The Malaysia Electronic Business Summit, Kuala Lumpur, 20 June 1995.
As we are entering the 21st century, it is becoming more and more apparent that the rapid and structural changes taking place in the global economy are largely driven by breakthrough in information technology. These changes have resulted in the mushrooming of business opportunities and the development of more effective and efficient business methods. The impetus for this massive technological advancement is none other than the microchip. For instance, the semiconductor industry alone is worth US$100 billion a year and is expected to more than double in five years, by which time the global electronics industry as a whole is expected to be US$2,000 billion per annum.
It is noteworthy that the centre for this tremendous growth is the Asia- Pacific region, whose market for electronic-based products is growing at the rate of between 15 to 20 percent a year. This can be attributed to the plethora of new multimedia products, advanced personal computers and telecommunications products that enter almost daily into the marketplace.
As the competition gets more intense in the years to come, Malaysian corporations will have to be more innovative and aggressive in the acquisition, development and adaptation of high technologies. There must be a commitment on their part to develop a totally integrated electronics industry -- from design of microchips and wafer fabrication to downstream multi-feature, high quality consumer products that are affordable. Such an approach becomes expedient since we cannot continue investing capital and manpower only in the traditional areas of assembly and manufacturing, which are even now facing pressures from two main sources : from neighbouring countries with lower labour costs and from the developed countries, whose electronics-based and IT-based products have very high added value.
Malaysian companies should form strategic alliances with international firms but also with each other. This applies not only to the traditional electronics-based companies but also to Malaysian firms in all sectors of the economy. We fully encourage Malaysian companies to plan for genuine technology transfer programmes and to ensure that their technical and managerial personnel eventually will be able to develop innovative technologies, products and services. Our goal is to strive for self- reliance in the technologies that are critical to our global competitiveness.
In this regard, government institutions like Mimos, which have core competence in the development of microelectronics, telecommunications and information technologies have a significant role to play by contracting their expertise to the private sector. Mimos can also embark on join- venture businesses with Malaysian companies. Companies should especially take advantage of Mimos' new CMOS wafer fabrication facility which is expected to be on-line by July next year.
Close collaboration between the government and the private sector in this area is crucial so that problems can be effectively nipped in the bud. Whilst we recognise the importance of foreign expertise and investment, we would certainly stand to gain by developing our own expertise and exploiting the inherent advantages that we enjoy information technology. Collectively, this will provides us with the necessary booster that will proper Malaysia into the ranks of the developed nations.
Malaysian enterprises have to realize that it is urgent, important and critical to master the use of global networks and information superhighways, like the Internet, to conduct business in the optimum way. In particular, the companies in the electronics industry as a whole should get together to build up databases on the industry that can be offered to potential national and international investors and decision makers. Industry associations like the MAEI, JACTIM and FMM and the various Chambers of Commerce can spearhead this initiative. Companies should also review, re-design, and re-engineer their business processes to ensure maximum exploitation of information systems and computer networking.
To be a regional centre attractive enough for foreign investment, the government has created special zones for projects involving high technology. We will provide additional incentives for investors setting up operations especially in areas such as wafer fabrication. The RM1.2 billion Kulim Hi-Tech Industrial Park in Kedah, for example, is being offered at RM7.50 per sq ft for a leasehold period of 60 years, with an option of a further 39 years.
On our part, the government is looking into ways on how to provide the necessary support infrastructure to accelerate this process. At the same time, we are exploring ways of optimizing the use of information networks and databases, coupled with further re-engineering of the administrative machinery, in order to deliver top-quality services to the public in the most affordable, timely, efficient and effective manner. The quality of governance should improve through the intelligent use of microelectronics and information technology.
In this regards, we must be mindful of the very real possibility of the gap between the haves and have-not widening as a result of the use of computers and the accessibility to other electronics-based gadgetry. We should therefore not abdicate our responsibility in ensuring that the greater section of society, especially the younger generation, can avail themselves of the necessary hardware as well as software and thus reap the benefits of the electronic revolution.
In the age of Internet, with its charateristic free and rapid flow of information, we recognize that we cannot afford to be left behind. But whilst we keep abreast with this fast-paced development, it does not preclude the necessity to educate users and consumers to be more discerning and discriminating. Invariably, together with the massive amount of information and true knowledge, there is also plenty of smut and trash littering the Information Superhighway.
Perhaps we also need to ponder the various negative implications of this IT revolution. It has been argued that interaction between human beings would in the not-too distant future be largely replaced by the interaction through the Internet, leading to anti-social behaviour. While some would dismiss such a proposition as being rather alarmist, we must nevertheless brace ourselves to adapt and perhaps avoid fundamental changes in human relationships. We should also consider some of the things we might lose in the full pursuit of this electronic revolution : the simple things in life, like reading a newspaper or browsing in the library. To my mind, a CD-ROM may contain all the information available in a library. But a library that one has spent years in acquiring is not merely a storehouse of information but a place for one to contemplate and reflect, and to get intellectual ventilation. Lest we get carried away with the pursuit of the merely utilitarian, we must remind ourselves that we are not machines.
On a broader plane, we would have to address the issue of whether our current social framework can accommodate the empowerment that comes with the electronic revolution. Certainly, one of the great conflicts in civilization that we can expect to encounter would be the attempt at societal reengineering in order to exploit its positive aspects while preventing it from upsetting the checks and balances so delicately constructed in pre-electronic ages.