Tan Sri Dr. Omar bin Abdul Rahman is one of the Founding Chairmen of Malaysian Industry- Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT). A path-breaking thinker, in 1984, Tan Sri Dr. Omar bin Abdul Rahman was appointed as a science advisor to the Prime Minister, the first Malaysian to hold the esteemed position. A veterinarian by training, Tan Sri Dr. Omar is a leading figure in the field of science and applies his strategic thinking to build a catalogue of promising ideas and features. In large, MIGHT’s first
sprint focused on ways to improve innovation and technology prospecting across Malaysia’s high-tech industries to tackle future opportunities.
Addressing the real issues of Industry 4.0
If you talk about Industry 4.0, it is all about the awareness and understanding of the issue. This is followed through by the commitment to address and act upon the situation to wring the full value out of Industry 4.0 technologies. Similarly, when you talk about sustainability, it involves awareness, understanding, commitment and action. We can only derive real economic values from it when the understanding gets translated into favourable actions. Currently however, many people are still confused, and they have been led to think that digital technology is what Industry 4.0 is all about and we are facing a bit of a situation with this going around in circles.
The same basic principle applies when it comes to dealing with any new trends. The four steps remain the same—to be aware and to understand, to be committed, to act decisively and to evaluate. Most importantly, businesses need to devote an appropriate amount of effort to the process. Naturally, as economic conditions fluctuate, linking understanding to decision roles enables businesses to confront a chief cause of meeting technology transformation critically. And you know that improving these decisions will generate better performance.
Within government, we need to understand that Industry 4.0 is driven by three trends namely physical, biological and digital. In the physical realm, a lot of things are changing. However, people are going about saying that the easiest way to understand Industry 4.0 is to look at 3D printing. So if you are in manufacturing, you need to look into whether this applies to you. The physical realm now relates to all kinds of sensors, but if you only focus on digital, that is not Industry 4.0 quite yet. Broadly speaking, Industry 4.0 may have applications in many sectors, more so in the manufacturing industry because it is already affected by these three mega trends.
Prepping for new technology trends; possibilities await
In dealing with any new technology, I believe it should be approached with a simple, yet practical approach. First of all, let’s talk about the intent for Malaysia to be an innovation driven private sector led economy. It is still true today just as it was previously, but to make it happen, there are many things that need to be put in place. It is not just the intent, understanding and capacity to strengthen science and
technology; but also the vigour to strengthen our capacity to move up the technology value chain across the private sector. As MIGHT is currently pedalling the Industry 4.0 theme, this has a lot to do with our preparation in dealing with new trends. With a simple thought process and actionable steps, I think we can do better to get more out of our public and private sectors.
To put us on solid economic footing, we need to strengthen our science, technology and innovation (STI) capacity in the private sector. We should not just talk about the big players, but perhaps focus more on the smaller ones. Industry 4.0 innovations and trends are happening outside the boundaries of traditional business activities. Therefore, when it comes to technology, the core processes of traditional businesses need to be re-imagined and this requires you to be innovative. Periods of disruptions can be opportune for making good business moves. However, to be innovative, there must be a structure to it. Every company depends on technology, so much so, in big companies, there are allocations for hiring a Chief Technology Officer (CTO). However, looking into the technological trends happening around us and critically how technology can improve productivity, capacity and profitability, there are not many companies out there that do it effectively. This has to change.
All too often, when we say we want to be an innovation driven private sector led economy, we really have to look at the capacity within our private sector. While the big players may have deeper resources, they can hire a CTO. A case in point are BMW and Toyota. They have their own foresight units. To do that, they match customer expectations with current trends breaking ground in relation to customer preferences and technology development to line up better planning and manufacture better products.
As mentioned, the big companies are able to hire a CTO to head up their technology agenda, however, a different approach needs to be taken by smaller companies. In developed countries, they have research companies, where you
can basically partner with them on a project basis to carry out the awareness activities for you. This is maybe an opportunity for new things to develop but unfortunately these are some of the things that are currently absent in the ecosystem. Although many smaller companies are reduced to buying off-theshelf technology and just adopting new ones, there needs to be someone in the company to keep them technology aware and savvy. Traditional sources of advantage are rupturing, while new sources of value are emerging. In addition to this, every company needs to realign their business objectives to new realities taking shape rather disruptively. But to be aware, it all comes back to awareness and understanding of the technological issues surfacing, for example, new disruptive trends that pose a threat to your business. Local companies need to give their commitment to the cause to be able to take informed decisions and actions.
Embracing Industry 4.0
In dealing with these new trends, we need local companies to fully comprehend the factors that are at play impacting or killing their business. The first thing that we need to ask before rummaging through the possibilities is how do I manage my company’s activities to improve effectiveness, productivity and profitability? If you talk about the Industry 4.0, how can I leverage the three megatrends to improve what I’m currently doing. Rather than dealing with these trends reactively, in practice, it is not really about fending off new competition. Less obvious to businesses is about tapping on the opportunities than managing the risks. Certainly not acting is a sure way to become defunct utility and as new technologies become more agile, local companies need to figure out a way to leverage them in their operations for efficiency, productivity and profitability gains.
Better yet, local companies need to ask themselves where do they look for new opportunities. With such economics, it is possible to envisage that along with the three megatrends taking off globally and shaking up many traditional sectors, we should instead view disruptions as opportunities.
I was asking a few industry insiders recently, one of which was TORAY, a Japanese company on how to deal with Industry 4.0. Their answer was astoundingly simple. They told me you need to look at how to leverage the three megatrends in the way you manage your company. So if it does not affect your physical operation, what about the biological properties of your business, does it affect you? And lastly, how does it interfere with the digital front of your business? Our businesses need to define clearly their battlegrounds along these three dimensions. Viewing your business with critical decisions in mind transforms your business processes.
Synthesising and acting on good advice
In government, you need a champion—it starts with the number one, the prime minister. From there, it cascades down and cuts across all departments and agencies as the practitioners and implementers at the base of the STI human resource pyramid.
To achieve sustained, profitable growth, we need to ramp up our capacity to receive good advice. This practice needs to be institutionalized through a council, for example. We need to put into effect a sweeping new act, an action council that has a competent secretariat, and experts who can carry out analysis. The council, in turn, must be prepared to receive advice on science and technology from any source, say, for example, MIGHT, as well as other entities that carry academic, legal or business weight.
We have what I believe to be a fairly good capability to give advice, but the capacity to receive advice is still lacking. We need to formalize that. We cannot just leave it to the champions at the top—we need to institutionalize the practice and be decisive in acting on good counsel. And the organisation needs to be an action council, not just an advisory council. Again, we need an independent and dedicated secretariat. We need to carve out a separate team, an independent secretariat that is not a part of any ministry.
Via the council, we can reach our target groups through social and extended professional networks. We need to make sure the advice resonates in top government management. We must pool together qualified professionals trained in looking into awareness metrics to create ample understanding to rally collective national commitment and actions. Of these, awareness metrics are integral to the process. When anything urgent comes up, the council of eminent can bring it to the attention of the prime minister to exert a sense of urgency to act. We need to structure it such so that the council’s members are trained to receive advice and have the ability to analyse the gist of any advice. In addition, the council needs to be transparent in overseeing resource allocation to ensure that the priorities they’re communicating are actually the ones getting mobilised.
Simple, yet powerful science based debates
As it appears, there is a lot that needs to be done in the science communication domain. Simple, yet powerful communication provides the rigor, speed and thoroughness to transform our technology agenda. Therefore, we need to improve lines of communication and address the national commitment to the key stakeholders—the public, businesses, and the community.
We need to encourage more public debates on science and technology. Although we have a supportive stance to spur innovation, problems usually arise when the stakeholders are not well informed, in this case, concerning emerging new trends. Positively however, when the basics are well-tended to, this will put us in a better position to leverage the trends proactively and view these new trends and potential disruptions as opportunities.
On STI governance
Let’s look at our science governance aspect. To make change stick, we must embed decision capabilities in our public sector. If you don’t put it in place, nothing is going to happen. Another area where we need counsel is on STI development. Oftentimes, we talk about the government’s capacity to give advice. This only comes after awareness and understanding of the issues we are currently facing. To a certain degree, we need to disentangle from this rigid model and revamp our science governance structure to strengthen our STI governance.
In any dynamic, entrepreneurial economy, we need to channel industry and community views and advice effectively. Whether it is evidence-based or scenario based counsel, we need to bring that advice to the secretariat of the council. Authentic engagement should be a priority especially when undergoing a transformation to truly realize the expected benefits.
Another functional role that the council needs to deliver is content dissemination across our stakeholder groups. We need more departments and agencies to publish and carry out science communication activities in order to educate our stakeholders on key technology triggers and alerts. In turn, we can solicit more public debates to create awareness and support. The support roles are often the key to a decision’s success. On this count, we can make great strides collectively and scale up our STI development capacity.
The way I see it, MIGHT’s role is to bring in private sector views and on the other hand, our universities bring in the scientific community views. So when it’s taken to the council, it gets thoroughly evaluated.
Universities have traditionally played a critical facilitation role in STI development through teaching and research means. They should have some kinds of community and industry outreach measures as well as international collaborations. They need to be the ones that look at new trends too, because they have got so many intelligent people there—they should be a consolidated group that contributes in a meaningful way too.
MIGHT and the high-technology agenda
When we started MIGHT, we wanted to bring forth the issues our private sector is grappling with to the fore to create greater awareness on STI components. We want to bring critical issues that concern the private sector onto mainstream channels.
Apart from that, one more thing that interests me is technology prospecting. There must be higher awareness on what is happening around us. We know it is there, but we do not know where it is. Consequently, we don’t know how and which technology can help us improve our businesses. The next one is scanning the horizon using foresight exercises. When we started MIGHT, initially, the goal was to create a high-tech industry interest group. This later led to the inception of the MIGHT Interest Group (MIG). Weathering the technology storm is not something that any company can do alone. MIGHT needs to assume a critical responsibility as a scenario-based advisor in making sure we don’t miss everyday decisions that add up over time to drive our high-tech sectors. This kind of partnership can make a huge impact in furthering our cause’s reach.
In general, if we look at our strength across the three components I said earlier, we have good dynamics to carry us forward. And I believe we are poised for rapid innovation from both the public and private sectors. In equal measures, four enablers determine any degree of success any project will have and they are; political will, economic strength, social drivers and STI. For many years running, STI has been a major enabler. Without it, you cannot do much. Take the midterm review for example. Let me ask you, which mid-term review can sustain any momentum without STI? So, the public sector needs to aptly understand this and facilitate governance to ensure we entrench our businesses in a position of advantage in the years to come. Identifying the critical decisions, we need to take begins with creating a decision architecture.