M'sia mandates local software use for govt

Malaysian government agencies urged to use local applications, in move that can boost country's software market but send wrong signal to foreign players.
Written by Lee Min Keong, Contributor

PUTRAJAYA--Malaysia will soon introduce a mandate for all government agencies to use local software and tools whenever possible. Analysts say the move will boost the country's local software industry, but can also send the wrong message to foreign developers.

Prime Minister Najib Razak said a circular would be sent out informing all government institutions to give preference to local software. The new policy is aimed at boosting Malaysian ICT players in the local industry and strengthening the companies' products before they are pushed to global markets.

"I made an emphasis for ministries and government agencies to adopt local ICT solutions, provided these products are cost-competitive and of high quality," said Najib, speaking at a two-day series of meetings hosted by MSC Malaysia here this week.

The premier also urged government agencies to use electronic media more extensively to maintain contact with the public, including tools such as e-mail, short message services (SMS), and even social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. "For example, SMSes could be sent to warn the people of floods and potential landslides," he said.

Wrong signal to foreign players
The latest announcement is expected to have ramifications for foreign software companies, given that the Malaysian government is the single biggest buyer of ICT products and services in the country.

The national ICT association Pikom, welcomed the initiative but cautioned that the policy could be wrongly construed by foreign software vendors.

Noting that the move is a boost for local industry players, Pikom President C. J. Ang said: "This is also definitely a plus for our enterprise software companies--the government is giving them more business."

Quoted in local daily The Star, he cautioned that the "go local" plan, if implemented for too long, could be construed by foreign vendors as "protectionism". "It could also put local vendors in a comfort zone that keeps them from striving to better their products to compete internationally," Ang added.

According to global software giant Microsoft's Malaysian office, the move would provide a boost to the local software economy and help the country attain its aspiration of being a "high-value economy".

"Such encouragement from the government, we hope, would result in more 'Made-in-Malaysia' solutions eventually making it to the global map, while helping our country realize our 'high-value economy' aspirations and in nurturing a culture of innovation amongst Malaysians," Dzahar Mansor, Microsoft's Malaysia national technology officer, said in a telephone interview with ZDNet Asia.

"Being a platform company and having the largest local ecosystem throughout the country, where we have 5,000 local partners nationwide--of which some 800 are independent software vendors--Microsoft hopes the local software solutions industry will one day grow to be as big as what manufacturing is to the Malaysian economy."

Dzahar added that Microsoft hopes these "Made-in-Malaysia" software would also elevate other existing economic sectors such as agriculture, to a new level where the country can compete more efficiently globally.

Taking lead by adoption
Najib, who became premier in April, is taking the lead to urge more government officials and top civil servants to adopt technology. "I am pioneering a new style of intimate, people-centric approach through the use of ICT. My 1Malaysia Web site allows Malaysians to interact directly with me via the Internet," he said. "Malaysians who are interested in my workday can follow me real-time on Twitter."

He also provided an update on the country's former Multimedia Super Corridor initiative, since renamed MSC Malaysia, which was launched at a green-field site in 1996. There are currently over 2,000 MSC-status companies generating annual revenues of US$5 billion, employing 90,000 workers and exporting more than US$1.6 billion worth of goods and services.

He added that over 4,000 intellectual property rights have been registered by MSC firms, where 51 are listed on the local bourse.

Najib noted: "MSC Malaysia is also well on its way to becoming an exciting creative multimedia hotspot, with more than 200 digital content companies generating US$200 million in revenue and providing more than 7,000 jobs."

He added that MSC is entering the third phase of its development, stretching 2011 to 2020, which aims to drive the nation's quest to become a knowledge-based, innovation-led and high-income economy.

The meetings here also included closed-door discussions with members of the MSC Malaysia International Advisory Panel, which encompasses representatives from companies such as Cisco Systems, Huawei Technologies, IBM and Microsoft.

According to Najib, the IAP members reiterated the importance of broadband penetration on a massive scale as this will provide the impetus to transform Malaysia, create jobs and increase the country's Gross Domestic Product.

Members also underscored the need for content development in the MSC and to establish world-class research laboratories to attract the best talents to Malaysia.

Najib added that panel members further highlighted the need to enhance technopreneurial capacity and culture, support greater commercialization of ICT creations and help grow the market share and leadership position of local MSC companies.

He also pledged the government's commitment to support Malaysian ICT companies with strong potential, by providing "some procurement possibilities" so these local enterprises can develop to become regional or global icons.

Lee Min Keong is a freelance IT writer based in Malaysia.

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