Opportunity knocks twice for Salleh


  • Business
  • Saturday, 01 Mar 2003

By YAP LIH HUEY

HE is far from just a chief executive who sits in a spacious office.  

Datuk Mohd Salleh Masduki is often seen hands-on during exhibitions and trade fairs to promote his business ideas. He knows the ins and outs of his work and is good at it. Ask him questions on modern technologies and you would be surprised by his wide knowledge. 

Salleh was part of the team that in 1996 conceptualised the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) electronic government flagship application (EG flagship).  

Datuk Mohhd Salleh Masduki

The following year, he was appointed by the government to head Commerce Dot Com Sdn Bhd and oversee the business execution of ePerolehan, an online procurement system that is part of the EG flagship.  

Last month saw his efforts bearing fruits. With everything now in place, the Ministry of Finance made it compulsory for all 35,000 government suppliers to use ePerolehan in all their dealings. 

It is estimated that by the end of June, when all 25 ministries are connected to ePerolehan, there will be approximately 200,000 users.  

Currently, peninsula Malaysia has more than 4,288 procurement offices. In Sabah and Sarawak, work has already started, and is due to be completed by the end of this year.  

Commerce Dot Com has invested RM150 million in the business since July 1999, and by 2007, when the concession project with the government ends, it will have spent a total of RM250 million.  

In an interview at Salleh's office in Cyberjaya, the 60-year-old chief executive was, as usual, in his tasteful business attire complete with cuff links, and looking every inch the distinguished man.  

He was exceptionally down to earth and spoke fondly of his climb up the corporate ladder, and his involvement in public policies at governmental and international levels.  

Salleh says what made him where he is today is his varied – and, perhaps, to some extent, colourful – life experiences.  

“Like many of my generation I came from a humble home, in Sabak Bernam. But, I was very lucky because I had very caring parents and teachers who made sure I had the best schooling possible.  

“My childhood was a typical kampung boy's childhood. I had to make my own toys. If I wanted to play with a pistol, I had to get a piece of plank and shape it into a pistol, find the bullets, and so on.  

“And, if I want to play badminton, I first had to clear a bit of land to make a badminton court. I did enjoy life then – catching fish in the drains and eating fruits by climbing up the fruit trees.” 

“I suppose my childhood experiences taught me to be self-reliant and to recognise that one has to use creativity, ingenuity and innovation,” he recalls.  

“As I mentioned, I came from a humble home, so all my schooling was made possible through the generosity of the government without which I doubt whether I can be where I am today.”  

Immediately after his primary education, he was sent to Victoria Institution, and then, to England.  

“When I finished college in the mid-1960s, information communications technology (ICT) – known as computer studies in those days – was just gaining acceptance among commercial entities. And I was again fortunate in that I came across a self-learning programming module in college, and found I liked the challenge of writing good, quality programmes,” he reminisces.  

“I joined ICL, then the largest European computer manufacturer, in London as a trainee programmer, writing systems software such as compilers, file handlers, database management systems, utility programmes – those little programmes that make computers sing and dance.  

“Again, I was lucky in the sense that I joined a computer manufacturer instead of a computer user. Because of that, I had the opportunity to learn and participate in the development of very intricate internal computer programmes. 

“Then, when a new range of computers came about in the early 1970s I was part of the team to provide the technical support for it. So, came another period of very exciting technical experimentation and development on new technology,” he adds.  

Now, there comes a period in one's life when major decisions have to be made. He explains: “During this period, in the mid-1970s, I had a choice of remaining in the technical stream and eventually becoming a specialist/consultant or branch off into technical support management. 

“I chose to manage projects and was eventually transferred to the Malaysian branch of the company a year later to manage its technical support resources.” 

Later, he went to Petronas to lead the development of its computer services department.  

The next major milestone, as he puts it, was in the early 1980s when he joined Sime Darby to make inroads into the computer and computer services business.  

“This was followed by a period as country manager of Digital Equipment Corp in Malaysia. Hence, my introduction to the world of corporate management. Again, I relished the new challenges,” Salleh declares. 

Throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, he says, he was treating ICT as just another tool for people to get things done; whether it is accounting, payroll and other administrative tasks, or technical simulation of an oil reservoir or a SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) system in the oil industry.  

“In the early days, computer systems were just tools to get tasks done and had little impact on the man-on-the-street.  

“My perspective on life changed dramatically in the early 1990s when I was part of a team to propose projects to the heads of state and government of the G15 (group of 15 developing) countries.” 

“In the travels I had to make to 'sell' these projects to the member nations, I was met with poverty and suffering that I had not seen before. And, in my research into the causes of poverty and mitigation programmes to alleviate them, I became convinced that ICT could be an effective tool to reduce poverty.  

“In the final analysis, poverty can only be overcome if there is money to be made. There will come a time when some form of effective economic development must take place in the community. If ICT can be used as a lever to promote the rapid development of economic activities in these poor nations, then, perhaps we can begin to irradiate poverty.  

“So, when the South Investment, Trade and Technology Data Exchange Centre (Sittdec) was approved for implementation during the G15 Inaugural Summit, I was happy to implement the project with conviction and a deep sense of purpose.” 

Sittdec is meant to provide business information to the communities of the G15 and others in the developing world so that they can trade and invest directly with each other.  

But all things do not necessarily lead to a happy ending, Salleh laments. “We soon ran out of money and, perhaps, we were too far ahead in terms of technology capacity and acceptance of the concept.  

“But again, Lady Luck came to the rescue,” recalls Salleh. “The MSC was inaugurated in August 1998 and I was invited to be part of the team conceptualising the EG flagship,” he explains. 

“The vision of the EG flagship is to make government effective, efficient and transparent, and to ensure that public goods and services can be delivered any time and to anywhere.  

“This means that with the EG flagship we can begin to develop a network-centric, knowledge-based society, where virtually all our interactions, organisations, businesses and among ourselves can be supported and expedited by ICT. 

“Obviously this vision cannot be achieved overnight, but as our perceptions on how we do things change, and as our education system and our business processes change to accommodate the needs of the new knowledge-based society, then people will use ICT naturally, just as we use our other community facilities such as the telephone, ATM, and so on. 

“So, in the MSC, and ePerolehan in particular, I now have the opportunity again to put into reality my dreams of using ICT as a lever for benefiting the common man.  

“And I sincerely hope this time there will be enough infrastructure, technology support, funds and willingness among business and citizenry to try new things with ICT, because this is the only tool we have that is powerful enough to equalise the opportunities for players in the global playing field.” 

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