Malaysia’s BDA challenge: Talent and open data
By Lum Ka Kay March 22, 2016
- 943 open data sets currently, new challenge is to ensure data quality
- Talent development programmes launched, but demand side important too
MALAYSIA has declared its intention to become a regional hub for big data analytics, even setting the year 2020 as a hard date for meeting this aspiration.
The country’s national ICT custodian Multimedia Development Corp (MDeC) recognises the two main challenges it faces are talent development and the availability of open data sets.
It has already put the pieces in place to address the first, working with seven institutes of higher learning to introduce data science into their curricula.
The second challenge is a bit trickier, because it means that ministries and agencies have to be willing to share their data. Early last year, MDeC chief executive officer Yasmin Mahmood admitted that ministries were somewhat reluctant to open up their data sets.
To encourage government ministries and agencies to do so, MDeC established a partnership with the Open Data Institute (ODI), in collaboration with the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit (Mampu).
It also announced the concept of National Open Data Champions, “a group of selected individuals to advise and support government agencies on open data implementation and execution.”
These efforts appear to be paying off. Government ministries and agencies have made available 943 open data sets, which members of the public can access via Malaysia’s official Open Data Portal.
But with that comes another open data challenge: Ensuring the quality of the data being provided, noted MDeC director of innovation capital, Dr Karl Ng Kah Hou.
“The next challenge here is to make sure that the data that is shared openly has a certain level of quality, where it is useful for various industries and civil society,” he told Digital News Asia (DNA) on the sidelines of a media briefing recently.
To help this along, MDeC has organised hackathons where participants are free to create solutions from government data sets.
“The ministries will then realise that the more data that is made available, the more solutions will come in,” said Ng.
“This will increase the engagement rate between both parties,” he added.
The pieces are there
Ng (pic) is confident that Malaysia has what it takes to become the regional hub for big data analytics (BDA).
“We have the MSC Malaysia, where we have over 100 companies offering data analytics or business intelligence solutions,” he said, also citing the success of Malaysian-founded and London-listed BDA company Fusionex International.
MSC Malaysia, or the Multimedia Super Corridor, is a project launched by the Malaysian Government in the late 1990s to develop the ICT sector in the country. MDeC manages and oversees the project.
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Ng noted that multinationals such as SAS Institute and Teradata Corp, both of which have local operations in the country, are also contributing to Malaysia’s BDA efforts.
“From the talent perspective, we probably have the highest number (seven) of universities in the region offering data science courses.
“Singapore has only two higher institutions that have data science courses – Singapore Management University (SMU) and the National University of Singapore (NUS),” he added.
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According to Ng, Malaysia is only the second country in the world to kick off The Data Incubator programme, brought in from the United States last year to develop more data professionals.
MDeC has also launched Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and blended learning courses devoted to data science.
“Hopefully, more people will take up these courses so that we can have the supply; the same goes for the demand side – businesses really need to up their game in terms of BDA adoption,” said Ng.
Hello AI, bye-bye data scientists?
Some would argue that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is capable of doing what a data scientist does: Mining data.
So does that mean there would less demand for data scientists in the future?
Ng disagreed, although he conceded that AI and cognitive computing technologies will be more common in the future.
But not for a while yet, he argued: “They are harder to deploy, and it is definitely much more costly for businesses to adopt such technologies.
“Obviously AI is the future, but we still need people to programme those AIs. For instance, we need data scientists to come up with algorithms.
“Take driverless car as an example – you still need a human being to programme it. Hence, the foundation of all these technologies is the talent pool,” he added.
MDeC’s 2020 vision to make Malaysia a regional BDA hub
Malaysia’s big data aspirations and the talent gap
Addressing the data scientist glut
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