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Malaysia’s pandemic-fuelled digitalisation on the rise, industry bosses say

The next step will be to ensure its sustainability, top digital players say.

Staff Writers
3 minute read
MDEC CEO Surina Shukri, Maxis CEO Gokhan Ogut, Grab Malaysia managing director Sean Goh and PichaEats co-founder Suzanne Ling.
MDEC CEO Surina Shukri, Maxis CEO Gokhan Ogut, Grab Malaysia managing director Sean Goh and PichaEats co-founder Suzanne Ling.

The rate of digitalisation in the country has been on the rise since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic last year with the digital economy expected to hit RM125 billion by 2025, a recent panel discussion by industry bosses concurred.

The figures were based on a report on the digital economy in Southeast Asia released by Google, Singapore investment giant Temasek, and global consultancy firm Bain & Company, which highlighted the importance of the internet to Malaysia’s overall economy.

Marc Woo, managing director of Google Malaysia who moderated the panel discussion titled “Peering into Malaysia’s Digital Future”, said that 2020 had seen more than a third of Malaysians turning to digital services for the first time for e-commerce, food and groceries, education and healthcare.

Malaysia also recorded a significant growth of 87% year-on-year in gross merchandise value for the e-commerce sector, the highest in Southeast Asia, he said.

“Digital talent will be the key enabler to the success of the digital economy, requiring the collaboration of multiple parties to ensure that the momentum is sustained,” he said.

The other panelists were Surina Shukri, CEO of Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), Maxis CEO Gokhan Ogut, Grab Malaysia managing director Sean Goh, and Suzanne Ling, who co-founded PichaEats, a unique food catering business which empowers refugees by marketing meals prepared using recipes from their countries.

The panellist agree that workers and fresh graduates should equip themselves with the skills needed for digital adoption, saying the digitalisation process is expected to be more rapid than 2020.

Surina said MDEC, the main government body tasked with advancing e-commerce and digitilisation in Malaysia, said the agency had been working with the education ministry to begin bridging the digital gap.

“In secondary schools, coding is now taught as a subject. We do not want to just teach, we want to create digital maker movements,” she said.

She said the next move is to ensure that schools are equipped with labs so that students can learn subjects like robotics.

“So far, we have managed to reach 2.17 million students in the country,” she added.

Goh meanwhile hailed the equalising effect of digitalisation, giving the example of a deaf person driving a blind passenger.

“That can only be done with rapid digitalisation,” he said. “Through AI and 5G, we can even have real-time translation between sign and verbal language, and written and spoken language.”

Surina agreed, saying Malaysians appear to be looking at how to begin and advance their digital journeys compared to last year when many were still considering the relevance of such a move.

“The onset of Covid-19 has pushed for quicker adoption of digitalisation in their business models, especially among the startups.

“Malaysia will realise that we indeed ‘Boleh’ and adopt various facets of digital technologies, not just the front-end portion which is e-commerce, but also digitalising the middle portion of the business process and any innovations that come after,” she said.

Maxis’ Ogut said the introduction of 5G would enable future technologies such as AR/VR and the Internet of Things which he added could be leveraged across industries like agriculture and manufacturing.

This in turn would contribute significantly to the country’s gross domestic product, he said.

Menahile, Ling said digital adoption would move even more quickly this year, citing virtual conferences and the growing realisation among SMEs about the importance of mobile apps or websites for better customer interaction.

“Developing digital talents will be more crucial than ever and it is important that Malaysians equip themselves with the latest digital knowledge to stay relevant,” she said.