Thursday, June 20

Sarawak’s digital updates in 2019

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Ever since Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg officially launched digital initiatives some two years ago, the community has been keeping tabs on the many progresses being made to enhance our lives.

The birth of the Sarawak Multimedia Authority (SMA) along with the first version of the Sarawak Digital Economy Strategy Book 2018-2022 was momentous in heralding the start of the state’s digital transformation.

Thus, it was timely when a media briefing on the digital economy organised by the SMA in collaboration with Angkatan Zaman Masang (AZAM) Sarawak was held in the first quarter this year to familiarise local media with the Sarawak Digital Economy initiatives as well as provide updates on the progress of various initiatives.

To date, there has been a total of 140 digital initiatives in Sarawak with 54 projects implemented in 2018.

“Under the digital economy initiatives, we have 140 initiatives, these are all the projects that have been proposed but we have not started on all of them,” Digital Economy project manager Alex Chu revealed during his presentation.

“We have identified those that we can implement last year and there are 54 of them and these are ongoing till today. We have four additional projects that was added during the year (in 2018), two projects completed and we keep getting proposals.”

As for digital infrastructure, SMA has targeted to build 600 towers in the state. For the first 300 towers, the recce has been completed, 100 of which has been awarded the Site Survey and Soil Investigation Work.

“Some are pending approval from the State Financial Secretary Office and for the other 300 towers, there’s been some location siting and planning has been completed.

“Basically we know where all the towers will be. Next, is to carry out the site investigation and do the awards to build the towers.”

This is not the only update in the state. Last month, Huawei Malaysia strengthened its partnership with the Sarawak government by signing a joint Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to continue supporting the state’s Digital Economy Transformation Agenda, particularly to develop digital talent and innovate technology.

The joint MoU was signed with the Centre of Technical Excellence Sarawak (Centexs) and SMA in Shenzhen, China where State Secretary Tan Sri Datuk Amar Mohamad Morshidi Abdul Ghani signed on behalf of the Sarawak government while Huawei Technologies Malaysia Sdn Bhd enterprise vice president Oliver Liu signed for Huawei.

The witness signatories for the MoU were Centexs chief executive officer Syeed Mohd Hussein Wan Abdul Rahman, SMA general manager Dr Zaidi Razak, Huawei Learning Services vice president Xu Chengxin and Huawei Openlab director Lin Xijiang.

Present to witness the signing were Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg and ICT Infrastructure of Managing Board of Office Supervisory Board executive member Li Dafeng.

As part of the strategic partnership to support Sarawak’s digital economy transformation, Huawei will also focus on bringing the latest ICT technology and knowledge required to support initiatives such as smart city, smart rural connectivity, smart campus, smart agriculture, smart building, smart education, smart tourism, safe city and more.

Huawei will participate as one of the key anchor partner to the Centre of Excellence (CoE) lab to jointly conduct studies, research and development for localised digital smart solution with local universities and partners for these initiatives, through the adoption of 5G and Narrow Band IoT (NBIoT) technologies.

Meanwhile, Li said the company was very pleased to partner with Sarawak once again following the successful outcome of Centexs Huawei Phase 1 Digital Lab Talent Programme.

“We are confident that this partnership will continue to contribute to the realisation of Sarawak’s vision in achieving its digital economy transformation agenda.”

The two parties also recently launched the first-ever digital training lab in Kuching and Southeast Asia, to prepare Sarawak youths for a digital future.

State command and control centre

In the near future, SMA plans to have a state command and control centre, a centre which can access all types of information.

SMA’s Chu says this will be the front-end to big data.

“For this command and control centre, we will connect all the CCTVs that have been installed and with new CCTVs to be implemented.

“All the information (will be collected) from all the agencies, such as weather data and telemetry data (and others). We are implementing a project to the Jabatan Bekalan Air Luar Bandar where they will do a complete system to manage our water supply and we will collect all those information like how much water is being produced, how much water is being wasted, what are all the problems that people face on the ground, and so on.”

“All this will come into the centre and be monitored, imagine a central command centre, and you have a lot of screens and you have systems that if something goes wrong or something happens, it will alert the right authorities and the government will then be able to take action.”

The state command and control centre will be housed in Kuching.

“Later on, the programs like smart city, you will have a lot of sensors. With the smart city concept basically, you will use a lot of sensors to gather data about whatever is going on like with transportation, health data and so on.”

On security in the smart city concept, Chu explained that this usually entails prevention from hacking and data from being leaked.

“You want to prevent hackers from breaking into your system but generally, there are systems available to protect – to counteract all kinds of untoward activities that a hacker or someone who wants to hack in or just prevent you from delivering your service.

“There are these systems that allows us to prevent that from happening. We will have things like a cybersecurity team, cybertroopers who will have to monitor for all these activities. We use systems to do that, not with humans, but systems that will automatically detect (such activities).”

As for whether SMA provides a back up plan to the ministries if for example, the technology for a certain project breaks down or internet breaks down, Chu replied that they will definitely be looking into this with fall back plan options.

“We will have policies that says when you develop a system, what are the backups and fallbacks that the system must have, what we call business recovery.”

Digital wallet: Sarawak Pay

SMA is also currently promoting its digital wallet or e-Wallet Sarawak Pay. A very popular trend these days, Sarawak Pay is comparable to other digital wallets such as Boost or Fave.

With Sarawak Pay, there’s a promotion going on whereby every time the user pays for something, there will be some cashback reward.

At the time of the briefing, the latest statistics showed that the e-Wallet had 1,700 merchants and had just reached almost 10,000 users. In terms of app downloads, it was at 50,000 downloads (on the Google playstore).

SMA is working with the local communities in each division to actually help out with the merchant acquisition and user acquisition.

“There’s a lot of features where if you go in a group to eat, you can share the bill, you can also transfer money between each other,” Chu enthused.

Smart city: Smart traffic management

Under its smart city sector, Chu highlighted that one of the areas SMA is working on the smart traffic light system.

“The traffic lights are already there actually, all the councils are already using this system called Sydney Coordinated Adaptive Traffic System (SCATS),” Chu said.

Currently, the authority is working on synchronising the timing of traffic lights everywhere, especially in areas where a traffic junction is under two separate councils.

“What is happening now is that if a junction, one part is under the Kuching South City Council (MBKS) and the other is under the Kuching North City Commission (DBKU), they don’t syncrhonise the timing.

“Now we have this project to synchronise the timing throughout all the traffic lights so that we can achieve up to 25 per cent time saving when travelling.

“So when you travel along a street with many traffic lights, hopefully the moment you reach that traffic light, it’s green, and hopefully it’s green all the way, for a better driving experience.”

In addition, SMA is collaborating data with other agencies, including the GPS navigation software app Waze.

“The government is sharing data with Waze. For example, we tell them at what time there will be a jogathon or event so there will be road blocks here and there.

“Waze will then also share back with the government on the traffic conditions, where the congestion has been.

“Also, there are CCTVs at all these junctions, so they can see the traffic. They can even control the traffic light from the control centre, just from the CCTV so there maybe no need to send the police down there (to control the traffic).

“Right now, it is individual councils managing their own (areas). Our project is to coordinate and connect everybody together.”

As mentioned on the SMA website on the Kuching city traffic control centre, phase one involves upgrading works to existing traffic light junction along four pilot routes: Jalan Tun Razak, Jalan Song, Jalan Satok/Kuching and Jalan Green.

“The project is still in the process of tender, almost finalising the tender. Hopefully this will make our driving travels smoother.

“Soon, this is in the future, say we want to promote public transportation so then we may give priority to buses (which are equipped) with GPS. The moment it reaches an intersection, that intersection can turn green for the bus.

Chu added that this feature may even apply to ambulances or ambulance services.

Agriculture

With the agriculture sector, SMA is currently testing out Internet of Things (IoT) to cultivate smart farming. One of its testbeds is at Rampangi, a farm located on the way to Santubong.

“What is IoT? These are basically devices, sensors which can be used to track temperature, humidity, soil conditions, acidity and others. There are different sensors for different things,” Chu explained.

“The idea is, for farmers, they want to track how well the plants are doing so that they know how much their yield will be. They can then plan for harvest, they will know when they can harvest. They can (plan), all the way from the beginning, from planting all the way to harvesting.”

“The data that comes in from these sensors, they will connect to the system and then there will be some software, that software will help the farmer analyse what is going on.”

Chu then gave an example of how the IoT system helps the farmer to determine how much fertiliser needs to be used, as such allowing farmers to be more targeted in terms of amount and area when using fertilisers.

“Last time when farmers put in fertilisers, they just put the same type or amount for each area. Now, if let’s say, some plants are doing well, then less fertiliser will be needed while other plants which are not doing well, these may need certain types of fertilisers.”

As such, farmers can save from fertiliser use which is also good for the environment and they can also save from water usage.

“Water is also a resource that we have to manage. They can save on electricity usage and others. The whole idea is that it becomes more profitable for the farmers, increasing the yield of their production and will be easier for them to manage their plants.”

“Basically technology can be put to a lot of use nowadays, it is all up to how creative you are to make use of technologies to create the result that you want.”

On another note, head of Digital Village Hazwan Razak clarified the issue of whether such technology results in the lesser need for human labour.

“One thing that comes up when you talk about smart farming is whether we are going to have less jobs for people? Well, there maybe less jobs for manual labour but it just means the job requirements changes which means we will need more technicians,” Hazwan opined.

“Someone has to fix the machines, someone has to program the IoTs, someone has to do maintenance and conduct data analysis. The job requirement changes. We are not canceling out these jobs, we are just replacing the skillsets needed to actually operate a farm.”

As for whether any businesses are currently using IoT when farming here, head of research and development Dr Khairul Hafiz replied that not in Sarawak at the moment.

“That’s why we try to show it to them that it’s possible and there are technologies that can support them doing this. We are trying to transform our farmers to be on board with the digital transformation,” Khairul noted, adding that it is not necessary for the farmers to be tech savvy when embarking on this digital transformation journey.

Research and development

Khairul highlighted that for research and development (R&D) in SMA, the focus is on coordinating the research from universities and startups, that needs its R&D component input in the projects as well.

“For R&D itself, we are putting in key labs in universities, five local universities: Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS), UITM, Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus (Swinburne), Curtin Univerity, Malaysia (Curtin) and University College of Technology Sarawak (UCTS),” Khairul said.

“That is where the main R&D will be done and we support them through research grants. Currently we have awarded 26 research grants for research projects done by the universities. Looking at all the research initiatives, we also found out that they don’t have any industry-grade tools.

“That’s where the Open Lab comes in. The Open Lab is a centre where the big technology partners will come and provide the tools there. Students from universities can come in and use it for free to develop their products and services. It is part of the government initiative to enable universities to do their research and also commercialisation.”

“This is one way that the whole ecosystem on how the partners can support the Open Lab and also move to the commercialisation and also the project deployment. The platform and tools will be funded by industry partners while we will provide them with the physical location and also the infrastructure. With that, we also provide the R&D scholarship for postgraduate students.”

The Open Lab will be at the Centre of Technical Excellence Sarawak (Centexs) in Santubong. Aside from the five local universities, SMA is also getting world class partners such as University of Malaya and National University of Singapore to come onboard. For industry partners, SMA has six partners: IBM, Huawei, Fusionex, GE, Keysight and Honeywell.

“We are getting them as partners to provide tools in the Open Lab so that researchers can use whatever tools that they provide. Example for AI purposes, universities, researchers can come in and use the IBM Watson to develop their data analytics, algorithm or their apps.”

On the testbeds, Khairul highlighted that these will be like a living lab, a working environment where people can come in to test their components or their products and services.

“Currently, there are five testbeds that are being planned. Industry 4.0 is one of them, along with agriculture, smart city, fintech and cybersecurity. We will have this living lab at the economic areas such as for smart city, maybe it will be in Kuching, Industry 4.0 maybe in Bintulu, where the economic sectors dominate.

“Basically the living lab is a real working environment for manufacturing but if any vendors or companies or researchers want to test out any components in the industry 4.0, then they can do that in the testbeds. They can test the products. Let’s say some companies might want to test their sensors that they have developed, they can just put their sensors in there and test it in a real working environment.”

Building the startup ecosystem

Hazwan highlighted that as the digital village unit of SMA, they are “the custodian of the Sarawak digital village ecosystem”, within which they work with all their partners to help the startups grow.

“For entrepreneurship education, we’ve got Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) from the federal level, and from our state ministries: Ministry of Industrial and Entreprenur Development (MIED) and Ministry of International Trade & eCommerce (MITeC) and we’ve got our finance in Tabung Ekonomi Gagasan Anak Bumiputera Sarawak (TEGAS), STEM Playground, Sarawak Centre of Performance Excellence (SCOPE) and iCube.

“Even private partners from the corporate side, the private sector, are also part of the ecosystem,” Hazwan said.

For R&D, looking at all the universities, once the research is able to be commercialised, that will be passed on to the digital village ecosystem, according to Hazwan.

“We will be working with them to (get) more investors that will be able to help the startups grow and also invest in them.”

SMA will run programs such as ‘Startup Weekend’ and ‘Hack Weekend’ whereby they will try to get the idea out and fine tune it so that it can become a business.

Hazwan noted that once the idea is out, and there is a prototype which can be commercialised, SMA can help these individuals or businesses go even further with R&D, by looking into the markets they can enter.

“We partner them with industries, that’s where the support comes in, for example from Sarawak Media Group (SMG) or AZAM Sarawak, which will help to promote the startup and provide them a platform so that they can network with global players so that they can scale overseas.”

As for co-working spaces where startups can work, Hazwan revealed that there are four co-working spaces which are up and running: SMA-TEGAS Digital Innnovation Hub (iCOM Square ), SMA-TEGAS Digital Innovation Hub in Bintulu and Miri, while in Sarikei there is the Sarikei Innovation Centre.

“We actually have up and coming in Betong, the SMA-Centexs Digital Innnovation Hub in Betong, and a few more in the works, including a cultural hub in Kuching.”

Eight digital innovation hubs are expected to be completed by 2020.