NetApp Driving the Malaysian Digital Transformation

Last week, DSA senior journalist Satoko Omata met up with Country Manager for NetApp Malaysia and Brunei, Heoh Chin Fah, for an in depth discussion about open data in Malaysia, and driving the digital transformation. 

The 2020 vision is nearing its proposed date, and Malaysia is aspiring to be a digital nation. Current forecast shows that digital economy is expected to contribute about 20% to the country’s GDP. The government addresses that progress towards this vision will require a knowledge based economy, and NetApp aims to be the enabler by working with the Malaysian government to integrate their Data Fabric system to accelerate growth of digital economy in Malaysia. 
The technology from NetApp is simple – allowing different platforms to communicate with each other, enabling the data sharing by reducing, perhaps even eliminating silos. With Data Fabric, they aim to create a platform for different agencies to talk to each other and share data regardless of whether it’s actual, virtual or cloud based.
 “Data Fabric – you can imagine it’s essentially like a fabric above all these different silos. Data can flow as easily as possible on this fabric between the different infrastructures that are contained within these agencies – whether it be government, public or private. By reducing the hurdles between the infrastructure, more links between data can be made and with more association of data, more information is shared.”
Although the technology is readily available, with many successful case studies abroad, Chin Fah made it very clear that Malaysia still has a very long way to go. “For digital transformation to take place, the government needs to change its approach. We look at SMAC – Social, Mobility, Analytics and Cloud as the pillars of modern society; we need to evolve into digital services, especially targeting towards the younger generation.”
Using financial and healthcare technology as an example, Chin Fah explain the need to analyse and customise the services. Current sales and marketing strategies are not always successful, and mall sales method is no longer the most efficient. Even in health care, wearables like fitbands can monitor sleep activity, and these data could help with diagnosis. 
“The approach to target audience needs to change. Take Apple for example – they market it towards a fanbase, and it’s specific to certain groups. Instead of looking and targeting the middle of the bell curve, you need to believe in what you are developing and selling.”
Chin Fah mentioned that the aim is not only to just purely implement a technology. In a broader sense, it’s increasing efficiency, cutting cost, reducing wastage and brewing creativity; not just to develop the population but also to integrate technology into a major part of the culture and thinking. 
“With the current infrastructure there is a lot of hindrances and restriction. It’s a technology and strategy process – and the government needs to have vision. Data creates knowledge, which in turns create wisdom. There needs to be a willingness for data to be shared.”
“The aim is simple - to associate seemingly random and remote datasets within a mixed repository – what we call datalakes – and using tools, applications and scripts to extract and analyse the information. With the right technology, NetApp plans to make sure this happens.”
Chin Fah drew on the example of traffic signboards and predicting dengue outbreak. He observed that digital traffic warning signage on highways are often not useful – they inform you of traffic jam while being on that exact road, which is a waste of money and space, as well as being counterproductive. Smartphone applications like Waze on the other hand, can inform the road user much earlier on, and that is the difference with optimising data and integrating the system. He also predicted that data could in the future be used to concentrate resources for areas prone to dengue outbreaks, by looking and drawing a correlation between sales of popular home remedies, certain medication as well as drainage conditions. Using data drawn from social media, they could potentially use these platforms as sources of data to build a profile of potential target areas.  

But this is not a one man – or a one company effort. “Spawn new digital services; innovate, create; reduce costs and wastage - like the digital traffic signs. Data should be used to produce relevant and precise conclusion and feedback, only then, can digital transformation take place. So in the future, bizarre links of coincidences can happen – like getting on a bus for a certain time to get a book from the library with a 100% certainty that it will be there. Or perhaps using wearable Bluetooth devices to help with medical diagnosis.”

“It is now easier to ask the right questions compared to the past. It will be beneficial for the people to be able to share data – regardless of infrastructure – easily and securely with the NetApp platform.”
He cited a study showing that there’s a correlation between an advanced city, intelligence and walking. “In those cases it’s down to town and city planning, and that uses data as well. In this day and age – it’s about IoT, the internet of things. Machines generate more data than any human possibly can. Think sensors, CCTVs. With all this data available, we need to look at the CIA – Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability of data. But we can’t do it alone. As much as it is up to the technology, it is also up to legislation and the enforcement of said legislation. For example, you still get calls from telemarketers, despite there being a Personal Data Protection Act.”
In our discussion, he was very keen to explore the world of big data through not only the technology but also looking at society and perception. “Awareness is crucial. Not everyone sees data the same way as we do. You need a unified, normalised platform. But right now the market is saturated with so many different technologies and options, people adopt different infrastructures for their systems. A lot of agencies are still going through an awareness phase.”
Malaysia is not in the best position to adopt this technology yet, we feel. Compared to other nations, open data sources are not as readily available, not mentioning the many restrictions and censorship when dealing with data. In Malaysia there’s a mandate to improve our ranking on the barometer for open data from 41 to 30 within the coming years. With data being so tightly regulated, there is still long ways to go for data freedom to become a reality. 
Chin Fah agrees to a certain extent. “From a public sector perspective, Malaysia wants to be there but the country is still in the education stage. We are getting there though – more and more agencies are sharing within the premises and that’s a promising start. However, there needs to be a political will to share open data confidently. Take example crime – the figures release by government would be very different to public perception. And it’s that disparity that needs to be addressed.”
“There’s a saying in the industry – from cradle to grave – from the minute data is created until it’s destroyed. But with data it’s more like a lifecycle. The how, when and why we use data is crucial. With data there is an active-passive cycle before it finally lands into archive.”
As Chin Fah said, Malaysia is still in an education stage – and NetApp certainly has their work cut out for them in order to not only implement the technology but also to raise awareness amongst agencies. It’s up to the government to adopt this approach and change people’s perception and willingness to share data confidently. We believe that Malaysia can get there, but change is inevitable and the nation has to embrace it to keep up with the rest of the world. 
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