MDEC celebrates silver jubilee, 25 years of driving Malaysia’s digital transformation

KUALA LUMPUR: “We are talking here about something much more far-reaching. We are talking about changing the way we live and work within the MSC.”

When former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said this on May 17, 1997, at the official launch of Cyberjaya, it was hard to imagine just exactly how much the world would change.

Dr Mahathir envisioned the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) as an impetus of new things — new cyber laws, new types of entertainment, new means of healthcare delivery, and new applications of technology.

After 25 years, much of what was envisioned has evolved beyond what was ever thought possible.

But these achievements did not come from just passion and dedication — they were the fruits of foresight and planning that were first planted in 1996.

Laying the foundations (1996-2003)

On June 5, 1996, the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDC) was set up to oversee the implementation of MSC Malaysia.

In less than a month, Dr Mahathir launched MSC Malaysia at the inaugural Multimedia Asia Conference and Exhibition 1996, and in the process, officially launched the MDC, which would later be known as the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC).

Later that year, on Dec 5, 1996, Sun Microsystems became the first company to be granted MSC status — the first in a long line of the country’s many movers and shakers of the digital economy.

Since then, thousands of other companies have attained MSC status as they contributed capital, ideas and jobs to Malaysia’s digital economy.

As of 2019, the nation had 2,954 active MSC companies, which produced combined revenue of RM472 billion and created 182,538 jobs for the Malaysian economy.

The year 1997 also saw the creation of the MSC Malaysia International Advisory Panel, which aimed to gather the world’s most influential ICT leaders, thinkers and researchers to lend their expertise towards accelerating Malaysia’s ICT industry.

Entering phase two (2004-2010)

Moving ahead, the MSC Malaysia Next Leap was announced in July 2004, marking phase two of MDEC’s journey, encompassing the period between 2004 and 2010.

The focus? To roll out MDEC’s initiatives to the rest of the country.

It was during this time that then-Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi announced that 10,000 schools were to be transformed into smart schools.

This broad education policy initiative eventually led to MDEC initiatives like MyDigitalMaker, which impacted more than 2.1 million students and equipped more than 90,000 teachers with digital skills to be utilised in classrooms.

In 2005, during the 10th anniversary of the MSC, a trailer for the MDEC-produced Saladin: The Animated Series was previewed, signifying the start of Malaysia’s digital content industry.

Saladin and MDEC’s initiatives in the digital content industry paved the way for locally-produced series such as Upin & Ipin, Boboiboy and Ejen Ali to become internationally renowned success stories.

Today, the country is home to a thriving digital content ecosystem — encompassing animation, video games and visual effects — that routinely receive international projects and global recognition.

Towards a digital Malaysia (2011-2021)

Phase two of MDEC’s journey ended in October 2010, during which it began its next task to help bring the nation closer to its digital aspirations by developing the Innovative Digital Economy (IDE) Framework on Oct 19, 2011.

During the 23rd MSC Malaysia Implementation Council Meeting (ICM), MDEC was mandated to implement the IDE, or Digital Malaysia as it became widely known, which served as the blueprint for the country’s digital transformation programme.

Digital Malaysia refocused MDEC’s goals into three key components: Industry Development, Digital Transformation and Enabling Environment.

Along with this plan came aspirations for the digital economy to contribute 18.3 per cent to Malaysia’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 2020.

These aspirations are now achievements.

The Malaysian digital economy contributed 19.1 per cent to the GDP in 2019 and is expected to hit 22.6 per cent by 2025.

Much of the country’s digital transformation has now taken place. From 2017 to 2020, 489,000 small and medium enterprises adopted e-commerce into their business operations.

Achieving all that MDEC had accomplished took grit, dedication and passion, as its resilience and unwavering focus enabled many of its initiatives to take hold and produce meaningful value for the country.

MDEC was conceived just shy of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, yet never faltered in its goals towards catalysing Malaysia’s ICT industry.

It powered through the global financial crisis in 2007 so that it could in 2011 be mandated to lead Digital Malaysia as part of the National Transformation Agenda.

And now, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, MDEC has once again proven to be a resilient body.

Since 2019, the agency has redefined its purpose towards leading Malaysia’s digital economy forward.

Amidst the hardships and new normal, MDEC has driven initiatives and efforts that not only helped Malaysians weather the storm but to steer it into new horizons that beckon with exciting opportunities.

Recently, MDEC unveiled the Digital Investments Future5’ Strategy — a five-year plan aimed at attracting digital investments and advancing Malaysia’s digital economy following the 12th Malaysia Plan.

All these plans are part of a massive concerted effort in line with the Malaysia Digital Economy Blueprint (MyDigital) and the national policy on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (National 4IR Policy) that aims to develop Malaysia into a high-tech nation by 2030.

The next 25 years — onwards and upwards

For 25 years, MDEC has taken the lead in developing the nation’s digital economy by transforming from the original startup nation to one of the leading digital countries in Asean.

What comes next for MDEC over the next 25 years? It is hard to imagine.

For MDEC, however, the future is now as we are already living in a world that is digital by default.

The agency will continue to lead Malaysia’s digital transformation for equitable digital economy opportunities, driving a globally competitive digital nation.

What does the agency want? This year alone, MDEC intends to impact close to 100,000 Malaysians by empowering them to learn and earn via digital platforms and tools.

MDEC plans to continue in its focus on four key digital thrust areas — New Skills, Adoption, Disruptors and Investments (NADI).

Most importantly, under its Malaysia 5.0 agenda, the agency aims to enable a nation that is deeply integrated with technology, providing equitable digital opportunities to the people and businesses.

While MDEC has come a long way in the past 25 years, there is so much more it can do.

The frontier digital technologies of artificial intelligence, robotics and biotechnology hold great promise to advance the nation and it is crucial for us to not fall behind.

MDEC is committed to the development of Malaysia’s digital economy, which is centred around the needs of the nation and its rakyat and what is required for them to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

“The time is now, and we must act. We are the heart of Digital Asean. We are MDEC.” – Bernama