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How Malaysia is nurturing data analytics talent

The Southeast Asian nation has spearheaded several programmes to build up its data analytics talent pool in efforts to improve efficiency and productivity of Malaysians

Data is often heralded as the new oil, but building a talent pipeline to handle that data remains a global concern.

In Southeast Asia, industry players such as SAP and academia have been working together to raise the quality and quantity of data analytics talent through initiatives such as the ASEAN Data Science Explorers (ASEANDSE) 2019 competition.

Aimed at enhancing digital literacy skills among youth in the region, as well as nurturing their civic participation, the Malaysia leg of the competition was organised by the ASEAN Foundation and SAP at Monash University on 19 September 2019.

Themed Today’s youth for tomorrow’s world, ASEANDSE was focused on tapping the power of data analytics to solve big problems affecting people and the environment.

As part of the competition, more than 270 students from across Malaysia were trained on SAP Analytics Cloud to help them fast-track their projects. They were tasked to pick a social issue from the Southeast Asian region and to deliver relevant insights using the software.

The social issues had to be aligned with one of the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: good health and well-being; quality education; gender equality; decent work and economic growth; industry, innovation and infrastructure; and sustainable cities and communities.

Some 10 teams from seven participating universities took part in the finals with judges from the ASEAN Foundation, SAP, Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), United Nations Development Programme, National Council of Women’s Organisation and Impact Hub, a co-working pioneer focused on social entrepreneurship.

The winning team members – Leong Zhuan Kee and Peh Wei Li – later told Computer Weekly that their food sustainability project owed much to the user-friendly industry solution provided by SAP.

Talent pipeline

According to IDC, global revenues for big data and business analytics will surpass $210bn in 2020, amid a 20,000-fold leap in data volumes between 2000 and 2020.

Karl Ng, MDEC’s data economy director, has said on several occasions that big data will bring benefits such as better efficiency and productivity for Malaysia.

With the vision of becoming a high-income, knowledge-based society by 2020, MDEC has spearheaded many ICT initiatives with a special focus on the data economy that will serve as the foundation for artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives.

Besides promoting continuous learning as a vital aspect of Malaysia’s digital culture, MDEC has spearheaded talent programmes to increase the number of data specialists in Malaysia from about 4,000 to 16,000, as well as the number of data scientists from 100 to 1,500, by 2020.

Private-public collaboration remains a cornerstone of Malaysia’s strategy to grow the country’s data analytics talent pool. This includes facilitating curriculum reviews by industry and partnering universities to offer data science courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

In a 2018 report, IDC lauded Malaysia’s progress, citing initiatives such as the ASEAN Data Analytics Exchange (Adax), a regional platform that brings together talent and development models and showcases the latest analytics technologies.

Since its inception in 2017, Adax has helped to train 1,800 people from 298 companies across 19 industries as data practitioners, data managers and data leaders.

“With the initiatives currently in progress, many organisations, both on the demand and supply sides of the big data analytics and AI ecosystems have benefited in terms of investment, talent, advice and funding,” said IDC.

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