Speaking to the media on December 15, MDeC chief executive officer Yasmin Mahmood (pic) confirmed that its Big Data Framework was presented to Prime Minister Najib Razak recently, and added that he had pledged his support to the recommendations therein, besides approving the framework.
The recently appointed MDeC head noted that on the macro level, there is currently a big data steering committee tasked with overseeing the Government’s big data initiative, chaired by the Chief Secretary of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI).
Yasmin revealed that MDeC has its own task force comprising stakeholders from the private and public sectors, whose mandate is to supervise the implementation of the framework’s recommendations.
“The National Big Data Framework has already been presented to the PM and has been endorsed. It’s currently being distributed within government circles,” she told reporters. “[However] how much of it is going to be made public has yet to be decided.”
In January, MDeC said that it would develop a Big Data Framework this year, together with the support of the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit (Mampu).
As part of the Big Data Framework, Malaysia may even appoint a chief data scientist, MDeC said in May.
Following that, Michael Warren, vice president of MDeC’s Shared Services and Outsourcing (SSO) cluster, told the media in September that MDeC’s Big Data Policy Framework was about to be completed and thereafter would be presented to the Prime Minister by the third quarter of this year.
Warren had then said the three- to five-year Big Data Framework proposal is a collective effort of between 20 and 40 industry players brought together in workshops to trash out what areas of big data analytics needed to be looked into.
Read also: Malaysia’s big data policy framework ready soon
When asked what was meant by saying that “the prime minster had endorsed” the Big Data Framework, Yasmin said that this meant two important things.
“Firstly, it [big data] will have priority in the budget planning for the 11th Malaysia Plan (11MP) due to be carried out in 2016,” she said. “We are currently working with Mampu and the EPU (Economic Planning Unit of the Prime Minister’s Department) on this.
“Secondly, it means that the prime minister has endorsed our strategies — for example, around talent development.
“[As a result], there has been an immediate decision made to provide scholarships for government officers to take up postgraduate courses in data sciences at reputable universities so that they can be equipped as data scientists in the country,” she added.
Also, part of the framework includes ensuring universities in Malaysia start offering data science degrees, and not just as electives within their computer science courses, Yasmin said, adding that there are a couple of universities that have agreed to do this.
Getting more buy-in
Yasmin said that MDeC’s Big Data Framework calls for five important components that must be looked into.
They are talent development; developing use cases to show how big data can be used to benefit society and businesses; using public open data to produce useful applications; technology development; and creating awareness within the private and private sectors.
She also revealed that according to a recent survey commissioned by MDeC and undertaken by research firm IDC, there is a general awareness about big data amongst companies in Asean including Malaysia, but that the readiness and willingness to adopt big data is far from satisfactory.
Referring to the effort to create awareness as “governising mindsets”, Yasmin said this was “important as MDeC is going to talk to the public and private sectors and convince them to go beyond curiosity and interest in big data”.
“We want to get them to adopt big data as a first-mover advantage in their own respective industries,” she declared.
The IDC survey concurs with what big data player Teradata Corp concluded earlier this year when its chief analytics officer Bill Franks proclaimed that even though many companies know about big data and understand how analytics can help them improve their business and competitiveness, a significant portion is still not embracing the technology in a big way.
Franks’ conclusion also concurred with a survey conducted by the Economic Intelligence Unit reported by DNA last year.
Addressing talent issues
When asked how MDeC will deal with the issue of talent beyond just providing scholarships, Yasmin declined to discuss further details, saying that “answering that question would be answering the whole talent scenario the country faces”.
“It’s a big challenge and what I can say is that it’s a big agenda within MDeC and that we’re working closely with TalentCorp [to address this], but I’m not prepared to talk about it right now,” she said, adding that MDeC would address this “at a later date.”
“For big data [needs] alone, what we need to do is to ensure that data science is being offered as a standard course within universities. It’s also important to talk about certification, the upskilling of existing talent, which we are addressing,” she added.
Quizzed about the appointment of a national chief data scientist (CDS), as called for in the Big Data Framework, Yasmin revealed that MDeC is committed to appointing one and is currently studying and learning the scope of that role from other advanced nations.
“What we’re doing right now is to formally scope out [this CDS] position and to learn from other countries,” she said. “The next step is to table our findings back to the Government, and for them to officially endorse and table the proposal at a Cabinet meeting. After that, recruitment can begin.”
Pressed further on whether this position would be filled by someone locally or from foreign sources, Yasmin said, “We’re not limiting [the position] to government circles – it may be, but [is] not limited to.”
Analysis: Edwin Yapp, contributing editor, Digital News Asia
The endorsement of the Big Data Framework is a long time in coming and personally, I welcome the move.
Big data is still a nascent field and having a policy document that addresses everything — from the challenges the country faces and identifying the needs of both businesses and society, to how to tackle such challenges — can’t necessarily be a bad thing.
That said, Malaysia has often been quick to come up with policy documents, frameworks and what-not. Covering this scene for more than a decade, I’ve seen many policy documents being proposed but which were later re-purposed, re-jigged and renamed.
After those exercises, the consistent murmur I hear from the industry is that nothing much has come out of them. Put simply, the implementation of such policy documents has been the country’s Achilles heel.
The question is: Would this Big Data Framework be any different?
Another concern would be the issue of talent and while the folks at MDeC do not want to comment directly on it presently, it’s good to note that MDeC recognises that it is an issue that must ultimately be addressed.
After all, assuming we are able to train enough data scientists, equip them with tools, broaden the ecosystem and support for big data, will we be able to retain these talents for them to make a difference to Malaysia in the long term?
Lastly, the position of national chief data scientist must go to the most qualified person who can drive Malaysia’s big data programme, and it shouldn’t be an issue whether he or she is a local or a foreigner. Big data for Malaysia is just too important for that.
Big data winners
In a bid to encourage big data applications among local businesses and higher institutions of learning, MDeC in collaboration with IT consultancy Tentspark organised the National Big App Challenge, aimed at developing relevant apps that benefit society by utilising publically available open data sets.
The data sets include those provided by the Ministry of Health and the Meteorological Department, as well as other open data sets, MDeC said in a statement.
Themed “Applications That Can Benefit the Rakyat” (citizenry), the contest ran for two months beginning September and drew 226 teams.
The top prize of RM20,000 (US$5,710) went to a joint collaboration between academia and a private enterprise — the MMU (Multimedia University)-Teradata team.
The MMU-Teradata web app generates a “Dengue Index” that the team claims predicts dengue outbreaks and shows geographical areas in the greatest risk.
The team believes that data derived from the creation would help relevant government agencies provide an early warning to the community so that they can deploy medical resources effectively.
Second and third prizes went to teams from the Asia Pacific University (APU) and PetaInsights respectively. APU developed a web application that is said to generate analytics and predictions based on weather data and dam water levels in order to facilitate effective water management and flood prevention.
“Effective water management is an issue that we feel strongly about, and we wanted to harness the power of open data to find a viable solution to a problem that we face in our community,” said APU’s Hema Latha Krishna Nair.
PetalInsights created an app that analyses weather and holiday data in order to uncover human mobility patterns. The app claims to be able to simulate incidents such as disasters for responders to practice disaster management, MDeC said.
“Through this challenge, we were able to have hands-on exposure in building applications around data, as well as in gaining valuable operational insights,” said Tan Keng Seng from PetalInsights. — DNA
* This article was first published here.