Malaysia's leadership recognized the need for a cooperative partnership to achieve its development objectives and its ambitious vision. To leverage and coordinate public, private and community sectors, the National Information Technology Agenda (NITA) was developed as a major strategy for national development. The National IT Agenda (NITA), launched in December 1996 by the National IT Council (NITC), provides the foundation and framework for the utilization of ICT to transform Malaysia into a developed nation. The NITA vision is to use ICT to transform Malaysia, across all sectors, into an information society, then a knowledge society, and finally a "values-based" knowledge society.
The necessity for a strong ICT infrastructure has been recognized by Malaysia who has built up its capability in ICTs to improve its capacities in every field of business, industry and life in general. Currently Malaysia is in full gear to meet the challenge of globalization by enhancing the nation's competitiveness, through the infusion of knowledge in all production-based industries and steering toward a knowledge-based economy. One key initiative aimed at fast tracking Malaysia into the information age is the Multimedia Super Corridor. Two smart cities have been developed within this corridor, namely Putrajaya and Cyberjaya. The MSC envisions the harnessing of multimedia to help spearhead economic development for Malaysia to achieve developed nation status by the year 2020. The address describes the hard and soft infrastructure that has been put into place. This includes, for example, a fibre optic backbone network covering 360 kilometres. The Government has put in place a legal framework, and institutional framework with coordinating mechanisms and a set of ICT policies and guidelines. National and state ICT councils have been established. The National IT Council (NITC) represents the highest ICT forum that acts as a think tank and advises the Government on national ICT strategies. The NITC is chaired by the Prime Minister. No matter how good a domestic infrastructure is in place there is a need for a regional or perhaps even global ICT framework to deepen cooperation and to regulate the now borderless world.
Challenges faced by government in the midst of ICT convergence are seen to be:
From the political dimension, the three most significant challenges are managing a borderless virtual world, the erosion of control and disempowerment of the technologically poor states.
Poor enforcement of ICT security policies and systems with inadequate security features may result in security incidents such as thefts and espionage of government and corporate information and illegal access to personal information. Cyber attacks can also paralyse a country's defence and even cripple key sectors of a country's economy.
The ICT revolution has resulted in a shortage of skilled knowledge workers and the ‘brain drain' to more developed countries. There is also a widening gap between IT ‘haves' and ‘have-nots' across nations and within nations ie between rural and urban areas and between the younger and older generation. Another challenge is the ‘hollowing' of culture, which is the erosion of values and ethics through mass global culture pervading the Internet and electronic media.
Globalization has further aggravated the existing unequal distribution of wealth and income, creating imbalance, leading to polarization. Keeping abreast with the ever-changing ICT trends comes with a high cost. Countries which are slow in grasping the opportunities provided by the latest technology such as e-Commerce, will be at a serious disadvantage.
In order to respond to the challenges highlighted, government and the public service need to undertake the following initiatives:
Strategic ICT Planning
Several countries have undertaken initiatives to come up with their Strategic ICT Plan for example UK has its UK Online, Singapore with its Singapore One and its IT 2000 Masterplan. Malaysia has its NITA (National I Agenda) and the MSC (Multimedia Super Corridor) project and recently has come up with its K-Economy Masterplan.
Reinventing of Government
There is also a need to transform current government processes in order to improve services. Malaysia has embarked on various initiatives to reinvent Government processes such as e-Governance Flagship Applications, empowerment of the State and Local Governments and the setting up of a special committee to oversee the whole government ICT initiatives, that is the Government IT and Internet Committee (GITIC).
Human Resource Development
The lack of trained IT and knowledge workers to support application diffusion in both the public and private sector is a major challenge in efforts to expand the use of IT in the country. As such the Malaysian government has adopted various strategies to enhance ICT literacy and skills. Some of the initiatives undertaken include:
Establishment of computer labs in schools
Establishment of new private higher education institutions
Allocation of special funds for ICT training by the Human Resource Development Council
In addition, the Smart School initiative under the MSC project, also responds to the need for Malaysia to make the critical transition from an industrial to a knowledge-based economy.
The Malaysian government has also undertaken a special study on IT Manpower requirements to support the application and diffusion of IT. The study focuses on several important components including human resource requirements and occupational classification of public sector IT personnel, the effectiveness of IT training programmes and the relevant online IT services to industry users.
Issues surrounding security of ICT systems have also become a major concern. Hence to ensure a conducive and safe electronic environment, the necessary steps in enhancing ICT security has to be undertaken. In tandem with what other countries are doing, the Malaysian government has undertaken the following measures:
Establishment of an ICT Security Division in MAMPU
Appointment of ICT Security Officers in agencies
Establishment of the Government Computer Emergency Response Team (GCERT)
Publication of the Malaysian Management of ICT Security (MyMIS) Handbook
At the national level, a number of initiatives have also been undertaken such as the establishment of the National ICT Security and Emergency Response Centre (NISER) which provides for skill development and consultancy services relating to ICT security and establishment of Malaysian CERT (MyCERT), established to tackle security issues for the private sector.
Bridging the Digital Divide
The issue of digital divide is one that is common across most countries. The Malaysian government has also undertaken numerous programmes to reduce this phenomenon such as:
The "Medan Infodesa" programme which provides training and hardware to rural communities by the Ministry of Rural Development
The "Internet Desa" programme by the Ministry of Energy, Communication and Multimedia which involves supplying of computers to provide free Internet access to rural communities
The K3P (Kumpulan 3 P – Pendengaar, Penonton, Pembaca) programme initiated by the Ministry of Information, which has set up centres called "Pondok Harmoni", equipped with PCs and Internet access
Setting up of eServices kiosks at both community and public areas
Provision of government services via Interactive Voice Response (IVR) which can be accessible through telephones
Reviewing the Legal Framework
The development of IT and multimedia without the parallel development of laws can result in abuses and in turn discourage the use of such technologies. The use of The Internet has raised a few concerns and issues namely:
Integrity and security of information
Legal status of online transactions
Privacy and confidentiality of information and
Intellectual property rights
Taking cognizance of these issues, the Malaysian Government has already approved and passed its own set of cyberlaws :
Digital Signature Act 1997
Computer Crimes Act 1997
Telemedicine Act 1997
Communications and Multimedia Act 1998
The Personal Data Protection Bill is also currently being drafted and the existing Copyright Act is being aligned to the electronic environment.
Governments should take cognisance of the fact that the Internet has changed business rules and the way business is being conducted. E-Commerce activities are expected to give rise to new economic development opportunities and in the process produce different impact to businesses and organizations. Amongst Malaysia's efforts to promote e-Commerce include:
Conducting an e-Commerce readiness assessment to identify the gaps and map appropriate strategies
Supporting e-Commerce through effective legislation and
Encouraging local manufacturers to pursue e-Commerce
Three major policies and strategic directions are to be undertaken by the government in order to move towards a K-based society and economy, namely:
New policy and regulatory framework to promote the development of the communications and multimedia sector and industry
The development of the digital technology and the emergence of new products and services require a new policy and regulatory framework to be formulated in order to promote the development of the new digital convergence industry, referred to as the Communications and Multimedia industry. This new industry is the integration of the telecommunications, IT as well as broadcasting industries.
The Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission Act 1998, provide a new policy and regulatory environment for the development of new types of services such as provision of application services and provision of content application services that are technology neutral. The regulatory environment is also a less licensing environment with the introduction of industry forums to promote a self-regulatory environment.
Strategies for widening access and content development
The government has adopted a four prong strategy to widen access and this includes Universal Service Programme, more liberal policy on licensing, moving towards cost-based tariff and leveraging on new technologies for network rollout.
With a rural penetration rate of only 11.7% for basic fixed line communications services, the government is targeting to increase it to 17.5% by 2005 to ensure availability of access to new e-Government and e-Commerce applications to a wider section of the Malaysian society. A total of RM 2.2 billion is needed for the Universal Service Programme of which RM 1 billion will be provided by government for rolling out of infrastructure to rural schools and other government agencies. Another RM 1.2 billion will be contributed by industry for widening public access to rural and other under-served communities. Complementing these efforts are the measures to be undertaken by a number of government agencies and community groups to address the problem of the digital divide.
Recognizing that prevailing contents are mostly western-based and the need for increasing local content, strategies have to be developed to provide incentives for local content development and web hosting. For this purpose, the MECM has been allocated RM 10 million to promote the development of the local content industry.
Policies for building trust and confidence in e-transactions
E-Government and e-Commerce applications will only have wide usage if the general public has trust and confidence that their transactions are reliable, secured and that their personal information will not be misused. A number of policy initiatives currently being undertaken to address this issue are:
Formulation of a national security policy framework
Legislation to protect personal information
Promoting the positive use of the Internet; and
Harmonizing current laws to facilitate new ways of transacting through the electronic media
With regards to the telecommunication industry, some of its contributions towards fulfilling the national vision are:
Building National Communications Infrastructure
This can be achieved through the implementation of efficient communication media (wired / wireless) and transmission modes (narrowband / broadband) as well as improvement in education facilities such as on-line education and smart schools. Acknowledging the fact that digital divide exists and has to be addressed, steps are undertaken to bridge the gap through the implementation of Universal Service Provision and e-Community projects.
Providing Global Communication Links
Global communication links have been improved through access to global satellite facilities such as cable and satellite systems as well as the Internet gateways (IDC, ARIX) and international exchanges (PSTN). Other services provided include COINS global and mobile international roaming.
Facilitating Knowledge Development
In the area of knowledge development, efforts have been undertaken to improve and increase training facilities such as the establishment of the Multimedia University, training centres and colleges. Research and development and the aspect of Intellectual Property Rights have also been given emphasis. Participation and sponsorship from industry has itself become a national agenda of which the issue has been discussed in various industry forums.
Further actions that need to be addressed in order to support the National Communications and Multimedia Agenda, amongst which are:
Raising awareness for ICT adoption
Enhancing network infrastructure
Improving policy and regulations
Enhancing operational efficiency
Adapting appropriate e-commerce technology, harnessing technical and operational standards and striving for sustainable technology transfer.