Malaysia-Singapore Digital Gap - Wake-up call

> To paraphrase the NST report, Dr. Mahathir  said  the following:
> "The  Multimedia Super Corridor and NITA were good beginnings but there was
> a need to develop a framework to guide Malaysia's transition into the
> knowledge economy."

the MSC and NITA are good beginnings from a strategic and conceptual angle. however, the kudos stop there. to achieve the goals of both the MSC and NITA, the implementation should have been faultless.

unfortunately, reality speaks otherwise. today, we proudly tout the 240 or so companies which have secured msc status. but in all this time, what exactly have we produced from the msc ? other than the established brand names (sun, hp et al), has a homegrown company secured global reach with
its products or services ? singapore, and now india have already staked their claim as challengers to america's technological supremacy, but we no where near them, let alone be a threat to silicon valley.

in all fairness, many of the smaller msc companies face stonewalls to their progress not of their doing. i'm sure they'd echo my observation that the msc and what it promises is just a glittering facade to doing business and dealing with government the same old way.

to them, phrases like k-economy is just another buzzword, a fresh coat of paint to a concept which is going stale from disuse. tell me, what exactly is the difference between the information economy and the knowledge economy anyway ? as a computer scientist, i was taught that data is raw while information is data which has been processed and is thus fuel to be  used for progress. how does knowledge thus fit into this equation ?

the 7 flagship applications, 3 of which were temporarily suspended at the  onset of the economic crunch, are still unlaunched. granted, the 4 which went on -- smart schools, e-government, telemedicine and the multipurpose smartcard -- are in various stages of completion. nevertheless, the expected implementation dates have all been blown. being fair to these companies and knowing how speed is of the essence in the commercial infotech world, i am sure that the winning consortiums are all for a speedy implementation, but where then are the delays coming from ? applications which thus at one point of time seemed revolutionary, are now commonplace. the k-12 program and netday initiatives have wired and placed computers in the american classroom. even nations like india are jumping on the bandwagon. by waiting and delaying this process, we've made our pride applications run of the mill and a necessity, no longer revolutionary.

the global marketplace has changed much in the last 3 years, and as kit rightly pointed out, 1 calender year is 5 internet years. we're thus left 15 internet years behind time. look at our internet scene in malaysia. have things changed much since you first started ? yes, the influx of free isp service is a bonus. but is it really so ? look again, internet access is free, but the phone call's gonna set you back 3sen a minute, making these isps less attractive than the pay-per-use isps at a combined 2.5sen a minute.

we took a step backwards in telecommunications service in 1996 when the dominant telco decided to switch from unmetered access to metered access. this is ridiculous considering how everyone and his dog is touting the internet as the best thing since sliced bread. perhaps we just dont get
it, do we ?

couple unmetered phone access with free isps, and you've just cut away the barrier to internet access in the country. imagine, kampungs and rural communities would just need capital investment into a few PCs and modems, and they're within reach of the same services as the bloke living in an
exclusive hi-rise in bangsar. but put in metered calls, and all you encourage is for the rakyat to watch the clock and not the screen where the information is.

strategies, white papers and high level concepts are a good start to a new age, but to achieve the goals stated, we need to also translate these ideas into working implementations which also walk the talk. by ignoring the change in implementation procedures and doing things the same old way, these ideas are only cosmetic, thus eliciting the query: whither the msc ?

> "How Malaysians use the content on the Information Highway, and the value
> that content adds to their lives are what finally matters.

let us not forget that the internet is not just another medium to reproduce stale content from printed material. the internet is INTERACTIVE. read: two-way communications. this allows for a service
architecture to be delivered over the internet. services which thus reduce the workload on meatspace resources.

the commissioning of the election commission's electoral roll web verification is a good example of this. however, none of the other insititutions of government seem to have followed suit. why is it that
today i can purchase porn off the internet, yet i still need to queue up during a rushed lunch hour to pay my assesment, quit rent, tv/radio license and police summonses ?

> "The greatest challenge of Information Technology is the creation of the
> learning culture - a society which places learning at its very heart and
> nourishes them in their personal and working lives.

a learning culture can only be nourished by a society which eschews memory skills and the regurgitation of facts as the benchmarks of academic excellence. look at our culture of education, does it place emphasis on understanding or does it encourage memory retention ?

> Rahmat's dreadful IT song) in October 1997 when he called on all Malaysians,
> young and old, rural and urban, alike to answer the ''call of arms'' to
> support the government's initiative to harness the power of information

how is mat bin public in a position to harness the benefits of information technology, yet still keeping himself above the law ? the price of software by the time it reaches our waters is pushed beyond the reach of most of the citizenry. instead of taking active countermeasures by insisting that software publishers cut out the middlemen and sell directly to their consumers or by promoting opensource software, we seem to be assisting them in keeping their profit margins by pushing for raids on pirate vendors. as an infotech professional, i too do not condone software piracy, but at the same time i understand that without piracy, we would be further back in our infotech literacy. cost of ownership of a computer system is still beyond the reach of the average man.

as the computer is the primary access device in today's e-world, we thus have started off on a speedbump.

> This brings me to the K-economy Masterplan announced by the Prime Minister
> two weeks ago where he said Malaysia must reach out into the world to
> attract the best brains -  "we must take them wherever they are from".

a policy to attract the best brains is perhaps needed, but why are we ignoring preventation for the cure ? wouldnt it be much more fruitful and economical to ensure that the brains do not leave the country in the first place. why are we rewarding those who have forsaken the nation at the risk of raising the ire of those who stayed and fought through it all ?

we have a long way to go before we can think of challengined the other developed and developing economies, information or knowledge. we'd need to rethink our implementation process and to ensure that a change really means a change, not the same old snake oil in a different package.