May 13, 2020 @ 1:09pm
New Straits Times
KUALA LUMPUR: One of the clear strategies outlined in a recent announcement by the MITI minister is increasing penetration and usage of digital technologies, and the participation in the digital economy.
While the basic manifestation of the digital economy are functions such as e-commerce, online retail, inventory management, marketing and delivery – the foundations of the digital economy is the digitalisation of operations beyond “gateways”, but rather system integrators, data collection and knowledge systems that allow for better decision making for any organisation.
If I were to use a historical example, the practice of accounting , or bookkeeping, was precisely that – business owners used entries of each transaction in a book to account for his sales, costs and inventory. That was until spreadsheet software such as Microsoft Excel and Lotus 123 came to the market through the advent of personal computers.
Business owners were then able to key in their data, make corrections, use spreadsheet formulas and functions to automatically calculate their business transactions and accounting needs without using a calculator (or abacus). This unlocked a lot more time for business strategies, marketing, and other practices to further and grow the business – it also made a lot of bookkeeping clerks lose their jobs, only to find their way back to the profession after some retraining in the use of accounting software.
The next generation of business tools are perhaps a leap in its advanced capabilities, but are founded based on the same age-old principles of any profession it intends to enhance. This is an important core realisation we must have in embracing technology – while Industry 4.0 or the digital economy is revolutionary, the principles in making adjustments to this leap is not something we are historically unaccustomed to, no matter how overwhelming it may be.
A report in 2018 titled “Malaysia’s Digital Economy – A new Driver of Development”, published by the World Bank Group in consultation with various industries including the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Economic Affairs took an extensive look into Malaysia’s readiness for the Digital Economy.
While the business tools mentioned above are readily available (MARii has also developed IoT platforms for businesses to enhance their digitalisation process, such as the MARii Intelligent Technology Platform – MITP), the key issue is ensuring nationwide accessibility for all businesses in any location within the country.
From an infrastructure point of view, The World Bank Report suggests that while the urban population has high internet penetration, connection speeds in suburbs and rural areas require more reliable connectivity solutions. This makes national connectivity policies an important part of the transformation towards a digital economy that is inclusive for all layers of society.
Next, the capacities of human capital development must be expanded. Perhaps this is a simpler issue to address from an accessibility point of view, as the costs of connectivity hardware – your basic laptop and smartphone – is already a norm in most corners of our society, including the rural folk.
However, access is limited through connection speeds mentioned above, but more importantly the library of content may not be as accessible from a user’s perspective – as language barriers may hamper proper use of online tools, or applications may not cater to the specific needs of the rural economy, such as cottage industries or agro-based economic activity.
Furthermore, as industry 4.0 technology was developed primarily for the manufacturing sector, most technologies in smart farming or aquaculture are mainly spinoffs from manufacturing based applications – and an increase in research and development efforts need to be concentrated towards rural applications, based on the localities of landscapes, environment and ecosystems specific to Malaysia.
The third issue that has to be addressed is a cultural one – as most Malaysians prefer cash transactions, and the norms of purchasing online is suited for the busy life of urban dwellers. Perhaps the recent COVID-19 outbreak has changed this worldview, as new forms of online delivery methods such as personal shoppers and shared delivery services increased in demand during the movement control order.
Overall, perhaps the coronavirus outbreak has sparked a higher market interest in the applications surrounding the digital economy that we all aspire to develop in Malaysia. It is an opportune moment for businesses and government policy makers to catch this wave to develop a higher level of digitalisation within our domestic economy.
The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii).