“Although the awareness of big data analytics (BDA) amongst Malaysian companies is already high, their readiness or willingness to actually adopt it is still relatively low,” Datuk Yasmin Mahmood, chief executive officer at MDeC pointed out during a recent interview with the media.
According to her, one of the challenges that was preventing local firms from picking up on BDA was a lack of talent within the country.
“We don’t have a university in Malaysia that offers data science degrees yet, although there are some who offer it as an elective or component in their computer engineering courses,” Yasmin said.
However, she added that MDeC was already aware of several universities who were prepared to offer data science courses as early as next year.
“We cannot make the announcements yet, but in the near future, we will… Building talent is something that will take time.”
She shared that there are currently around 70 data scientists within Malaysia.
“There needs to be around 2,500 of them by the year 2020,” she said. “We also need to developing industry certification and upskilling courses to build up more experts in the country. It’s a big agenda and we’re working closely with Talent Corp to do this.”
Yasmin also believed that another challenge that needed to be overcome was the availability of open data sets.
“You’ve got to have a foundation of data sets that can be easily accessed,” she explains.
Lastly, the other obstacle she had observed was that most Malaysian businesses tend to opt for a wait-and-see approach.
“They want to see others adopting it first and to learn from their experiences,” Yasmin said.
In response to this, she said MDeC aims to cultivate a good dose of local BDA success stories in 2015.
“We will then showcase these stories to local companies from various industries so they can actually see what can be done and then start to plan what they can do themselves.”
The time is now
Although BDA is a trend that has been around in Malaysia for some time, Yasmin felt that it is only now that a “big leap is going to happen” on the local front.
She added that BDA has already become a top priority for the government and will form one of the key pillars for national ICT development under Rancangan Malaysia Ke-11, RMK-11 (11th Malaysia Plan).
“It has a priority area in the budget planning for RMK-11. We’re currently working with MAMPU (Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit) to look into these areas.”
Other initiatives that she said would be driven by MDeC included ensuring that a conducive, robust ecosystem is in place to encourage investments in BDA.
“We want to bring in foreign companies to come and set up offices in Malaysia to service the global market as well as the Asean market,” Yasmin explained.
In addition to promoting more local development for BDA products and services, she said that the government was also seeking to use BDA to enhance its delivery of public services.
“The government needs to capitalise on big data to ensure that the wellbeing of Malaysians continues to improve,” she said.
Despite the increased emphasis on BDA, Yasmin said this did not mean that “the government was going to endorse one form of technology over another”.
“What’s more important here is what comes out of the use cases, which is the evidence for how BDA can benefit society, the government and businesses within Malaysia,” she added.
On the whole, she said that there is still plenty to be done in terms of galvanising the Malaysian mindset towards BDA.
“We need to go out and talk to both the private and public sectors in order for them to go beyond mere curiosity to becoming first movers in their respective industries,” she said.
Currently, Yasmin identified the financial services sector and the oil and gas industry as being among the pioneers who have picked up on BDA.
“The bigger banks are actually delving into this. As for oil and gas, the industry has found strong evidence that shows that using BDA helps to unlock tremendous value across the whole value chain,” she said.
Paving the way ahead
Other recent efforts by MDeC to promote greater awareness and involvement in BDA included organising the National Big App Challenge to showcase emerging local talent in the field.
A top prize of RM20,000 was awarded to the winners whose team comprised members from both Multimedia University as well as data analytics provider firm, Teradata.
The winning app generated a dengue index that could predict dengue outbreaks and would highlight which geographical areas would be most at risk.
MDeC will be responsible for driving three high impact BDA projects under RMK-11: setting up an Asian Data Science Institute, developing open government data and establishing a network of BDA Innovation Centres of Excellence.