Surina Shukri, CEO, Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation, Malaysia

By Shirley Tay

Women in GovTech Special Report 2020.

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

MDEC is mandated to lead Malaysia’s digital economy forward. MDEC has set the scene to thrive in the 4IR era by continuing to empower digitally-powered talent, enable digitally-powered businesses and attract digital-sector investments. By 2025, the reinvented MDEC will firmly establish Malaysia as the Heart of Digital ASEAN.

My role is to spearhead this organisation to grow its impact, as the forerunner of the nation’s digital economy, over the course of our foreseeable digital future.

Malaysia's economy is expected to grow 6.5%-7.5% in 2021 after a 4.5% contraction in 2020. The Ministry of Finance states that focus will be on increasing foreign direct investment, enhancing productivity and re-instilling consumer confidence. This means the government will prioritise essential areas such as improving the ease of doing business, enhancing the usage of technology and digitalisation across public and private sectors while targeting to stabilise the labour market. MDEC has an important role to play in this.

MDEC’s mandate to lead the digital economy is based on three pillars within our strategic framework – empowering digital skills, enabling digitally-powered businesses and attracting digital investments.

The initiatives led by MDEC are extensions of the government’s interest in developing the digital economy and ecosystem. They positively impact the nation’s economy; according to the Department of Statistics Malaysia, the digital economy accounted for 18.5% of Malaysia’s GDP in 2018. The growth continues to be bullish with the increase in digital adoption nationwide. The most recent data says that the digital economy’s contribution to GDP is 19% and projections of 20% were made for 2020.

MDEC intends to continue working in tandem with the relevant ministries, agencies and strategic partners to support various digital talent development programmes. The RM100 million allocation from Budget 2021, once approved, will enable MDEC to continue its programmes that focus on nurturing more digitally-skilled Malaysian talents and improving their marketability via targeted job-matching processes, both of which will open doors to various digital career opportunities.

Besides initiatives we have long had for students and graduates from our Premiere Digital Tech Institutions (PDTI), other programmes like the Digital Skills Training Directory and #MYDigitalWorkForce Movement which are additions this year, to ensure that we are upskilling and reskilling the workforce to kickstart and spur the economy.

What was the most impactful project you worked on this year?

With more than 26 million Malaysians, representing 80 percent of the population, now connected to the Internet, the Movement Control Order (MCO) accelerated fundamental and long-term shifts in consumer behaviour and interactions on both domestic and global fronts.

In an effort to speed up digitalisation in response to the then ‘new normal’ brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, we hosted Malaysia's first and largest virtual event, the e-Dagang Expo (eDX).

The five-day virtual event aimed to engage 500,000 micro-sellers, local businesses and exporters on the benefits of eCommerce, highlighted by webinars and panel sessions on tips and tricks to succeed in eCommerce, growing beyond borders as well as inspirational success stories.

The eDX media campaign was a success, reaching over 23 million people over the course of 2 weeks via a multifaceted, omnichannel approach. This attracted 50,167 micro-entrepreneurs and small and medium entrepreneurs, reiterating MDEC’s position to make an impact on the digital economy and ecosystem.

What is one unexpected learning from 2020?

Resilience – 2020 has been deemed as a “tough year” by many, but humans are known to be excellent at adapting. The road ahead is bumpy, but we will pull through. Let 2020 be the year of learning, and 2021 the year of execution! For MDEC, we learned that businesses are now asking “how” to go digital, instead of “why”.

What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2021?

When the world was disrupted by Covid-19, MDEC was one of the first government agencies that pivoted our workforce overnight, to be able to work remotely. Having implemented that change and seen its advantages, it is unlikely that we will revert to working the way we used to, in 2019.

If anything, with the advent of 4IR and our nation’s need to focus on digital acceleration and Malaysia 5.0, more stakeholders in the digital ecosystem will find comfort in cloud storage services - think Google Drive. Also, collaboration tools like Slack. These remote work tools are likely to thrust organisations and teams to reimagine work and the workplace – even the workforce.

What are your priorities for 2021?

This is the decade where Asia will lead the world. Within that, ASEAN’s digital economy contributes 7% to its GDP. Therefore Malaysia is in a strong first-mover position to be the Heart of Digital ASEAN. Thus, our priority for the year will emphasise strong measures to position Malaysia to build a robust digital economy, with our attention converging on digitally skilling Malaysians, digitally powering businesses and attracting digital investments.

People and the economy are our priority. Digital jobs and skills will continue to take centrestage, as we had successfully rolled out programmes like the National Digital Skills Register and #MyDigitalWorkforce Week, the latter of which garnered 10,000 applications for jobs through our job portal. We consider this a barometer as to where our energies must be channelled.

There is a need to continue expanding e-commerce initiatives in order for the country to be at the forefront within the region. The government has embarked on various efforts for the country’s aspiration to be the heart of Digital ASEAN; Malaysia already implemented various initiatives to expand the e-commerce sector and had even shown some initial successes and continued to plan strategies. It is not impossible that the good performance of e-commerce will continue while benefitting the people of various groups, as well as empowering the people digitally.

The data ecosystem is another vital component that is at the brink of being harnessed by stakeholders in the Malaysian digital economy. As businesses accelerate their migration to digital technologies, they need to ensure the process continues during the recovery and post-pandemic periods.

While SMEs are focusing on the digitalisation of products, services and business processes, businesses also need to start adopting the Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR4.0) technologies.

For organisations progressing up the value chain, recognising the importance of data transformation is vital. To this end, security and data-related risks will push businesses and the government to enhance data privacy and cyber-security policies.

With the acceleration in digitisation spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic, SMEs consider cybersecurity awareness among the essential areas to be addressed. In August 2020, MDEC began working with SME Corp on a programme to help SMEs adopt cybersecurity solutions, as well as use digital platforms in a safer environment.

With threats becoming increasingly sophisticated, the need for cybersecurity experts have grown exponentially. The demand in the number of Cybersecurity talents required by the end of this year was projected at 10,500 by Frost & Sullivan’s digital talent study.

In order to meet this ever-growing demand of cybersecurity solutions, we have built collaborations between industry and the government to provide cybersecurity startups with access to technical mentoring, business support and advice.

In collaboration with universities and our industry partners, MDEC has implemented training programs for the latest technology areas such as Big Data Analytics (BDA), Cybersecurity and e-Commerce that focus on channelling human capital in the field of digital technology. Among these, under the programme Empowering Women in Cyber Risk Management, a total of 136 applicants from the 232 who registered, fulfilled the criteria in the 2019 intake, and qualified to be funnelled to Industry Partners.

​For 2020, cybersecurity professionals have been offered the opportunity to be upskilled in domains such as Cloud Security, broadening the areas within cybersecurity that women could aspire to.

What advice would you give to women looking to start a career in GovTech?

Disrupt yourself before you are disrupted. When I ran transformation for my former organisation, I took courses and spoke to experts just so I could understand how businesses can benefit from data. Continuously up-skilling ourselves is key to staying relevant.

Do not forget that “digital talents” also refer to skills like problem-solving, communication and emotional intelligence. It is not limited to just technical expertise. Also constantly ask yourself, “What superpowers do I possess?” It is time to acknowledge your awesomeness and let others know about it.

Write a message for your future self.

“Take a breath and be grateful for what is going well. Realise what you can do and can’t control.”