It was only in the mid 1990s that Malaysia was poised to become the fifth ‘Asian tiger’ — a term used to describe the region’s frontrunners such as Hong Kong and Singapore. Unfortunately, the 1997 financial crisis and a series of sociopolitical issues derailed the country’s progress.

But Malaysia is back with a renewed vision to drive economic growth with tech. Digitalising the country’s public services and 700 agencies will be the cornerstone of this effort.

Azih bin Yusof, Deputy Director General, Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit (MAMPU), talks to GovInsider about his plans to adopt AI and blockchain in government.

Using AI and blockchain

MAMPU has been exploring the use of blockchain and AI to increase the transparency and efficiency of public services, says Azih. It has trialled the use of blockchain for record-keeping, and developed a blockchain network on the Malaysian government’s private cloud, MyGovCloud@PDSA.

Azih’s team is studying the use of AI-based facial recognition for employee attendance, he says. It has also equipped government call centres with chatbots that provide suggestions for common citizen queries.

The agency’s next step is to create policies and guidelines for the use of AI and blockchain in the public sector, he adds. This will ensure the tech is used ethically and effectively in public services.

Moving to the cloud

Malaysia’s government has taken a cloud-first strategy, with Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin planning to migrate 80 per cent of public data to hybrid cloud systems by the end of next year, reported The New Straits Times.

Cloud service providers Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Google Cloud and Telekom Malaysia are expected to invest RM12-15 billion (US$3-3.7 billion) in the next five years, according to Tech Wire Asia.

MAMPU has also provided cloud computing services for agencies through their private cloud platform. It is anticipated to cover at least 25 per cent of the demand for cloud in Malaysia’s public sector, Azih says.

The agency plans to use the public cloud to enhance government services with AI, blockchain and IoT, he adds. This use of hybrid cloud will allow the public sector to build services quickly without spending large sums of money on ICT infrastructure, such as data centres or servers.

Encouraging data sharing and transparency

With more than 700 agencies across Malaysia, how can disparate datasets be shared and aggregated to improve the quality of public services?

While the pandemic has accelerated data sharing, there are currently only 25 agencies sharing data through the Malaysian government’s data sharing platform, Azih says. MAMPU is working to increase awareness on the importance of data sharing among civil servants.

Azih hopes to achieve the “data given once only” principle, where citizens don’t need to provide their data multiple times to different agencies. That will increase public acceptance and trust, he adds.

With agencies collecting and storing massive datasets, transparency is key. The Public Sector Data Sharing Policy has standards on how data can be gathered and shared, and these details must be publicly stated in agencies’ regulations.

Citizens can also access and download open government data from the Public Sector Open Data Portal. It’s a useful tool for the public or businesses to obtain data from trusted sources, Azih says.

MAMPU allows the public to give agencies feedback on data quality through engagement sessions. Known as the Malaysia Open Data User Group, it encourages data owners to share better quality data, he adds.

Adapting to Covid-19 challenges

Covid-19 revealed that Malaysians’ adoption of digital services is still at the “infancy stage”, Azih says. Remote learning, for instance, posed a difficulty for students without devices or a strong internet connection.

“We are still shy away from our target when even one citizen is left behind,” he emphasises. MAMPU is looking for education digitalisation tools to resolve this issue.

The agency also experienced some issues related to “staff integrity, information breach possibilities and shortage of hardware supplies” during the pandemic, he says. These issues were resolved with the help of technology, such as SpotMe, a location-based app to manage staff reporting.

MAMPU is also working closely with Malaysia’s national cybersecurity agency, Azih says. The two agencies are piloting a “data leakage protection project” that will review and improve data protection processes. This project will be expanded to other public sector agencies in the future, he adds.

Digitalising Malaysia’s 700 public agencies is a rather tall order. But MAMPU is pushing forward — with the right tools and technology, it may just propel the country forward in its digital journey.