Analysis: What must happen beyond introducing digital policies

  • Digital emphasis from govt a good start; details to come should be transparent
  • Organisations to consider focus on readiness, customers, digital business models


Analysis: What must happen beyond introducing digital policies


Analysis: What must happen beyond introducing digital policiesSO, NOW that the Malaysian 2018 Budget is out, and all the goodies have been presented, ‘what’s next?’ I ask myself. As far as the digital or technology components of the budget are concerned, most people seem happy with the announcements made on Oct 27.

There were emphases on talent, focus on the startup ecosystem, fortifying what is now a buzzword – the Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR 4.0), and of course, the Digital Free Trade Zone. I won’t belabour you any longer by repeating the details as you can view them here.

Eight days before the budget was revealed however, I had been tracking what I consider to be a complementary, but more interesting piece of news than the digital components introduced in the budget.

On Oct 19, local dailies theSun and New Straits Times (NST), reported that Prime Minister Najib Razak plans to prioritise two digital policies and push them to the fore in a bid to accelerate the digital economy in Malaysia.

Amongst the policies he mentioned were: The government’s “cloud first” policy; and that Malaysia would develop its own National Artificial Intelligence (AI) Framework. I held back my comments then to see if the budget announcements would elaborate more on this, but alas, no details on these two specific points were forthcoming.

What we know so far, based on local reports, is that the government wants to spearhead a “cloud first” policy in the public-sector sphere.

“Cloud adoption will enable the government to rapidly deliver innovative public-sector services to the rakyat (citizens) without incurring high levels of capital expenditure to invest in IT infrastructure such as data centres, servers and storage.

“This enables the government to allocate resources for more impactful programmes for the citizens. With this strategy in place, there is no doubt the government is taking the lead in embracing digital transformation,” NST quoted Najib as saying, after he had chaired the 29th Malaysia Implementation Council Meeting.

theSun noted that “the government can also facilitate the adoption of cloud by the private sector,” and that regulators also are encouraged to accelerate the publishing of progressive guidelines for regulated industries such as the banking and financial services, healthcare and telecommunications.

On the National AI Framework, the prime minister was reported to have said, “that it will be an expansion of the National Big Data Analytics Framework, and will be led by Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC).

“In a hyper-connected world, it is becoming abundantly clear that AI is the defining force of the fourth industrial revolution. AI could well be a game-changer in improving the lives of Malaysians,” he was quoted as saying in NST.

Details, details, details

All’s well and good but as with any other policy announcement, the devil is in the details. Merely saying that the government is about to embark on a cloud-first policy doesn’t necessarily inspire any confidence. Ditto for announcing the National AI Framework or that the government can facilitate the adoption of the cloud by the private sector.

I concede that because it was a short press conference after a long meeting, there was only so much that could be said or elaborated upon. And since these policy announcements are somewhat new, there needs to be a reasonable gestation period given to the powers that be to work the details out.

However, I would argue that before anyone or any organisation implements such policies – be it AI or cloud first – the underlying mindset, processes and operational plan must move away from legacy, non-digital systems and methods to becoming digital in nature before any meaningful change can take place.

Be they private organisations or the government machinery itself – whether government departments or associated government-linked agencies such as MDEC – the question really is what are the broad strategies and tactics one should take to approach such an ambitious and grand endeavour?

I would humbly submit three pillars that need to be addressed, and they are: Evaluating for internal readiness; keeping the customer in focus; and pivoting towards a true digital business model. These three key points are what I believe will help the private organisations and/ or the government machinery to take bold steps towards a more inclusive digital economy and society.

Internal readiness

Evaluating our current status quo is never easy. Often, organisations, both public and private undertake periodic evaluations and this is part of standard best practices. But are these efforts truly fruitful, especially when we talk about going digital?

In my experience of speaking to, interviewing and researching many different organisations, both research-based and anecdotal evidence suggest that there are not many organisations, including governmental ones, that have achieved end-to-end digitisation and old legacy speed bumps occur in a lot of these cases.

One way to change this perception is to think of the organisational processes in a cyclical way. Firstly, observe and audit existing processes to identify issues. Then identify what’s still not digital and target those processes by first improving them and then digitising them.

This can’t be overemphasised. Digitising an existing process that isn’t good will still result in a merely digital process that is bad. Next up is to mobilise those processes and automate wherever possible. Then re-evaluate and reiterate the process, if necessary. Follow this up with automation as in effort to go digital, automation is key. Thus, identifying which key process can be automated is a must even when there is a threat of manual labour being replaced.

Finally, relook at how data is being used in any organisation. Regardless of what sector you’re in or what roles you’re in, the smart use of data – where decisions makers have real-time access and decision-making support systems – is crucial to how an organisation lives in a digital world.

Why? Because people in a digital organisation are not reacting to issues and challenges and they are able to make adjustments in near real-time should they need to, thereby empowering people to take proactive ownership of any challenges that may arise. Put simply, the democratising of data at all levels of an organisation helps digital transformation efforts, particularly from a cultural standpoint.

Next page: It may be a digital world, but the customer is still king


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