Malaysia wants its businesses to be more productive, and the Government is helping companies use data analytics to stay competitive on the global stage.

The country is two years into a plan to become a regional big data hub by 2020. GovInsider caught up with Dr Karl Ng, Director of Innovation Capital, Multimedia Development Corporation – and the official leading this plan.

The country has been building up citizens’ skills in data science, and the focus this year is on getting businesses to adopt analytics. “Our biggest focus – from the country’s perspective – is how can we get different sectors within Malaysia to adopt data analytics because that will be a shift towards digital transformation,” Ng says.

This year it will launch the ASEAN Data Analytics Exchange, a platform for companies to get trained, build analytics products, and test new ways to improve their business with data.

Innovation Lab

As part of ADAX, MDeC will set up an innovation lab – a physical space for companies to experiment with analytics solutions before making full scale implementations. “It’s a sandbox sort of concept where they can play around with things and also learn before they actually deploy this within their organisation,” he says.

Companies in health, telecommunications, retail and banking, among others, could benefit from the lab. In retail, for instance, “we found companies that adopt analytics are able to increase revenue by between 10 to 30%”, he adds. They used analytics to understand customer behaviour, analysing their store locations and marketing products based on customers’ preferences.

”We found companies that adopt analytics are able to increase revenue by between 10 to 30%”

The programme is not prescriptive to certain sectors, however, and is available for any organisation to take part, Dr Ng says.

The lab will also have in-house data scientists to help companies find new insights from their data.

Companies will also have access to analytics tools online, including for data mining, cleansing and analysing. This will use cloud technology, so that they can be accessed from outside of the lab. “We want users to choose the technology they want to use. Our role is to make sure the technologies are available”, he says.

Data science skills

The second piece of the ADAX puzzle will be to provide training for businesses and government. The country wants to have 1,500 data scientists by 2020. Five universities already offer graduate degrees in data science, and at least another five will join them this year.

MDeC also tied up with Coursera to offer massive online open courses (MOOCs) to civil servants and private sector professionals. 499 people signed up for the course last year, and it aims to get 500 more this year including civil servants. It will also launch more MOOCs this year with a data analytics course for businesses.

What is missing from all of this, however, is education for the top executives. Senior management have to involve data analytics in companies as a strategic tool. “This is the area where we feel that if you want organisations to adopt data-driven decision making or innovation, it has to come from the top,” Ng says.

”We feel that if you want organisations to adopt data-driven decision making or innovation, it has to come from the top”

And so MDeC plans to roll out programmes for senior management. First of these will bring Harvard Business School’s executive programme on big data and analytics to Malaysia from 25 to 28 April this year. “Moving forward, we want to roll out more of these executive level programmes so they are able to educate and change the mindset of C-levels on the need of data analytics.”

Support for startups

The third part of the ADAX scheme will nurture startups to build analytics products, and is open to entrepreneurs across the region. “The focus of the centre is very much to bring in startups to focus more on data analytics and data science-related solutions,” Ng says.

MDeC will run accelerator programmes to help startups create new products and take these to the market. “What we want is to build a minimum viable product and also help existing companies to strengthen their solutions and look at how they are able to monetise them.” Ng says.

Startups will get access to mentors, training and workshops to do these. At a later stage, selected startups will be given funding to develop further. “We do have a network of potential funders we are in touch with”, he says.

Beyond these, the startups will be able to build their networks as part of the ADAX platforms. They will be able to work with companies that come to the innovation lab and showcase their products. They can also connect with professionals who are part of ADAX’s skills programmes.

AngelHack KL 2016

MDeC already runs an accelerator programme for startups using open data to build new products. The programme was launched in partnership with the UK’s Open Data Institute, and will become part of the ADAX platform.

More open government data

Ministries across Malaysia have a key role here to open up more of their data to businesses, Ng says. Just last year, the number of datasets on the government’s open data portal shot up from 140 to 943.

But “some of the data is highly aggregated”, he adds, which makes it less valuable for big data analytics. Raw data in machine readable formats is more useful for business.

Real-time data is particularly valuable, and can help create new business models. New shared transport businesses, for example, have come about by using algorithms to match real-time data on riders’ demand with supply of drivers.

The government is launching a new open data portal, already available in beta, which could make it easier for businesses to find the data they need.

Malaysia has laid the foundations for its vision to become a regional data hub, and this year will be crucial as it begins to drive companies to start adopting data analytics.