Behind Malaysia’s MyDigital Corporation: From a one-man show to a driving force in Malaysia’s digital transformation
By Ming En Liew
How Malaysia’s MyDigital Corporation came to be, and the ambitious plans of its CEO, Fabian Bigar.
Fabian Bigar, CEO of Malaysia's MyDigital Corporation. Image: GovInsider
Fabian Bigar first heard the news from a friend, who had seen it in the press and congratulated him on his new job. He received a call on a Thursday from Malaysia’s then-Minister of Economy, who asked him to report for duty in his new role the following work week.
The current CEO of MyDigital Corporation started out his new position two years ago with nothing. “I was given a title, but there’s no agency. It had not been incorporated because we are not the traditional government department,” Fabian told GovInsider during an in-person interview.
The weekend after his call from the Minister, he headed back to his old office at the Ministry of Health, packed up his belongings, and found himself in a brand-new office on Monday.
With just two to three temporary staff members under his wing, Fabian was tasked with the uphill challenge of establishing a new organisation that would drive and monitor the progress of the Malaysia Digital Economy Blueprint (MyDIGITAL) and the National Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) Policy.
The first steps saw Fabian registering the corporation as an entity with the company commission, hiring a board, setting up a corporate bank account, and eventually, hiring staff.
“But of course, all this transformation job and nudging people, it's not an easy job,” Fabian says. “Not all can do the work.”
Fabian shares that in the corporation, staff need to have a good understanding of technology, but do not necessarily need to be IT folk. Rather, the job is about getting people to execute, he says, and similar to programme management.
“You don't need an IT background. But you need to appreciate technology to be able to do this job,” he explains. “The role is more about nudging people, the strategy side, and bringing people together.”
From a one-man show at its inception back in 2021, MyDigital Corporation is now a team of more than 20 strong, with a mission to fuel the transformation of Malaysia’s digital economy. The corporation today serves as the coordinating body across the many agencies involved in MyDIGITAL and the 4IR Policy.
Additionally, they contribute to the change and programme management initiatives as well as the forging of public-private partnerships needed to bring these blueprints to life.
Besides that, the corporation is also tasked with the goal of raising awareness and recognition of MyDIGITAL on both local and global platforms – a task has taken upon himself by taking on numerous speaking engagements, he shares.
Standing in the public-private gap
The corporation exists to bridge the public and private sectors, he shares. Many civil servants start their careers in civil service and progress from there. They would then lack the requisite industry experience, Fabian shares. Meanwhile, those in the industry may not understand how the government operates and will need civil servants to help them navigate that.
“We need to learn from both,” he says. This is why MyDigital Corporation recruits individuals from both the public and private sectors. The civil servants will understand the sensitivities and structures in the public sector and how to navigate that; while those from the private sector bring their industry expertise and knowledge.
This way “we have the best of both worlds,” he says.
MyDigital’s secondment process is another example of how they bridge the public-private divide. The corporation often recruits employees from the private sector, who are seconded to the corporation for a limited time.
“That's a partnership because you give us the workers, we train them, we give them exposure to the workings of the government,” Fabian explains. This exposes private sector individuals into the inner workings of the government, such as how international negotiations are conducted.
A key example of the public-private partnership is the establishment of the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR), which was launched by MyDigital in partnership with the World Economic Forum in May this year. The C4IR in Malaysia is the 19th of its kind globally, and the first in Southeast Asia.
The Malaysian centre will first take a broad overview of examining issues relating to the digital economy, energy transition and digital transformation. Eventually, the goal is to recruit subject matter experts from across Malaysia’s public and private sectors to zoom in on and develop initiatives to identify key issues in these sectors and develop initiatives to address them.
As part of a larger network of C4IR around the world, Malaysia will be able to draw on the experience and expertise of other centres to develop its own framework and initiatives.
For instance, Fabian shared that Colombia planned to develop a proof-of-concept for agritech initiatives. To do so, they worked with farmers and private-sector solutions providers to monetise data collected by the farming community, which was required by the government census, and help the farmers receive compensation for it. This allowed the farmers to receive an income even when it was not harvest season.
The centre is a place for collaboration, Fabian shares. As such, he is looking to speak with different stakeholders to understand what they would like to focus on, and hopefully bring on private sector representatives who will contribute resources to the centre to execute these projects.
Building an ecosystem
Bringing different pieces together is something that Fabian believes the corporation does particularly well. He shared several examples of how they have succeeded in this regard.
In the first several months of incorporation, Fabian shared that they managed to establish a knowledge-sharing programme in collaboration with the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Finance. The programme brought together Malaysian and Korean experts to develop a joint paper on best practices of open data in their respective countries.
Additionally, MyDigital Corporation worked with the World Bank early this year to release a publication on the digitalisation of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises, or MSMEs. While the corporation was not in charge of these initiatives, their role as a coordinator across different agencies gave them a unique insight into the many moving parts involved in these programmes.
From this initiative, MyDigital discovered that there were actually more than 100 programmes for MSME digitalisation across 26 agencies. They were then able to task another agency to streamline these initiatives to improve efficiency.
While MyDigital has grown since its inception, it is still run much like a start-up today, Fabian says. As a corporate entity, MyDigital is able to stand apart from the bureaucracy. This was an intentional move on the part of the Malaysian government.
“The whole idea is to make it agile and flexible,” he says.
In time to come, Fabian hopes that their efforts will see Malaysia rise in international competitive ranks for digital transformation and the digital economy.
“I want to see us make the most progress,” he says. This may appear to be a numbers game to some, but Fabian believes that examining these indicators will be key to helping Malaysia identify areas for improvement.