How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.

As you know this year, is like the midterms of the Five Year Plan. We have the public ICT strategy plan with six thrusts, and in 2017, we also issued a public service delivery digitalisation plan which is an enhanced, more detailed blueprint making digitalisation more mainstream and more holistic.

We made progress this year, particularly in the education cluster. We managed to add value to the current online services by having more citizen-centric offerings. Several organisations, like the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Welfare, are able to offer government online services through the gateway malaysia.gov.my.

That effort is actually leveraging on another project of ours: the Malaysian Data Exchange Platform. The platform was established in 2017 and this year, we were fully able to utilise it. The platform is essentially an enabler or a catalyst for an API-driven data sharing or integration for the entire public sector.

Also this year, we have started to talk to the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation and other government and non-government entities like Tenaga Nasional Berhad because they have their own services that they offer directly, so we are always on the lookout for an opportunity for G2B services. Again, the primary objective is to offer digital services to citizens, regardless whether it’s coming from the government wholly, or the public or private sector.

It will be ongoing and there will be more and more opportunities, of course, because we are heavily developing the one stop centre for government, business registration and licensing. We put out the information base portal in 2016, and are moving towards providing it as end-to-end online services so that any investor or anybody who wants to start a business in Malaysia will be able to register their business, know where to register, what licenses they need and basically be able to register and get the license online. That is in development right now. We plan to roll out next year; this year was just ‘cooking’ at the back, developing.

What has been the most exciting thing that you worked on in 2018?

We experienced a change of government, so one good thing for us is that whatever we do is aligned with the new government’s aspirations – in particular about open data, because the current government is going for an open data partnership. So it will gel well with what we planned before.

This year, we will be able to get our open data chapter accepted, and we are also making good progress with regards to the amount of open data published in data.gov.my exponentially, but also because we changed by making a KPI for each department. Each of them are to contribute certain numbers so that we will be able to increase the number of open data that get published, and we targeted 10,000.

So next year, besides the number, we will be chasing for quality. Thank goodness that those data are all machine processable, not just PDF – we don’t accept PDFs anymore. We have progressed to that level this year.

Next year we’re also going to pursue who are going to use those data. Just publishing the data is not enough. We want the private sector to also supply open data, while also requesting what data they want, so that they can generate data products like apps or services.

If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in 2018, what would it be?

One lesson is that we discovered that it is a challenge for agencies within public sector to actually share data. They have their own regulations that are hindering that, or they have certain constraints with regards to the completeness of the data.

How do we address that? We now have started a Task Force, looking at all our laws and regulations and basically get the government to agree on data sharing laws and regulations for agencies within the government. It has always been taken for granted, because the PDPA does not apply within government. It was assumed within government that it should be easy among us to share data. But based on our data driven programme, we discover that is a challenge and that is a good lesson for us and we are trying to move forward and work with our Attorney General Chambers.

Introducing a law can take a few years but we are also thinking maybe some interim measures to basically pursue agencies to share data.

What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2019?

We know AI is going to take the world by storm. We have the literature saying AI and data analytics is going to be the big thing. Data analytics we know, we’ve been dabbling with that, and we just need to be better and better. But AI is something that we need to try out as a proof of concept.

And also the blockchain, also try out as a proof of concept because both, especially the AI, it is not very obvious how it can help government machinery, or government service delivery. But from literature and from looking at other countries’ effort areas, especially in US and Japan where they are trying to put AI in their repetitive processes in the government, we might want to try it out – not as a big project, but in some manageable use cases and do it as a proof of concept.

The other one is also the blockchain because there’s a lot of hype about it. Is it suitable for government workflow? Or is it maybe not? So we’ve been asked, what do you think about it? So our answer is, other than giving a literature review analysis and all that, let’s try for some simple manageable use cases and see whether it’s going to work or not.

What are your priorities for 2019?

Priorities still remain the same: to increase end to end online services because our target – by 2020 – we want more and more to adopt cashless transactions, and end-to-end government online services, or reducing the number of occasions where the public needs to go to the counter. That’s the whole journey of all the countries towards public service delivery.

For another, we need to up our data-driven efforts and data analytics, and really show the value for that in government decision making and planning, as well as improving services. That will still be on the agenda.

What is one skill that has helped you the most throughout the course of your career?

I think the ability to analyse and synthesise the big picture and basically relate it to more pragmatic actions. My job requires that we deliver something and it’s easy to get lost in the code and get into the technicality of things. But the stakeholder wants impact, and I think that is one skill I think that really helped me.

And also to be able to communicate the nitty gritty of what is blockchain, what is big data analytics, to the layman, to the stakeholders and sell it to them and understand also the basics of cybersecurity, because it’s creating trust. It’s easy to get skeptical with IT directly asking me to go digital. What about my data? How do we protect it?

So my training in cybersecurity helped me to communicate that we can secure it first before we fly; we need to build a brake system before we drive the car. That is the kind of message I put out there.

What advancements do you predict will happen in your field in the next ten years?

Data and AI. If we can harness that, it will really improve not only in relation to public sector, but the nation as well. A lot of people are afraid of AI because of the question of humanity and society, but for many processes – for example, I just got the idea when we were talking about AI the other day. In government, we have hundreds of contracts. And every time we do a contract, a human being needs to recall, or we need to refer to another contract and our cognitive and processing capabilities of processing massive data is limited. AI can be leveraged to do that, so we will not be left with an inadequate contract.

So we start with contracts, how AI is helping us with managing networks, managing security. I’m excited about that because AI will give us the visibility and insight for us to be able to predict better, which we know data analytics can do. But it’s human beings looking at it. Now let the machine, the machine learning, the cognitive computing to help us do that. And humans can complement it by applying wisdom.

Coffee, yoga, music… what powers you through your day?

I love problem solving. I love the challenge of thinking of something new, thinking of a solution. In my job, there are a lot of problems coming to me and I say, “Let’s think about this. And let’s try to find a solution.” That’s what keeps me going.