Change and the Importance of Core Values

The only thing that’s constant in life and business is change. And change is best exemplified in the Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) industry which is constantly evolving for the better, with newer innovations to improve lives, and enable businesses to run more efficiently and productively.

Having been at Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) for more than three years thus far, after having spent my previous chapter at multinational companies such as Microsoft, Dell and HP; I have witnessed first-hand the power and magnitude of digital transformation that pave the way for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

I have always thought of innovation as being the intersection between invention and insight. And with innovation comes transformation that transcends government, business and society for the better.

However, there is one aspect of transformation that is equally important. And that’s cultural transformation which, done correctly, brings positive benefits and significant changes within a company.

Allow me to share the MDEC example.

MDEC’s mission is to champion Malaysia’s Digital Economy, and for this to happen, it must be rooted in our core values and we must hold ourselves accountable to the highest standard of integrity.

Visitors to the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) headquarters in Cyberjaya would inevitably see a statement of our core values on the ground floor. They are:

  • We serve the nation, and are here to help bring meaningful impact to our country. And we do so with utmost integrity, sincerity and accountability.
  • We are go-getters, and do things with passion, courage, agility and resilience.
  • We are forward-thinkers, and constantly look towards the future, anticipate change, are not afraid to challenge the status-quo and connect the dots to maximise impact.
  • We are collaborators, meaning we are approachable and respectful, and we believe in the power of partnerships and teamwork.
  • We have fun… are adventurous, creative and we inject “Wow (!) into everything that we do.
Photo Credit: Nurul Shafina Jemenon, New Straits Times

As CEO of MDEC, I am very proud of these values and the MDEC team – because I see my MDEC team bringing them to life on a daily basis.

These core values represent “our true north”, because they are what makes the MDEC team a highly impactful and highly collaborative one. Evidence of this is how the Digital Economy contributed some 18.2% to Malaysia’s GDP in 2015 and is expected to further increase in the years ahead.

However, corporate cultural transformation can be challenging.

At times, the MDEC leadership team and I have had to make some tough decisions to ensure that these core values and integrity continue to be at the heart of everything we do.

We have had to transform processes and to make them more transparent – and be seen as transparent.

I admire and respect MDEC Chairman Tan Sri Sidek Hassan’s position on “Zero Tolerance” or “ZeTo” on corruption.

It is a position MDEC as a company can relate to: MDEC has Zero Tolerance for any form of corruption.

Let me give you an example: Through our audit process in 2016, we uncovered issues concerning Foreign Knowledge Workers (FKW) Approval Process and Governance. This goes against the grain of what MDEC stands steadfastly for.

As a result, under the purview of the Board Audit Committee, we undertook an extensive audit and process transformation to drive transparency. This included:

  1. Engaging credible third-party consultants to undertake the Business Process Reengineering and an extensive forensic audit to validate issues that had been uncovered.
  2. The approval process was redesigned to make it a ‘committee-based’ approval system. Most of the changes came into effect in mid-2017. Since then, we continue to further fine tune and make improvements in the best interest of transparency.
  3. Issues that may have been discovered during this exercise would have been notified and reported to the relevant authorities.

Embarking on this clean-up exercise was no easy task. It required commitment, patience and most of all, courage – especially in the face of many obstacles and people who were against this positive change for a more transparent and fair process.

As one of the leading organisations in the nation, MDEC is also pursuing the Corruption-Free (also known as “IBR”) pledge with MACC. What this means is that MACC will have direct access to us and our people, myself included.

It pleases me to say that, when we announced this process, the MDEC Senior Leadership Team volunteered to be the first to go through this audit and to be checked. It’s very heartening because it shows that core values and integrity are not just corporate statements, but that the team is leading by example even if such a process may be perceived to be inconvenient and tedious.

Another initiative that MDEC is implementing is developing our very own Code of Ethics and Business Conduct.

While such processes may be time-consuming and tedious, it is our commitment to our core values and integrity that would ensure MDEC continues serving Malaysia and helping our country realise our digital potential to its fullest. Failure to see through such commitment would mean that we have let down the country.

At the end of the day, though, integrity is what defines us as people and as professionals.

Yes, change is constant and transformation is important – but what’s equally or more important is integrity and the core values within us all to always do the right thing.

This article “Change and the Importance of Core Values” also appeared on New Straits Times on 10 February 2018  at 1.21pm.

Why Malaysia’s Creative Sector a Credible Driver for the Digital Economy

Creativity will drive new engines of innovation

While most nations focus on socio-economic development, ecosystem growths, marketplace transformation and other ‘real world’ agendas, there other critical factors that must be brought into play.

Let’s consider these  the following milestones, which are powered by the twin drivers – creativity and digital technology:

  • Malaysia is now a multimedia powerhouse, which is producing highly sought-after digital content
  • Malaysian talents are now being sourced for various digital and technology related industries
  • Malaysia has become a defining example of a rapidly-accelerating digital economy

Now, that the first arc of the story has been achieved, Malaysia is  switching up through the gears  and increasing  its pace of development. The creative content industry – is rapidly growing into  a lucrative and financially stable sector.

What is the backstory to this positive position?

Well, to answer that, let’s look at how things were like 10 years ago.

Creative Niche

One of the original goals for the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) was the daunting task of producing an expansive animated world with Saladin: the Animated Series. Conceptualised in 2004, it was an  ambitious, long-sighted project that was filled with passionate and talented people who wanted to see the Malaysia recognized. This project brought together private businesses, government facilitation, and an international co-production. That feat alone is remarkable and the ensuing internationally critical and commercial success surpassed all expectations.

Of course, a more fundamental aspect emerged and took root. What started off as an initiative to kick-start the 3D animation industry for Malaysia, became the source of inspiration to create and grow an industry, which focused purely on creative pursuits –  powered by advanced technology and innovations.

Those involved with Saladin strongly believe that Malaysia has the potential to lead the creative sector and grow into a regional powerhouse.  That same  fervent hope saw that this marketplace could transform into a critical economic driver. Productive weeks turned into fruitful months, and later into years of empowerment for this space.

Conduit of Growth

With help from MDEC, the creative content industry has started to crystallise, and to take definite shape. . The goal has always been about establishing Malaysia as a regional Creative Hub: one that  nurtures both the talent and industry to serve regional and global needs. Nearly 15 years later,  opportunities are multiplying, from as far afield as France, Europe, UK, as well as from key Asian markets – all currently working with talents and businesses in Malaysia.

To-date, there are about 11,000 professionals in the Malaysia’s creative content and technology industry. Most of these  are providing in-depth coverage within key creative segments, such as animation, games, visual effects & new media, multimedia assets for apps, and content-enabled delivery platforms. Companies in this space exporting RM1.2 billion in 2016 alone, making it the fastest growing technology marketplace in the last three years.

Deep diving into any of the industry sub-segments will bring up some surprising insights. Take the animation sector, as an example. The statistics alone are mind-boggling – market revenues for animation and related efforts have reached 187.7 million in 2016, translating to an estimated 11.2% boost from 2014 to 2016. Equally as impressive is the games market. From a consumption standpoint, research shows a US$587 million revenue forecast in 2017, adhering to a year-on-year growth rate of 16.3%. In terms of market size, there are 14 million Malaysian gamers, 7.8 million of these are paying customers.  Take this data into account alone suggests  that one out of every two Malaysians are gamers and voracious consumers of quality digital content and services related to these immersive materials.

The creative content and technology industry is today a  fast growing, influential, and high potential sector – one that has been experiencing exponential growth in the last few years. Knowing this, Malaysia is keen on further accelerating the creative development segment and the massive pool of talents keen to delve into this new marketplace. This includes building new digital technologies, growing the ecosystem, and ensuring that its effects are translated to give value beyond the digital space.

Of course, like all progressive efforts, there are certain drivers, which are critical to these aspirations. The important ones – such as talent development and retention, up-skilling roles, and widening public awareness and acceptance –  are the most empowering factors for the creative industry. Attracting  support from  influencers on talent – such as family, school, and the environment  – is equally significant.

Transformative Marketplace

All these performance scaling and industry growths offer much more than continuous revenue streams. Beyond the more obvious outcomes, the creative content sector has helped Malaysia to take the lead in various initiatives. One of the first initiatives MDEC introduced to empower talents was the Intellectual Property Creative Challenge (IPCC). A platform like IPCC –  now become a must-go-to event for potential creatives –  has opened another door into animation and videogames development.  IPCC has helped some people go on to create multiple industry milestones.

Another step includes establishing the Malaysia Animation and Creative Content Centre (MAC3), an incubation and accelerator initiative, to give the creative development sector another boost, and inspire similar services to open their doors. The latest of these efforts is the public-private sector initiative between MDEC and UOA with  industry partners  in launching the LEVEL UP Inc. – the premier games  incubator. With one of the partners, Media Prima Digital, Malaysia now has a proper privately-led digital games publisher that is willing to fund and develop digital games that have commercialisation potential. This includes merchandising efforts and scaling to regional markets.

This move allows MDEC to leverage the tremendous potential Malaysia has to offer as an investment location as well as offer a talent supply line for the creative content industry. There is a need to provide support for local content development efforts  and so feed further  growth of the ecosystem. This is important for digital games development:  this, among others, is the primary reason such spaces are essential.

Malaysia is no longer taking baby steps;  it has now grown into a champion for the creative content industry. While there is much more to be done, there is no doubt that things are now in place and moving in the right direction. It is  now a matter of building more pace within  the content ecosystem and matching this to the speed of growth of other engines of innovation and economic development in Malaysia.

Personally, I believe that it will take more than the separate capabilities of the private and public sectors or relevant players to further revolutionise the creative industry segment. Multiple collaborations, which not only cross-over verticals but also geographical boundaries,  will become the primary play-book for all within the content development space.

To end, we are like the crew of the Starship Enterprise, boldly going where no one has really gone before. The only thing that is keeping us alive and moving forward is the team effort that we as Malaysia is putting out there. Everyone plays a part and our job in MDEC is to make sure the Warp Drive is fully operational.

Malaysian Businesses Must Accelerate Its Digital Transformation to Keep Up

Changing with the times is now an absolute necessity

Business transformation has always been about doing more to improve processes at all levels and engaging a broad swath of factors. This, oftentimes, will take technological advancements into account as they are used to start or spur major changes for the positive livelihood of all.

Just look at how the personal computer, and later on the mobile phone along with the smartphone after, disrupted their respective industries and made it better for everyone.

Road to Digital Development

When Malaysia established a true and proper technology regulator 20 years ago, it had multiple objectives to achieve. Chief among them is the ultimate aim of updating the country into a technological powerhouse. Its role is so crucial that it had been designated as the innovation trailblazer that all must follow. Fast forward to 2017 – having gone far to close the digital divide – the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) continues the drive the innovation and technology empowerment agendas.

Previously known as the Multimedia Development Corporation, the recently rebranded regulator has raised the ante in bringing Malaysian businesses to the global stage.  While it originally started out as an effort to create and grow a tech ecosystem that thrives on innovation, it soon became an acceleration platform that is fully focused on propelling Malaysia into becoming a driving force for the digital economy.

This can be seen in the initiatives that MDEC has introduced over the last year such as Malaysia Digital Hubs and Malaysia Tech Entrepreneur Programme (MTEP). There are even other collaborative efforts that contribute to the progress of the digital economy. Among the big achievements are the re-domiciling of a global talent development brands and attracting venture builders who are keen to use Malaysia as a regional staging ground.

As Malaysians become more technologically savvy and this nation transforms itself into a critical driver for innovation and digital economy, it is only a matter of addressing what it is lacking now to enable its full immersion with innovation. This also includes boosting process improvements and efficiencies at all levels. Current statistics show that most Malaysians have an aptitude for the digital realm, like how most who are on Facebook have 60% more friends than the global average or Uber registering 160,000 drivers in the Malaysian towns it is operating in since it started up.

The Big Push

Going by these statistics alone, Malaysians are more than ready to join the digital era.

While businesses are in the know, there are still many – comprising mainly the small and medium-sized ones – that do not understand how critical it is to ready themselves for the 4th Industrial Revolution. They need to learn and adapt quickly so they can embrace this transformative shift.

Technology, long before it became mainstream, has always been seen as an add-on component that introduces enhancements meant for improving processes. That mindset, which always focused on optimisation, must change. Current progress clearly indicates that more needs to be done to encourage the growth of the digital era. In making the switch, most focuses should be directed fully on tackling key issues that have plagued the drive for innovation all these years.

In fact, being able to take on current and oncoming disruptions is the end-goal for businesses as they move to be more accepting and understanding on the need for becoming more technology savvy.

Immediate Changes Needed

In this era of disruption and constant marketplace transformation, businesses and industry leaders have to take the lead and be the change agents. They are the ones who will augment the way companies interact, communicate, and understand the potency for digital transformation. When properly implemented, improvements will occur at almost all levels.

Current advancements seen to-date for Malaysia are a mixed bag of potential results as large enterprises are slow on the up-take. Thankfully, most are already considering plans for digital transformation with those operating at smaller scales being quicker to adapt and plan for deployment.

Undoubtedly, being able to unlock the true value from this next-gen economy model is far from being fully exploited. This factor nicely ties into the necessary paradigm shifts needed to introduce and accelerate the expansion of the digital era. This includes public policy changes playing a key role along with how companies understanding and being quick to realise that they cannot fall back on archaic practices and old school thinking.

Things must change, clearly.

Both factors, and needing to act on them, have to be primary focuses for Malaysian companies if they are to keep up and remain globally relevant. If done right, they can reap the maximum benefits from updating themselves and reading their processes for the digital age.

MDEC 2018 National Budget Commentary

National Budget 2018 – MDEC’s Budget Commentary

October 27, 2017

Datuk Yasmin Mahmood, Chief Executive Officer,
Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC)

We are delighted that Budget 2018 is focused on accelerating growth and enhancing the wellbeing of the rakyat as well as in further enhancing Digital Malaysia. The Digital Economy continues to be a key driver of growth, contributing some 18.2% of Malaysia’s GDP this year, and expected to exceed the projected target of 20% earlier than 2020.

Just last Friday (20 October 2017), Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Najib Tun Razak hosted the 29th Implementation Council Meeting (“ICM”) and emphasised on the importance of the Digital Economy, and how it can become the new engine of growth for Malaysia. At ICM, Prime Minister Najib also announced a new stream of initiatives to boost nationwide digital transformation, and details of these initiatives – both new and existing – were unveiled at today’s Budget 2018 announcement.

Digital inclusivity and generating income for the rakyat

The RM100 million allocation for the eRezeki and eUsahawan programmes would ensure that the Digital Economy continues to be inclusive for the well-being of the rakyat, and in particular the B40 and M40 groups.

With both programmes going into their third year, we estimate that 150,000 rakyat would be trained in 2018; resulting in 341,745 rakyat participating in both programmes with an estimated total income and revenue of RM544 million according to calculations.

We are also pleased to note that digital inclusivity has also been extended to a new flagship initiative called eLadang to encourage farmers to leverage the latest smart farming technologies (such as IoT [Internet-of-Things] and BDA [Big Data Anaytics]) to improve yield and pendapatan.

Talent Development for the Future of Work

A total of RM250 million has been allocated for future education of the National Transformation 2050 (TN50) generation, and would be used to develop Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) centres and improve Computer Science modules, including for Coding programmes. From the RM250million, RM190million is allocated for two thousand classes to be transformed into Smart Classrooms for 21st Century learning to increase creative and innovative learning.

MDEC is pleased with this allocation as this would ensure Malaysia’s students have exposure to the #mydigitalmaker education initiative launched last year.

This is a joint public-private-academia initiative with the aim of transforming the youth community from being users of digital innovation to producers or digital innovators. This includes skills such as coding, app development, robotics, embedded programming and creative technology; all of which will ultimately help to strengthen problem-solving and creativity amongst our future generation.

Our forecast reveals that we need one million digital workers, such as coders, application developers and software engineers, by 2025. With the continuous emphasis on talent development for the future of work, this is indeed encouraging for Malaysia to continue nurturing our bright young talent.

Nurturing Malaysia’s startup ecosystem

It was also announced that the Malaysian Government will assist startups by introducing a slew of initiatives to encourage venture capital activities. The Prime Minister announced that investors from major institutions will allocate RM1 billion for venture capital investments in selected sectors.

These initiatives include income tax exemption being widened to include management fees and performance fees, as well as a reduction in minimum investment limit in a venture company from 70% to 50% from 2018 to 2022. Companies or individuals investing in venture capital companies will be given a tax deduction equivalent to the amount of their investments, which will be limited to a maximum of RM20 million ringgit per year, just as income tax exemptions equivalent to the amount of investments by angel investors in venture companies will be extended until 31 December 2020.

This is a visionary stance by the Malaysian Government as the start-up ecosystem is the job creators of the future. We introduced two highly successful initiatives last year, the first being the Malaysia Digital Hub initiative that supports start-ups and communities while creating greater opportunities for them to connect to the ASEAN and global digital ecosystem; and secondly, the Malaysia Tech Entrepreneur Programme (MTEP) – an initiative by the Malaysian Government that aims to attract global technopreneurs and help them to realise their fullest potential out of Malaysia and to scale their businesses regionally and globally.

Fortifying the Fourth Industrial Revolution and Digital Economy

The Malaysian Government would also be providing grants worth RM245 million under the Domestic Investment Strategic Fund to upgrade Smart Manufacturing services. This move is aimed at supporting investment and business activities under the Industrial Revolution 4.0.

In addition, the Futurise Centre in Cyberjaya will be upgraded as a one-stop centre for corporate companies and universities to develop product prototypes as well as to boost innovation. The government will also extend incentive periods for Fast Capital Allowance by 200 per cent on automation appliances for assessment year of 2018 until 2020, while incentives for the manufacturing and services sector for Fast Capital Allowance by 200 per cent will also be given. For information communication technology appliances, capital allowances – including computer software expenditure – can be claimed from assessment year of 2018 until 2020.

These moves stem from the reality today that, in a hyper-connected world, it is becoming abundantly clear that artificial intelligence (or “AI”) is the defining force of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. AI is the natural progression from data analytics, and as such, Malaysia should start looking at developing a National AI Framework. This will then be an expansion of the National BDA (Big Data Analytics) Framework. AI is the “game changer” for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ)

DFTZ is proving to be a massive game changer for Malaysia which will see Malaysia’s SMEs doubling exports, and establish Malaysia as a regional trans-shipment hub for e-commerce logistics while creating 60,000 jobs by 2025.

I am happy to say that the DFTZ will “Go Live” on 3 November and 1,900 export-ready SMEs will be flagged off to begin their export journey. This is an encouraging number of SMEs as our previous target was 1,500 SMEs.

For the first time, the world will see a physical and virtual zones with additional online and digital services to facilitate cross border eCommerce and invigorate internet based-innovation.

Future-Proofing: Critical Cornerstone for the Digital Economy

Why it is necessary for the current era of disruption

The IT industry has been in a state of flux over the last 12 months thanks primarily to disruptive technologies of all sorts appearing and rocking the status quo for many industries. This has become so extensive that it is imperative for all to identify current or upcoming trends that have the potential to influence the marketplace. Businesses need to be able to learn and adapt, or be left behind.

Future-proofing, of course, is critical here.

Consider the likes of iflix, Grab, AirBnB, Amazon, and other on-demand services that have appeared over the last five years. While their goal is to provide an entirely new level of service that is unprecedented for all, they have challenged the norm and forced many industries as a whole to face change. Mainstay players must now figure out how they can take on these fast-accelerating upstarts.

In fact, disruption – now a buzzword among innovators – has become a true force to be reckoned with as it has become a major wake-up call for businesses that are complacent or appear to be laggards.

Disruptive Effects

As the world struggles to embrace change that the digital age heralds at a never-seen-before rapid pace, it is clear that there is a revolution taking place right now with technology taking centre stage. Technology has, and still is, changing all the rules and propagating the fact of how disruption is now the new norm.

Once this understanding gains more traction among businesses, the next step is to consider future-proofing for the variable factors that these disruptive forces might bring to the table.

Let’s start with how disruptions affect businesses.

As consumers change according to trends, businesses must be ready for a never-ending game of evolution and be quick to absorb, understand, and adapt to rapid transformative processes. If they don’t, there is no chance for them to ever catch up. This applies to all industry sectors as disruption is not discriminative and will have a knock-on effect among inter-related verticals.

Disruption is an inevitable process that, by how it progressed over the last few years, has now become nigh unstoppable. In fact, the premise that it appears to focus in limited sectors is false as many business leaders have pointed to digital transformation as one of the major factors feeding the continual growth of many socio-economies.

The way forward is for all to embrace the idea of being disruptive or disrupted, rather than fearing it.

Digital Take-Up

Future-proofing covers a broad stroke of processes that mostly rely on engaging the digital native. That one aspect alone is a necessity as it will enable businesses to be more aware and highly relatable to the ever-changing landscape that on-going and soon-to-come disruptions have brought about.

Having such engagements in mind will give rise to interest or, perhaps, instantly spur many towards transforming how they operate to make it more technologically inclusive and be fully prepared for the oncoming wave of disruptions.

This is, essentially, a crucial factor for businesses to keep in mind as they study and figure out what is needed for future-proofing.

Understanding the digital native certainly goes above and beyond deploying new technologies and enhancing how the workforce operates. In fact, the two inter-linked functions would only work when more start to understand and embrace the need to become digitally enabled, not just from a business perspective but in how they go about their daily activities as well.

Digitally Driven

With the Fourth Industrial Revolution now in full-swing, companies can no longer second guess themselves as newer innovations continue to show up and consistently shake-up the existing state of affairs. Industrial trends like Big Data Analytics, Internet of Things, Virtual and Augmented Reality, Mobility, and eCommerce have already broken the proverbial glass ceiling as they move to digitise the world. Seeing as these five empower the digital economy, it further reinforces the notion that they should not be under-estimated or disregarded.

Businesses must be immersed with any one, or all, of these influential factors to ensure their technology offerings are future-proof and able to take on these seismic shifts that the world is now experiencing.

The world had not been ready for the likes of Uber, AirBnb, and Alibaba. Even home-grown disruptors like Tripda and Hermo have started making in-roads for the ride-sharing and facial care spaces, further proving that industrial competitors are not the ones who will start any shake-ups. The use of advanced technologies will be vital to this and, thus, it is only appropriate that businesses step up their efforts to spur digital transformation from within at all levels.

MDEC is driving the digital economy in Malaysia

In Malaysia itself, as a core path towards the development of a high-income knowledge-based economy, Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) has acted as the driving factor pushing for a fully connected digital economy.

SMEs, which have long been the backbone of Malaysia’s economy will continue to play a strong part and are deemed by MDEC to be agile enough to compete effectively in this disruptive landscape. The rise in e-Commerce activity over the past few years has been significant, and MDEC expects SME exports to strongly push towards the 2020 goal of 30%.

Whatever it may be, the truth is that versatility is king today and will be in the future.


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