“If you build it, they will come.”
That saying came to my mind when Malaysian Prime Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin announced the Digital Economy Blueprint (MyDIGITAL) on 19 Feb.
When I think about MyDIGITAL, I picture a highway being built on virgin land. After it is built, townships will form along the stretch; businesses will soon pop up to serve these communities. Years after, the economy along the stretch is booming.
There are big plans ahead to develop and enhance the telecommunications (especially 5G), cloud technology and digital connectivity infrastructure of the country. These are the bricks of the digital highway that will help Malaysia attract investments and enable the local economy to prosper. This, in turn, will improve the lives of Malaysians and provide them with more opportunities.
However, while technological infrastructure is important and plays a big part in MyDIGITAL’s success, much work needs to be done before things are built.
Like any digital transformation initiative, the success of MyDIGITAL lies in its execution. I’ve seen companies loose hundreds of millions of dollars because a digital transformation initiative was badly implemented. For a country, the amount could end up being in the billions. So, the stakes are high.
But first, the good news
Before I explain further, let me first highlight the good things I picked up from Muhyiddin’s speech.
For one, I’m really glad that the problem of the digital divide is being acknowledged, and that there will be a plan to address it. Digital literacy is important; it will ensure that every Malaysian gets to benefit from the development and it creates a workforce for the digital economy. Also important is the message that MyDIGITAL will only succeed if the public and private sector gets involved. All these are critical factors to consider when implementing the plan and should not be ignored.
And here’s another important note: The Government is very clear about what it wants to achieve through MyDIGITAL. Some of these include:
- 22.6 percent contribution to the GDP from the digital economy by 2025
- 500,000 job opportunities in the digital economy
- 5,000 start-up companies to begin operating in the next five years
- RM70 billion new investments in the digital sector
- 30 percent higher productivity in the economic sector by 2030
You’d be surprised, but many companies embark on a digital transformation initiative without having a clear idea what benefits they’d like to achieve through it. Is it a surprise then when the initiative ends up not furthering the company’s goals and vision? Worse, it often introduces new problems and the company has to fork out millions to solve it. So, I’m glad that the Government is clear about what it wants to achieve. We can work towards a goal more strategically and efficiently when it is clearly defined.
Preparing the road ahead
Before a highway is built, a careful analysis will be done to determine impacts on traffic, ecology and the economy. Is the highway even needed?
In my experience, when it comes to projects, not enough time is spent on this stage.
MyDIGITAL needs the same careful analysis and planning before a single wire is connected. The most important question to ask before anything begins is this: Are we clear on what the nation needs, not what we want?
A product that doesn’t address consumer need tends to flop. An infrastructure roll out that doesn’t meet the needs of the people ends up being a white elephant. So, the Government and businesses must clearly identify Malaysia’s needs and differentiate it from wants.
Here are some potential challenges:
- What are the government processes that will make MyDIGITAL possible? Are they efficient and effective? Are there gaps in the process? Broken processes and inefficiencies will not magically disappear when a digital solution appears, so these must be addressed first.
- How do we ensure that Malaysians are prepared to embrace and take advantage of these advancements? How do we upskill them so that they will not be left behind and the digital divide grow bigger?
- If we are to get NGOs, big corporations and SMEs to contribute, how do we communicate the vision to them effectively so that we get their buy-in and cooperation?
One of the most important steps to take for MyDIGITAL is to form a transformation management office (TMO).
The TMO can be especially beneficial as they will not just oversee an initiative and make sure that they are on track and delivering results as expected but will also ensure that it aligns to the vision, mission, goals and objectives of the country. Most importantly, they ensure that Malaysia’s needs are identified and addressed.
Secondly, it is vital that leadership articulate the case for change to every Malaysian business. How will they benefit from MyDIGITAL? Why must it be done? This will ensure that companies will be behind the plan and help it succeed.
Third, have a solid communication strategy to communicate that vision to every stakeholder. The message must be consistent and communicated often so that it will be top-of-mind for stakeholders.
Fourth, it is really, really important to upskill and improve the digital literacy of the Malaysian workforce. A lot of hard work needs to be done on the ground so that means we need a skilled workforce. Companies need to seriously start to train their workforce for the digital economy and take advantage of government training incentives if there are any.
Highway to success
With good implementation, MyDIGITAL will allow for the smooth installation of technology that will power up Malaysia’s digital highway. Best of all, its benefits will trickle down to every layer of Malaysian society.
The key is to do the initial work to ensure that the initiative is rolled out well. These steps are often forgotten, sometimes ignored, because the technological aspects are shinier and shout the loudest.
With the world more connected than ever through digital systems, Malaysia, while already plugged in, stands to benefit if it’s digital capabilities are enhanced. MyDIGITAL could be the catalyst to transform Malaysia into a more efficient, productive and competitive economy in an ever-evolving world.
This column was first published in Business Today Malaysia.