Based on analyst firm Gartner's forecast, 2017 is poised to be a rebound year for IT spending in Malaysia across the consumer and enterprise segment: this interview suggests how that may play out in the drive towards Digital Malaysia.
'Digital Malaysia' symbolises an increasingly intense national drive, which is being galvanised by various government agencies these days as Malaysia approaches the 2020 threshold. (The year 2020 was the initial target to become a digital economy. See Deep Dive into Malaysia's Digital Economy with MDEC CEO Dato' Yasmin Mahmood - Part 1 and Part 2)
Emerging technologies - AI included - are among the potential economic growth catalysts seized on by national agencies, which include NanoMalaysia and MIMOS. The strategy suggested is to view digital disruption positively as a path to the digital economy.
To delve a little deeper into the value proposition to Malaysia of artificial intelligence (AI), I reached out to Anthony Mullen (pic below), research director at Gartner.
As an introduction: What really excites you about the possibilities of AI?
AI systems are really based on deep neural networks, which will be able to analyse huge amounts of data beyond just simple algorithms.
They learn to identify and classify input patterns, 'probabilistically' predict, and also operate without supervision.
What is especially exciting is that organisations will be able to use artificial intelligence (AI) to:
- Advance automated interactions with customers, partners and workers.
- Improve analysis of video and audio in real time and for responsive improvement.
- Power smarter machinery, vehicles and structures.
- Deepen software's ability to improve performance and outcomes at human speed (or faster).
Let's separate the hype from the current reality of AI adoption in the Asian sector: what's your take on AI adoption in Malaysia and also APAC in general? And how does this compare to adoption in other parts of the world?
First of all, based on Gartner's forecast, 2017 is still poised to be a rebound year for IT spending across the consumer and enterprise segment. For Malaysia, the bulk of the expenditure will be allocated for communications services, IT services and devices (mobile phones, PCs, printers, etc.).
While Malaysian CIOs are investing in technologies, according to the survey results, the bulk of expenditure still lies with traditional investments that focus on data centre and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) investments.
As such, CIOs will need to look critically at the distribution of IT spending and ensure that these are made as a result of a rational decision making process instead of a habit to ensure that the enterprise is digital-ecosystem ready to bring more value for its customers.
I think that Asia will be big in AI. If you look at the data trends, there is a ton of AI research being done in China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore.
In fact, there are more cited publications in China than in the United States. The main problem, however, is the cultural barriers to sharing this knowledge between Asia and the rest of the world, many of which stem from language differences.
What's today's value proposition of AI to Malaysian organisations?
In Malaysia, we are encouraged by the Government's push towards more digitalisation at this time. ;
Sustained policy-related announcements, especially in Budget 2017 late last year will be a key catalyst in continuing the drive in the uptake of more devices and platforms here. All of that will lead to an even increased data footprint.
This is in line with Gartner's predictions that by 2021, 1 million Internet of Things (IoT) devices will be purchased and installed every single hour.
As the data footprint increases, this will prove to be a challenge - for users to have to deal with the continuous flow of notifications, content, messages, user interfaces and data. As such, users will be looking to choose trusted devices and platforms powered by AI to simplify tasks or make smart choices - on their behalf.
Many AI-related technologies are still at admittedly in the infancy stage. However, lots of energy is being put in by the big vendors, venture capitalists and academia to develop these technologies further and more rapidly.
Data and analytics leaders will certainly benefit from understanding what makes AI unusual in the history of analysis methods.
Technology product marketing and management leaders will also benefit from understanding how they can expect to employ AI in their own applications.
AI-related technologies will include means of linking AI to conventional applications and the links between the IoT to AI as well.
What sort of barriers to adoption have you picked up in your scan of Malaysia?
Based on the feedback from Malaysian CIOs when surveyed, getting the necessary IT literacy skills and resources remains a challenge for enterprises.
The overall lack of skills in the areas of troubleshooting, general knowledge, and the general lack of know-how points to the importance of developing skills. All efforts by local industry bodies such as The National ICT Association of Malaysia (PIKOM) and MDEC, MIMOS, and so forth, are important
Another challenge of course is the limited budget allocated to develop innovative technologies like AI; much of the investment still goes to more traditional areas such as ERP.
And what's your outlook for the immediate future of AI here?
For local companies looking to embrace AI, be aware of what elements of AI are already a commodity. This is to ensure that they don't waste resources reinventing the wheel (e.g. speech to text, image recognition, and elements of natural language understanding).
Instead, pick a narrowly defined problem area first where lots of data is available. Application leaders will soon discover that AI delivers new ways to accomplish many novel tasks that have heretofore been too difficult to solve or too tedious to do well.
AI is a key to help master new opportunities and processes - providing that companies take care to avoid some of the aforementioned potential pitfalls.
For other Gartner insights into Digital Malaysia, see:
- What's really in store for Malaysia's IT industry in 2017?
- What Budget 2017 means for Malaysia's IT industry
- What makes Gartner think 2017 is a 'rebound year' for Malaysia's IT spending?
- Why has Gartner just revised Malaysia's 2017 IT spending forecast?
- Gartner brings in US senior to lead Malaysia team
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.