courses, MDEC realizes the need to push this agenda.

At the tertiary level the strategy is to promote stand-alone data science courses in universities with an even more important approach being to embed analytics methodology into other courses such as business and actuarial science. At the professional level, MDEC is working with the private sector to introduce innovative data science training programmes including Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) and boot-camp models.

As Ng observes, “we are increasingly being overrun by data and need to understand how to unscramble and make sense of it.”

For those already in the work force, MDEC has introduced a data science specialisation using content from Johns Hopkins University, in collaboration with Coursera. This course is an extension to MDEC's existing MyProcert, a government-subsidised professional certification programme.

The response has been strong with the 500 spots for 2015 taken up in one month. “We see tremendous interest in this course,” says Ng, adding that this year’s 500 spots have also been taken up.

With all that on its plate, MDEC is already has its eyes on next year where the goal is to create more impact, specifically in certain verticals that are of national importance. “The idea is to create clusters of BDA expertise in certain areas important to the nation,” says Ng. Those cluster areas will be announced soon.

With various predictions from analysts all pointing to data science related skills as being the most sought after, it is safe to say that MDEC’s focus on building a data science related talent pool is on the money. With perhaps the only question being, can it ever do enough to accelerate supply to meet strong demand, while encouraging corporate Malaysia’s interest in BDA and simultaneously building on its ambitions to be a hub for data science in Southeast Asia.

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