While other countries celebrate in a big way, Malaysia is blasé
What started as an awards ceremony is now a full-blown regional tech bloc
THE Asia Pacific Information and Communications Technology Awards (APICTA) program was initiated by Malaysia in 1999, but while other countries celebrate their victories in a major way, Malaysians – who continue to dominate – are pretty blasé about it.
“Last year, when Pakistan won for the first time, it was like they won the World Cup,” says Niran Noor, vice president and director at the Multimedia Development Corporation Sdn Bhd (MDeC) which oversees the MSC Malaysia national ICT initiative.
“Malaysia has lost that emotion – perhaps it’s because we have been winning and winning that we have started taking it for granted. We want to try and bring that back, that emotion,” he says.
The same blasé attitude is seen by how Malaysians view APICTA, which has grown from being merely an awards ceremony to a full-blown regional technology pact. Three years ago, APICTA became the Asia Pacific ICT Alliance, which amongst other things organizes the annual APICTA Awards.
“But the prime motivator is the same: To recognize excellence, creativity and innovation behind ICT solutions and companies from the region,” says Niran.
The alliance now includes 16 “member economies” – anything from ICT trade associations to professional bodies -- from 11 different countries: Australia, Brunei, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam. More information about the APICTA member economies is available here.
Malaysia continues to serve as the secretariat and deputy chair; the current chair is held by Thailand.
“More are clamoring to come in,” claims Niran. “While in the early days, we accepted any member economy which wanted to join, these days we are a lot more stringent.
“There is a strict process – first, you have to register your interest, then attend an exco [executive committee) meeting at which you have to present your case. Next, you can attend one of the annual awards as an observer, where you have an idea of what’s going on. After that, you can take aprt in the judging process … after this participation and contribution, we will review your application.”
Niran claims that Australia last year reviewed its membership in a number of regional ICT bodies, and consolidated it all in only two, with APICTA being one of them.
“There is no other such grouping anywhere in the world, but many countries here have seen the value of what APICTA does,” he says. “We’re trying to take the concept global by trying to encourage equivalents in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and the Americas.”
Oscars of ICT awards
The APICTA Awards have two levels: A national leg and the regional level. While the awards seems to have seemingly slipped under the radar in Malaysia recently, Niran says there are an average of 400 submissions every year for the Malaysia-level awards. The deadline for submissions this year is May 30.
There are currently 19 award categories, the latest addition being Sustainability and Green IT, which was added last year. The Malaysian-level awards includes a 20th, the Prime Minister’s Best. The Prime Minister of Malaysia, currently Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, is the patron of APICTA.
Niran describes it as the “Oscars” of ICT awards competitions. “Others may focus on personalities and businesses; we’re very focused on solutions. Other organizations which organize their own awards have actually seen the value of consolidating theirs within APICTA.”
The key to APICTA’s relevance is the strict criteria in judging, he claims, a standard maintained even in the selection of the judges, who are a mix of industry leaders, representatives from non-governmental organizations and academics.
“We have a set of guidelines this thick,” Niran says, his fingers spread more than an inch apart. “We have also developed an algorithm to spot serious discrepancies between judging scores to ensure there is no favoritism, especially at the regional-level awards.”
“All this is shared openly and transparently with the judges. Judging is the key to APICTA – we lose that, we lose APICTA.”
Niran believes that APICTA continues to be popular with ICT companies despite the lack of media coverage and national excitement because it opens doors.
“Other awards and bodies are about networking and meetings; we’re about innovative solutions and helping companies take their solutions to the next level,” he claims.
This comes not only from their exposure to and interaction with regional experts and peers during the judging process, but also the coaching, guidance and feedback that contestants get during the process.
It is a viewed shared by P.K. Lim, chief executive officer of Smartag Solutions Bhd, an RFID (radio frequency identification) solutions specialist and multiple APICTA Award winner.
“We’ve taken part four times in the last four years, the first with an R&D project that later became a full-blown solution which we also won a merit award for,” he says.
“When we first took part, many of our peers told us we were wasting our time because ‘there’s no money in it.’ But we keep taking part because every time has been a learning experience. It’s not only the coaching and mentoring, which have been invaluable, but also the strict judging and feedback we received.
“Some of the questions judges asked actually opened up our minds to new possibilities. Different judges will dive deep into different aspects of our solutions. It has made us more nimble and even gave us a more ambitious vision of what we can achieve,” Lim says.
Smartag’s Secured Trade Facilitation System was chosen for the RM45 million (US$14.2 million) Royal Malaysian Customs project to uses RFID technology to identify and track containers entering, leaving, and moving within the country.
The initiative was one of the Entry Point Projects under the Malaysian Government’s Economic Transformation Program, which seeks to transform the country into a high-income nation by the year 2020. (See accompanying article here).
“And we have APICTA to thank for that, because one of the MDeC officials who was involved in the ETP labs that discussed this project remembered our solution from the awards, and that opened doors for us,” says Lim.
APICTA participation has also opened regional doors for Smartag to take their solutions to a wider audience, he adds.
This year’s international APICTA will be held in Brunei from Dec 2-5. The occasion will be graced by His Royal Highness Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah, the Crown Prince of Brunei, MDeC’s Niran says.