Pulse steady, where a strong beat is needed

  • Rapid economic growth not possible without transitioning to Digital Economy
  • Unquestionably, mobile networks need to be world class to set foundation

Pulse steady, where a strong beat is needed

WE knew it was a bold undertaking from the get go, to attempt to get a ‘feel’ of the pulse of Malaysia’s Digital Economy. After all, we already have Digital Malaysia, the government led effort to drive the nation towards the Digital Economy.

But it was also important that there be a non government led effort to keep a finger on our broader digital pulse and Digital News Asia felt we had to do it. After all with so many aspects of life and work going digital, it will be sooner rather than later that the word “digital” will not be used with “economy”. That’s when you know that digital has hit mainstream with strong economic growth not possible if not underpinned by robust digital based infrastructure, business and processes.

I heard a version of this back in early 2000 when I was speaking to a broadband provider and asking them when “broadband” will hit critical mass. The COO replied, “When people don’t couple ‘broadband’ together with internet. That’s when you know that having internet access means having broadband.” It was an elegant answer that cut through buzz words and hype straight to the heart of the matter.

But don’t expect any elegant answers in the stories that we bring here because it is clear that Malaysia’s digital economy is a work in progress, and while the rhetoric and buzz may be loud in some areas, think startups, overall we are moving along at a steady clip but not fast enough to be among the winners who arrive early and have adjusted their rules, regulations, policies and created the enabling ecosystem to allow their companies and entrepreneurs to innovate, try new things and find opportunities they can tap.

 

Score it a 3.5 over 10

Having covered the tech beat from a policy, entrepreneur and technology angle over the past 17 years, I would say Malaysia has a steady digital pulse and if I was forced to put a score on a scale of 1 to 10 on where we are at in terms of the Digital Economy, I would say 3.5.  And that is not anywhere near enough for the country to be a digital economy winner. For that we need a strong pulse. So what’s a strong pulse in this sense?

Well, some of the components of what would make up a strong pulse are profiled in our articles within this inaugural Pulse of Malaysia’s Digital Economy 2016. And while the plan was to score each of the components that we covered, we decided to hold off until the second Pulse that we will publish in Dec 2017 that will look at how Malaysia progressed over the next 12 months.

But for sure, to be a winner in the Digital Economy, the digital infrastructure has to be world class. No two ways about it. That means mobile networks that offer real 4G speeds and with ubiquitous coverage in urban and industrial areas, the main economic centres for most countries. Why choose mobile over fixed? Actually it is consumers who have chosen mobile over fixed and businesses have had to respond. And with ubiquitous connectivity and always one having become key features of digital, mobile networks have taken on a much greater importance than ever before.

How important is this? Well, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has prioritised the Digital Single Market as arguably the single biggest factor in determining European growth over the coming years. The Commission estimates US$445 billion (€415 billion) in additional growth per year will flow from a fully realised Digital Single Market. And, it is making the case that investments in digital networks, especially mobile, are therefore investments for European growth.

Malaysia can’t go wrong in taking the same position. Indeed in a conversation I had with Mohd Ali Hanafiah, chief officer, communication, digital services and standards sector, Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, it came up that our mobile network operators has gone to see the regulators asking for more time to comply with their LTE rollout commitments. That extension ends in June after which Ali says the MCMC will start its enforcement of those who fall below the stated quality standards. (see Pg 18)

Yet, unfortunately, there is no punishment, nor enforcement, when in our rush to deliver faster networks, higher speeds, we leave out pockets of the Malaysian population because they happen to live in areas deemed not viable to serve. I almost fell into the trap myself of ignoring this digital gap, which is really an economic gap.

Fortunately, in my discussion with Mohd Ali, he shared efforts MCMC was doing to ensure this gap is narrowed. It can never be closed. It was after that discussion that I spoke to social entrepreneur, Raj Ridvan Singh, who runs Sols 24/7 about his thoughts and realized that, clearly, much more needs to be done.

 

Digital networks no guarantee

Quality networks, both fixed and mobile are just the starting point. They help accelerate the entrepreneurial drive of startups, tomorrow’s digital companies, and serve as the platform for both SMEs and large companies to start adapting, experimenting and innovating to stay abreast of the changes happening triggered by rapid digitisation.

But digital networks serve as no guarantee that corporates will leverage on them. And while Malaysia has decent enough digital infrastructure, do refer to the excellent GSMA Mobile Connectivity Index and its inaugural 2016 report to see what I mean, it hasn’t acted as a spur for our SMEs to move up the manufacturing value chain.

I was planning to write an article on where Malaysia stands in terms of Manufacturing4.0, where advanced manufacturing meets sensors, meets analytics, meets Internet of Things but found out to my dismay that our entire manufacturing sector is still comfortably mired in Manufacturing2.0! I had to drop that story from this Pulse but will be writing that article on DNA in the near future.

While our manufacturing is stuck in 2.0, fortunately government is moving away from eGovernment to Digital Government, which entails making its physical services available online, including getting licenses. By the way, there are apparently 1,700 types of licenses that the government issues. The game plan is to ensure most of those can be applied for and delivered digitally to businesses and citizens.

That’s already a work in progress, as is DNA’s inaugural Pulse on Malaysia’s Digital Economy. Do share your feedback with me at [email protected] on how to make the second edition more reflective of our Digital Economy. Please download the full report here and share it with your professional network.

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