Many past efforts had minimal success, PlaTCOM merely the latest effort
Hard road ahead, relentless drive sans power points/suits needed to succeed
THE most recent Malaysian Government initiative to help companies get themselves into the digital economy is the forming of PlaTCOM Ventures Sdn Bhd, a collaboration between Agensi Inovasi Malaysia (AIM) and SME Corp Malaysia.
Targeted mainly at small and emerging enterprises (SMEs), the idea is that these companies can all use an injection of technology to help make themselves more competitive and efficient. Empowering them with technology will come via using Intellectual Property (IP) mainly from our public universities and public research institutes such as Mimos Bhd.
It seems to be one of the laws of business that SMEs and universities repel each other. SMEs in Malaysia, are for the most part, run by street tough entrepreneurs who have come up through sheer hard work and hustle and overcoming various hurdles.
While they all know the importance of education, their perception of research from academia is almost disdainful. I know this because, while I was covering technology for my previous company, for five years I was also running a SMEs Going Global pullout and met SME entrepreneurs from various sectors doing relatively well with shockingly old production techniques and no technology input in the actual manufacturing process.
Asking them if they have ever considered working with universities to see how some of the research there can perhaps help them become more efficient, will always get you a strange look as if you had asked if they believed in extraterrestrial life.
How then to bridge this gap? Or more specifically, how can PlatCOM bridge this gap?
Well it won’t happen without Dr Viraj Perera, PlaTCOM’s executive director and his entire team rolling up their sleeves, leaving their suits at home and working relentlessly and with a drive that matches that of the SME entrepreneurs they claim they want to help.
Because surely, they will be viewed with suspicion by most SMEs which will be thinking that this is a government ruse to really try to find out how much they actually earn and tax them!
And I hope PlaTCOM will not have a swanky office somewhere in the business district. They should be based in Balakong or Sungai Buloh (both in Kuala Lumpur) in an office that overlooks the many factories that are located there.
Why? So that every day, they have a visual reminder of the challenge and scale of the task ahead of them, the fact that much of Malaysia’s economy is still rooted in the old industrial economy.
Because it is not going to be easy at all, I hope here Perera also hires the right people to help him. No smooth talkers with their Power Points.
In fact, he should ensure as many people in his team also speak Mandarin because while we are seeing the next generation start to get involved in the business, a large portion of our SMEs are still run by ethnic Chinese who have had very little formal education. Though they can speak the national language, Bahasa Malaysia, they will definitely warm up to anyone who speaks their lingo.
If you look at my business card today, I still have my name spelled out in Chinese characters just because these were the people I was mainly meeting and just having my name spelled out in Chinese was a great ice-breaker and allowed me to impress them with the smattering of Hokkien that I speak, thanks to my Penang roots.
I know Perera does not speak Mandarin or Hokkien, which is why his team needs to have at least conversational-level ability in either language.
Incidentally, Perera was hired from ISIS Innovation, the commercialisation arm of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. He will already be familiar with the role PlaTCOM will play as the model incorporates best practice elements from other successful models such as ISIS Innovation.
Designed with the necessary adaptions for the Malaysian market by AIM, SME Corp and the World Bank, I really hope PlaTCOM and Perera succeed.
But for that they need to be on the ground.
This initiative also clearly highlights the importance of IP as a tool that enables business and I know the Government has tried many times to impress upon our businesses, many which are still rooted in industrial economy ways, that incorporating technology in whatever manner will help them compete better.
While almost all of those past efforts have had minimal success, with many failing, I am glad the Government is unrelenting in its efforts to drum in the importance of IP and I hope Perera and his team are relentless and single-minded in achieving their goals.
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