Tan Jee Yee: My fave 5 of 2019

  • Creative industry has great opportunities, and great gaps
  • Progress of technology should also be about the progress of humanity

A visual from the No Straight Road game by Magnus Studios is one of a number of promising games released by Malaysian gaming studios in 2019.

Diving back into the world of tech writing is much like jumping into the deep end of the swimming pool with the hopes that I’ll remember how to swim. It’s just as overwhelming as it sounds, and every part just as terrifying and dizzying. I’m still not sure if I got the hang of it, but least I’ve re-learned how to dog paddle.

Much of it feels like strolling around a city you’ve left for years, where the new sticks out like the alluring mass of colourful lights at the end of each block; and where every old brick and block is just as fascinating, if not to remind you about the passage of time and how fast tech changes and evolves.

But perhaps the best discovery for me, in the past year at least, is the connecting parts between tech and other things I’m passionate about – namely the creative industry and pop culture. I didn’t expect returning to tech writing would place me at the advent of Malaysia’s creative industries awakening, which is why my favourite stories of the year mostly have to do with that.

What’s also fascinating to me is the connecting parts between tech and humanity – specifically how we’re reacting to tech, and the human repercussions of technological advancement. 2019 has introduced new perspectives for me to digest, if not whole new windows to explore the relationship between people and progress.

Here we go:

MDEC: Malaysia video games sector is maturing into adulthood

2019 has been a year of great video game strides for Malaysia. For one, we get the introduction of the Digital Content Ecosystem (DICE) policy with the purpose of strengthening and boosting game and animation exports. Following that are announcements of major game studios setting shop in the country, the most significant one being Sony Interactive Entertainment (SIE).

Which is why it’s good to get an honest, insightful conversation about the state of Malaysian games development industry, and how we can proceed. If anything, it’s also a refreshing talk with the one and only Hasnul Hadi Samsudin, MDEC’s VP of digital creative content.

Learning that the industry is “maturing into adulthood”, as Hasnul puts it, is an assuring thing. I’ve also learned aspects that surprised me (Malaysia’s strength is we have good artists), and aspects that are expected (acquiring and nurturing talent is still a challenge).

In between this, Hasnul saying that the content creation industry too require talents in different disciplines, such as AI and production accountants, is food for thought.

Perhaps the most pertinent question for me, though, is whether Malaysian studios ought to focus on creating games that are distinctively Malaysian rather than go for mass, global appeal. The answer I received is satisfying: that local game studios first need to be sustainable. And that, secondly, a balance can be achieved. Locally-produced games like No Straight Roads, for instance, has Malaysian elements imbued within its designs.

The future looks good for the industry. We just have some pretty large gaps still to fill.


E-Nation Symposium: Maximising the potential of creative entrepreneurship starts with good IP, and adapting towards the digital age

The interview with Hasnul may be through the lens of a government-owned institution. What I consider equally vital is the perspective of creative entrepreneurs within the industry now, which is what this MaGIC organised E-Nation Symposium panel offered.

What I’ve learned is that the market is currently full of untapped potential. Ways to monetise content, for one, has just multiplied – rather than just rely on broadcast television, creative entrepreneurs can take to the Internet or approach streaming players like Netflix and iflix.

It’s also the time for the local industry to think outwards and create larger ecosystems, as FINAS chairman Hans Isaac, who was part of the panel, puts it.

I may not agree with some of his ideas on how we can export out films – one of them is to shoot scenes in different languages each take, which sounds ridiculous in the year where a Korean-language film was nominated for, and won, Best Picture at the Oscars – but I do believe that local studios need to adapt to the digital platforms.

That aside, it’s heartening to learn that creative entrepreneurs are factoring tech when it comes to the future of the industry, with KRU Studios’ Norman Abdul Halim stating that with the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, companies need to structure new business models based on technology.

The consensus, however, is on the strength of content. The panel agrees that creating good IP is vital for the local industry to move forward, and that good storytelling is still the most important aspect of the creative industry.


Accelerate now into IR4.0 or risk falling behind

This panel at the Perdana Leadership Fondation’s CEO Forum 2019 may not be saying anything that people within the tech space don’t already know, but I feel that it’s both a wake-up call for me as well as entrepreneurs across the country.

The gist of the panel discussion was that if Malaysian doesn’t embrace and hasten their progress into IR4.0, they run the risk of falling behind their neighbours. True enough, our neighbouring countries of Vietnam and Thailand are already gnawing at our heels, so to speak.

Some of the points brought up are worth keeping in mind, for me and for anyone keeping track. The panel concluded that accessibility and the speed of Internet connectivity needs to be in place for the country to progress, as is empowering SMEs to embrace digital technology.

One of the points brought up that I like: millennials and those entering the workforce today are already raised on technology and innovation, and that industries should give them a suitable platform to thrive and build.  Beyond that, clear goals by C-level execs is key for the transition into IR4.0.

At the cusp of IR4.0, I think it’s important for all of us – individuals and businesses alike – to take stock on where we stand and how we enter into this great unknown.


DWEN 2019: Great time for women to be entrepreneurs, but there are still gaps to fill

The progress of technology should also be the progress of humanity. That’s a conversation that I think the tech space needs to constantly have, and I’ve had the fortune of listening to a good number of them in 2019.

I think it’s great that, during MyFintech Week 2019, speakers managed to highlight the ability for tech to reach the underserved yet also capable of alienating the exact same people it wants to help. Additionally, entrepreneurs need to be mindful of sustainability, and that unfettered growth doesn’t equate to success. 

The most enlightening moments of the year for me, however, was when I got to attend the 10th annual Dell Women Entrepreneur Network Summit held in Singapore. It’s a reminder that a lot still needs to be done to break the glass ceiling and ensure equality and representation in all aspects of tech, especially in entrepreneurship.

According to DWEN’s study, support for women entrepreneurs are growing, but there are still massive gaps to bridge. Some sobering truths include Malaysia’s ranking in the WE Cities index – we’re ranked 44th out of 50 when it comes to fostering growth for women entrepreneurs. Access to funding and the gender pay gap are the primary gaps in this region.

The major takeaway here is that technology is here to drive progress as a gender-neutral enabler. It helps create a level playing field. Improvement of tech means improvement across the different factors that impact women entrepreneurs’ success.

We can’t sleep on the importance of equality and representation in the tech space anymore. To quote Dell Technologies executive VP and chief customer officer Karen Quintos during the event: "When we invest in women, we invest in the future; communities prosper, economies thrive and the next generation leads with purpose.”


Turning Malaysians into better and safer drivers the Katsana way

I suppose this is a biased pick. This interview with Katsana founder and managing director Syed Ahmad Fuqaha was my first interview for Digital News Asia, but beyond my own gushy feelings is a story that highlights just how fascinating tech entrepreneurship can be.

Katsana is an interesting startup with interesting products. DriveMark, for one, is an app that scores drivers on their on-road performance – keep to the speed limit and avoid sharp turns, for instance, will net you good scores. Do well, and you get rewarded with goodies and insurance rebates. Considering that Malaysia has the third highest death rate from road accidents, this might be an app that can encourage safer driving.

What’s also fascinating to me is how Katsana has evolved to solve the problems of its customers. The startup initially sold GPS trackers for commercial cars, and later began offering fleet tracking and driver scoring to enterprises. Now, the company has moulded itself into an IoT company, allowing enterprises to integrate their existing sensors into the Internet.

Tech entrepreneurship requires ingenuity and adaptability – things I’ve learned while conversing with Fuqaha. But what it does is remind me that the tech world is full of surprises and intrigue, and I can’t wait for what 2020 has in store on that score.

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