Transforming Connectivity

FocusM, February 15-21,2014

By Sumitra Valliappan

Much has been written about how technology has seen great leaps over the past few years. Smartphones, cloud technology, computing, social networking and multi-touch tablets are just a few of the innovations that everyone now knows. Even the older generation now has been forced to get on the digital revolution, like it or not. These advances have changed the way we live and work but, believe it or not, they are just the beginning and each ensuing chapter will reveal a new way forward.

The movie, ‘Her’ which hit the silver screen last month, tells the story of Theodore Twombly, played by Joaquin Phoenix, who falls in love with the operating system on his computer. The voice of the operating system, played by Scarlett Johansson, brightly greets him and with her usual sexy huskiness, bids him good night in the evening. Samantha (the voice) also organizes his files, gets him out of the house and, like a subservient female, doesn’t complain about juggling her many roles as his assistant, companion and savior all in one. While the movie is purely fictional, it serves to remind us that in today’s world, with the Internet being the mainframe of our daily lives and its ever-expanding repertoires of uses, anything is possible.

“Software defining networking is going to be huge in the coming years and these trends are going to lead Malaysia to a more transformed nation,” says Albert Chai, who recently took over the reins as the country manager of Cisco Malaysia. Chai has been with the global leader in networking solutions for five years and has held a number of positions before assuming his new role. The IT and telecommunications expert has spent some 20 years in the industry in Malaysia and the Asia-Pacific.

The year 2013 was exciting for the Malaysian IT industry, according to Chai, with total growth recorded close to 7%. “That’s close to RM61.9 bil in investments in services in telecommunications, purchases of smartphones and tablets, IT services, data centre systems and software,” he says. For this year Chai expresses his hope for four key themes to see accelerated growth in the country.

“The cloud segment will definitely see incredible growth as it is connecting the unconnected. Many a time, we might not be aware of it but in actual fact we use them on a daily basis – iCloud, Facebook, Yahoo mail4 – all these are examples of clouds,” he explains.

With the number of Internet and mobile phones users in the country standing at a staggering 17 million and 38 million, respectively, it paves the way for unrealized opportunities to be tapped into. “In essence, we’ll be seeing a progressive opportunity,” Chai says. Another growth segment he has identified is data centre traffic. In the third annual Cisco Global Cloud Index (2012-2017) issued recently, it was forecast that global cloud traffic, the fastest growing component of data traffic centre, is expected to grow fourfold. “We will reach 5.3 zettabytes of annual traffic by 2017 from 1.3 zettabytes in 2012. Just to give you a perspective of things, 1.2 zettabytes is equivalent to one billion DVDs per day for 365 days in a year – that’s the amount of traffic we’re talking about,” says Chai.

So what does this mean for Malaysia? With all the experience that Chai has gained over the years, he will now have the task of translating these figures to daily usage. As country manager of Cisco, he has a single aim – to transform Malaysia using the right technology. “We want to build a connected Malaysia with network as the platform for our economic, social and business landscape,” he adds. A mammoth task indeed for someone who has just taken over but with Cisco’s global strength in enterprise networks, collaborations, and data virtualization centres, Chai is confident that new possibilities can be created here. “We create new possibilities as we connect the people with data, processes and systems, that’s how we create a new economic value for corporations and companies,” he quips.

Chai’s priority in the next 12 to 18 months is to focus on three areas: to partner the public sector to deliver better citizen services and protect the national infrastructure, to partner private-sector enterprises to help them globalize their operations, and to use its social innovation initiatives to provide relevant industry skills to Malaysians. “I would like to use the technology that we have to make healthcare more accessible and affordable to more Malaysians, which means reaching out to the rural and suburban populations,” he says. “Our technology and services allow for a specialist in the Klang Valley to deliver specialized healthcare services to these areas,” shares Chai. 

In terms of affordability, Chai reveals how health conditions can now be checked at home by the patients with gadgets and devices that are available and the technology that Cisco offers will enable to healthcare professionals to monitor them remotely. With this initiative, he hopes to be able to team up with the Ministry of Health.

Meanwhile, in the education field, Chai explains how the whole learning experience has changed and in order to transform our workforce, the way we deliver education has to evolve. Ideally, he says, education should make use of both physical and virtual methods in its deliver. “Classrooms are no longer a place to go to, students are now more self-driven from the way I see it,” he adds.
In the private sector, Cisco partners banks both regionally and globally to help them accelerate the regionalization and globalization by increasing efficiency in delivering services. “What we do is to integrate the different offices around the areas that they are in business to the headquarters in Kuala Lumpur,” he explains.

The third pillar which Chai aims to grow is social innovation. He says the company will continue to grow its Cisco Networking Academy programme, which has helped train around 41,000 graduates since the programme’s inception in 1999.

“Today we have 10,000 students enrolled across over 50 Cisco network academies in universities and private education institutions. We have more than 200 instructors certified by Cisco to deliver all these technology and IT courses,” he says.

In addition, the Cisco Global STEM alliance will also be part of the initiative. It provides students with curriculum resources, intergenerational mentorship and access to cutting-edge science and technology research. Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia was the first education institution to join the alliance, as had been announced at the Internet of Things World Forum held in Barcelona, Spain last October.