EXCLUSIVE - Creating an open source driven culture of innovation in the Malaysian government

EXCLUSIVE – Creating an open source driven culture of innovation in the Malaysian government

Senior ICT executives from Malaysian government agencies got together at an OpenGov Breakfast Dialogue to discuss the process of transforming government with flexibility and transparency, how to do more with less in an era of increasing budgetary constraints and the key role that could be played by Open Source.


Damien Wong (above right), Vice-president and General Manager, ASEAN, Red Hat provided an overview of the way organisations and industries are changing in fundamental ways. The old models are being disrupted and are no longer sustainable. He explained that these days, processes are becoming more agile across both IT and business. A lot of the innovation that we see is not about IT, but about the application of technology to a business model. And it is essential to adopt the agile approach, because the old waterfall approach taking 2-3 years for a project would mean falling way behind the curve.

Mr. Wong delineated the four essential attributes of a digital organisation, as being 1) streamlined and automated, 2) elastic and scalable, 3) agile and responsive and 4) utility-like. All organisations are going the way of Microservices in architecture, Open Hybrid Cloud in terms of platform and devops as the process.

He concluded his presentation with a quote he had heard from a leading public sector CIO, “I no longer ask for permission, I ask for forgiveness, because if I ask for permission, the war will be over.”

Guest speaker, Klaus Felsche (below right), Former Director of Analytics from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection in Australia talked about the importance of attracting and retaining smart people in order to build a culture of innovation. In fact, innovation is frequently treated as a project, whereas it should be the culture itself.


For that to happen, people must be allowed time and opportunities to think and they must have the ability to test their ideas. That is the only way unexpected opportunities can be seized. Failure can be a good thing, if it is for the right reasons. With an agile approach on open platforms, failing early and cheaply can be a way to test out ideas, and figure out which ones are worth exploring further. The movement towards big strategic goals has to be incremental. He said, “Consider a spiral, iterative development. Be prepared to make changes as you progress and learn.”

Regarding open source, Mr. Felsche reminded the participants that no company, no matter how big, that has as big a research and development and test capability as open source. Every piece of open source software is put out to the public and people work out how it works, what doesn’t work and create fixes.

Khuzairi Yahaya, Chief Information Officer, Companies Commission of Malaysia (SSM), shared how his organisation is dealing with digital transformation using data analytics. Their raw material is the data. They have to figure out how to store the humongous amounts of data and get the maximum value out of it. Mr. Yahaya spoke about focus on delivering data analytics, audit and risk analytics and analytics applications not only to internal users but also to external users i.e. the customers.

He highlighted the fact that customers have high expectations these days from their use of the best applications. And government is expected to deliver quality customer experience with limited budget. It requires a change in the way of thinking and working. Choosing the right technology platform is an essential component in planning the right way forward. SSM is ensuring that their architecture is agile and replacing all of the legacy applications in a phased manner and developing service-oriented applications.

Questions and discussion

As the session moved forward, the first question revolved around understanding of open source. Around 52% of delegates responded that they would like to know more about it.

Mr. Wong provided a brief introduction on how open source works. Source code powers applications and majority of it used to be proprietary. That was the original way technology was developed. A few guys in Silicon Valley would decide the way technology should be and control innovation. But now innovation is based on open source. Companies like Google and Facebook also contribute a lot to the open source community. With open source software, the source code is made available for anyone to study, change, use or distribute the software to anyone, for any purpose.

Today most social media, mobility and big data analytics solutions are based on open source. For instance, a majority of smartphones and all the big clouds, bar one, use open source. So, whether you know it or not, admit it or not, today open source powers your organisation.

A delegate raised the question that open source traditionally meant ‘free’. If now an agency pays for it, is it right to continue using the term ‘open source’?

Mr. Wong replied that Open source usually brings to mind free open source. But it might be viewed as not being reliable or secure. He used the analogy of water from a public water body, freely available to everyone to drink. But to make sure that the water you are drinking is safe, enterprise open source can step in. It can provide the best of both worlds, leveraging on a global community for innovation, keeping pace with the latest developments and minimising costs, while ensuring reliability.

It is about providing support. For instance, Fedora Linux has over 12000 packages. But an enterprise Linux could have only 2000 packages. But those would be certified with vendors for applications, system management, infrastructure, storage, server, networking equipment and so on.


Around 68% of delegates replied that insufficient funding is impeding their organisation from taking advantage of digital trends. Conducting small-scale trials using open source can be an important way of overcoming this barrier, by exploring upcoming technologies. Mohit Sagar, Editor-in-chief, OpenGov Asia highlighted the cost saving on licenses from using open source and freedom from the seeming capriciousness of proprietary technology providers. 

Subsequent questions revealed a number of positives about the Malaysian government’s digital journey:

  • 91% of agency representatives said they have a clear and coherent digital strategy
  • 96% replied that their organisation views digital technologies as an opportunity
  • In 67% of agencies attending, investment in digital initiatives has gone up during the past year
  • 71% responded that their procurement process has been streamlined to under 9 month
  • Most importantly, 48% said there is a high involvement of customers/ citizens in co-creating digital services for their organisation and 26% indicated a medium level of involvement.

In line with the last point above, 48% mentioned meeting external customer demands as their top priority. Rapid proof-of-concept and customer involvement from an early stage is the new paradigm in development and the Malaysian agencies seemed to have internalised it.

Over 90% of attendees said their agencies are forward thinking. But Malick Aboobakar, Chief Information Officer, Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation Sdn Bhd placed the caveat that the challenge is to execute, translating the actionable owners. The process-owners might not be forward thinkers. A fundamental change in mindset is required. Zamani bin Ismail, CIO, Inland Revenue Board of Malaysia talked about the importance of leadership in that regard.


Marsineh Binti Jarmin (above right), Head of Cluster for Technological Innovation Cluster Management  (i-IMATEC), National Institute of Public Administration (INTAN) presented an use case of using open source for developing an application for making student registrations paperless and faster.

Around 48% of Malaysian agencies use open source to a moderate extent. From Singapore to Australia, leading agencies driving their nation’s digital strategies are pivoting towards open source. For the Singapore government the driver is not budgetary constraints, it is innovation and agility.

Depending on the current situation, the shift to open might not be an easy process, after years of buying out of the box products and solutions. It might need a complete revamp and clean-up of processes and systems. Communication of the plan to managers and end-users would be necessary.

There are many options out there for using open source to varying degrees depending on skill sets available and the specific requirements of the organisations. But open source is and will continue to an essential part of the mix for driving innovation and not getting left behind in the technology race today. 

Click to read the reports on the subsequent sessions in Indonesia and Thailand