There are long hours and early mornings in the kopitiams of Ipoh, where patrons enjoy the town’s famous white coffee with buttered toast and eggs. Business owners would once have closed their shops and queued up to renew their permits. But with services now online, these small businesses can spend more time on their work or at home with their families.

For Malaysians, almost 90 percent of public services are already online. The digital services unit in the Prime Minister’s Office is busy working to streamline them, making digital transactions as smooth and painless as possible.

By the end of 2020, Malaysia plans to make 40 percent of its public services “end-to-end”, says the deputy director of the Application Development Division at the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit (MAMPU). This is “a service that from application until approval is done through online, and customers do not have to go to the respective agencies for any verification”, Hanissull Jalis bt Md Yusof tells GovInsider. This includes e-filing for tax payments, and an online service for university and college applications.

Agile government

How does government build these services? First, they work in an agile way – sharing data across agencies, working with other departments, and developing services to best fit citizens’ needs.

The open source community has provided great resources for this shift to agile, creating a backbone for MAMPU to realise their digital transformation vision. “Open source has helped us enable more agile processes and further develop the capabilities of the Public Sector Office while ensuring effective use of our resources,” YBrs. Dr. Suhazimah Dzazali, Deputy Director General (Information and Communication Technology), said last year.

First, some context: in the past, the government used closed, proprietary systems run by vendors who didn’t use open source. A licence was needed to use the code and it couldn’t be adapted easily without further fees.

That hampered the growth of hosted applications and made their development more expensive. “Previously, we used resources provided by our data centre and built our applications on traditional virtual machines. But our growth was constrained by funding availability and a lack of staff with Linux, middleware, and cloud skills,” Hanissull has said.

By going agile, MAMPU has been able to halve the time teams normally took to develop modular, secure, scaleable apps and services, supported by enterprise open source software.“I, myself, work very closely with the open source community. We then form another public sector open source community in which we do that development,” Hanissull explained.

National digital identity to drive the economy

At the same time, end to end services require a digital identity system so that the government can verify who is making a university application or paying their taxes online. In August, a new national digital identity initiative was announced to “provide reliable authentication and enable a platform for trusted digital devices,” said Gobind Singh Deo, Minister for Communications and Multimedia.

Citizens will not need to remember different usernames and passwords for various services, or carry multiple tokens to perform digital transactions, reported the New Straits Times. Eventually they will be able to transact on any device, even abroad, for any government service. Private sector will benefit as well, and use this digital identity system to verify customers, collect digital signatures or perform secure transactions. In this way, the government hopes to support online businesses and the digital economy, according to a statement.

The Malaysian government is prioritising this to ensure that it caters to evolving citizens’ needs and demands. “The challenge is of course, the more sophisticated needs from the citizen in which we need [to provide] more online services,” MAMPU’s Hanissull remarked. “Also the engagement for the citizens, and higher expectations from the younger generation – they want fast, they want quick services.”

Increasing trust

In her keynote presentation at GovInsider Live, Hanissull also shared how Malaysia wants to tackle “integrity and trust issues – these are the things that we have to monitor”. In response, the government has come up with the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030: “Our main three objectives is to ensure the income gap and the people’s wealth be looked into; to create a more structured, progressive and knowledge based economy; and to become a greater Malaysia,” she explained.

To deliver this vision, MAMPU will promote effective service delivery, monetary stability, and “comprehensive and inclusive big data”. Digital government will also enable the digital economy in the years to come. “Policy, legal framework and governance, strengthening whole-of-government in our digital transformation, data driven government to raise our rankings, and also new partnership models with ICT industry,” Hanissull said.

And the country has a clear goal to become a big data and analytics hub in the region, and wants to produce 2,000 data scientists and 16,000 data professionals by 2020, reports Disruptive Tech ASEAN. At the same time, the Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation will present a paper on the opportunities of AI and data to the government this year, according to the communications and multimedia minister.

“Malaysia, located in the heart of Southeast Asia, is well-positioned to be the leader in research and development of ethics in AI and big data,” Minister Gobind was quoted by the New Straits Times as saying.

These moves highlight the growing desire within the Malaysian government to increase transparency and become more citizen-centric. Soon enough, the kopitiam owners of Ipoh and their loyal customers will find it that much easier to interact with the government.

Image by Philippe PutCC BY 2.0