Will Malaysia launch a Government Digital Service? Over the past couple of years, there has been increasing discussion within the country about how to centralise control over digital government and build services in-house.
The latest development is the creation of the Government Online Services Unit, housed directly under the Chief Secretary’s Office. The instructions to launch this team came straight from the Prime Minister, according to Dr Mohamed Sulaiman Sultan Suhaibuddeen, the man in charge of this team.
In 2015, the Prime Minister “instructed the Chief Secretary to look at this matter,”and “it was also agreed that they need to form a unit under the Chief Secretary’s Office to look at online services,” he explains.
Since then, Suhaibuddeen has been working within the government to develop a new digital services strategy. As he drafts this new plan, he spoke exclusively with GovInsider about the future of Malaysian gov tech.
Suhaibuddeen’s team is charged with creating a new approach. “We need to provide services which are seamless, user-friendly and accessible for people,” he says. “Five years down the road, the satisfaction or experience of users is going to be better,“ he adds. Government productivity in delivering services must also increase, he believes.
“We need to provide services which are seamless, user-friendly and accessible for people.”
Citizen engagement is going to be the foundation of his new plan. “Whatever that you are going to do, you look at what the citizen needs and wants,” he says. He has commissioned studies to survey citizens and businesses across Malaysia, gathering evidence to drive his ideas. The government will telephone users to ask about their experience with government’s online services; what they require from government; and how they compare with private sector services.
Hard numbers will get civil servants to turn their heads, he hopes. Are ministries delivering what citizens need? “We are going to map those services needed from our citizen with the services that should be offered by this ministry,” he explains.
He also plans to look at analytics from government websites to prioritise which services need his attention first. “From looking at the frequency, we know that what are the priority that we need to build first,” he says.
Digital standards will be the central pillar propping up the strategy. “The standards will say what is needed” from the services and “how to do it”, he explains. Since each agency will continue to build their own websites, the standards are meant to create a “similar look and feel”, he says. Suhaibuddeen is looking at digital standards created by the UK’s Government Digital Service, and Australia’s Digital Transformation Office, as examples.
The creation of his unit was inspired by a trip by Chief Secretary Ali Hamsa to the UK. “During one of his visits, he visited GDS in the UK and looked at Gov.UK,” Suhaibuddeen says. Hamsa returned to Malaysia thinking “why can’t we have everything in one?”. He wants a unit capable of “fast executive, low cost, high impact”.
Comparisons with other units
Suhaibuddeen has a team of three staff who are on secondment from other ministries, making his unit smaller than those it was inspired by. In comparison, Britain’s GDS has over 500 staff.
However, his team has more of a strategic role: they have been tasked with creating a strategy that will reorganise all digital services in government. “We call it the Government Online Services Roadmap: which services are going to conducted by who, when and who are the target persons,” he says.
“We call it the Government Online Services Roadmap: which services are going to conducted by who, when and who are the target persons.”
They are working hand in glove with other agencies to drive this strategy through a “digital working group”. The country’s GCIO Dr Suhazimah Dzazali, Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation CEO Dato’ Yasmin Mahmood and its Vice President Niran Noor all have a seat at this council. “We are empowering certain departments to do certain things,” he explains.
But Suhaibuddeen’s team is still experimenting and building products, like an app to sync up government social media. His team are die-hard coders so it would be difficult to prevent them from building anything in the public good.
Broadly, it seems that development will still be left to individual ministries, though.“We still allow the agencies to set up or to create their own system”.
The work of the strategy group has been broken down across government. The Public Service Department is looking at how the civil service can improve its IT skills. “They are looking at how to reduce our dependency on vendors. So they are talking about how we can empower and train up our ICT personnel,” he explains.
Meanwhile, MAMPU is looking at whether the current tech infrastructure meets agencies’ business needs. “We have put up very clearly that the business will be reviewed first before we touch the ICT,” Suhaibuddeen says. Dr Suhazimah Dzazali, the GCIO, is leading this effort, with a particular focus on four areas: business, education, health and welfare.
MDEC is also part of the digital group, in charge of growing Malaysia’s tech industry. It has built the Asean Data Analytics Exchange for companies to test ways to improve their business with data. The companies will also get access to the government’s open data through this setup, Suhaibuddeen says.
Who is Suhaibuddeen?
Suhaibuddeen spent six years leading the tech function in the Melaka State Government before his move to the new federal unit. His background indicates reforms that he may lead in the federal government.
One of his achievements there was to build a single telephone line and call centre for the entire state government – merging multiple contact points. After the reforms, citizens needed only one phone number to reach the government, and their calls were directed by a switch board. “We cut off the direct lines,” he says. “Everybody wants to have a direct line, but actually they are not in the office most of the time,” he added.
“We cut off the direct lines.”
This approach cut the cost of interacting with government, and allowed much greater efficiency. It is likely that he will advise the same approach on government digital services, merging websites into a central portal – as MAMPU is currently doing.
Suhaibuddeen has always considered the the citizens’ perspective. “I streamlined the operations as well as the management of the ICT team for the whole government in Melaka,” he says.
Regardless of the structures, his roadmap will clearly make a difference for digital government in Malaysia. It will set out a plan for the next few years, galvanising support across government.
For now, the Government Online Services Unit is staffed by three staff, but this team could herald the launch of a brand new Malaysian Government Digital Service.