Malaysia Digital Economy Corp (MDEC) to attract RM5bil in FDIs

The Malaysia Digital Economy Corp () is at various stages of discussions to bring about an initial RM5bil of foreign direct investments (FDIs) as the country positions itself to be a data, analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) centre for the region.

“In the first five months of this year alone, we have made several business delegations to the United States, Britain, China and Japan which have resulted in more than 10 global companies looking to invest over RM5bil spread over several years. We are at various stages of discussions with them on the investments,’’ MDEC’s newly appointed chief executive officer Surina Shukri said.

She expects more investments as MDEC continues its activities and trade engagements over the year. MDEC is also working closely with both the International Trade and Industry Ministry (Miti) and the Malaysian Investment Development Authority (Mida) for technology-related investments. Given Malaysia’s strategic location, it has long been a favoured tech foreign investment destination in the South-East Asian region.

She declined to name the 10 companies to maintain confidentiality as negotiations are still under way. The investments will be in cloud and data centres, e-commerce, cybersecurity, AI, big data and related fields.

Last month it was reported that China Harbour Engineering Company, G3 Global Bhd and China’s Sense Time Group Ltd planned to set up its first AI park in Malaysia with a total investment of more than US$1bil over the next five years.

“AI is new for us, and as we continue to build our capabilities, it is important for us to find partners that can serve as anchors. In addition to established companies, we are also in discussions with startups that are looking to establish a foothold here in order to serve the region,’’ Surina said in an interview.

The other area of tremendous growth for Malaysia is gaming and animation, she said, though the sector was often underestimated.

“As it is we are so far ahead in terms of creative content, entrepreneurial creation and talent,’’ Surina said.

The plan is to further expand the creative content sector via investments and also through education to create a bigger pool of creative talent. Among other things, a free school to teach computer coding is being planned.

All the investments in the tech sector are necessary as Industry Revolution 4.0 unfolds. IR4.0 will alter the way we live, work and relate to one another. With that comes AI, Internet of Things, Internet of Systems and cyber-physical systems and the investments will help build capabilities and applications.

Surina said the way we communicate, do business and access services is changing in a hyperconnected world. Data analytics and AI allow companies to serve customers better and the migration to IR4.0 is inevitable.

Recruited for the job at MDEC, though she went through a rigorous process including having to write a vision paper in 36 hours, Surina said, “My role is to lead MDEC and take the digital economy forward. While there is no shortage of good ideas, we need to make sure that we organise ourselves to execute effectively so that everyone is on the same page and mobilised in the same direction. We also need to inspire growth, helping people see the possibilities that technology can bring. To build a thriving digital economy, there needs to be inclusivity and companies need to drive tech and data adoption to increase the velocity of their businesses.’’

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By 2020, the government is expecting the digital economy to form 20% of Malaysia’s gross domestic product (GDP) from 18.3% in 2017, and continues to increase thereafter.

Her biggest challenge thus far is the speed of execution as “the world was executing at a much faster pace than we are’’. Despite that, she said “our momentum is picking up’’.

“During my first town hall session, I told my team we need to innovate around process and deliver impact at scale. And to do that, we need multiple parties at the table across the private and public sectors. Our hashtag #LetsBuildTogether and #DigitalMalaysiaForward is something we fully embrace and take to heart,” she said.

Contrary to common belief that many will lose their in a machine-led environment, she believes that there will be plenty of opportunities to up-skill and upscale.

“Digital transformation is also about human transformation. Embracing change and having a growth mindset is key. There will always be opportunities to gain from leveraging on technology if one is willing to adapt,’’ she adds.

Surina hails from Kuala Lumpur and spent a large part of her working life in the United States before taking on the job at MDEC. She has dual degrees in Finance and Systems Engineering from The Wharton School and the University of Pennsylvania. After 17 years as an investment banker and corporate executive, mostly at JP Morgan Chase & Co in New York, she was a startup investor and involved in blockchain ventures. She is a strong advocate for diversity and inclusion in leadership, especially in technology and entrepreneurship.

While she said that her job at MDEC is “extremely exciting,’’ it is not for the faint-hearted.’’

“While the opportunities are plenty, the challenges are daunting and expectations and stakes are high.’’ she adds.

To her advantage, she said her prior experiences had given her the courage to take on the new role and she feels prepared.

MDEC is also currently leading the challenge and working with various stakeholders on several key policies including the National Digital Economy Policy, Tech Talent Development, Data Sharing, Data Hub & Cloud, Digital Creative Content, National AI Framework and several others.

“The digital economy is not just MDEC’s responsibility but all Malaysians,’’ she adds.

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