The age of the Internet of Things (IoT) -- the concept of a large network comprising physical objects that are interconnected via the Internet -- has come upon us, and experts believe Malaysia is well poised to take advantage of the opportunities that it has to offer.
“We see the IoT as an evolution of embedded technologies and Malaysia is very much a player in the IoT economy and ecosystem today,” says Christopher Kelly, general manager of the Malaysia Design Centre at Intel Microelectronics (M) Sdn Bhd.
"We have a tremendous opportunity as a country to build on the base we’ve already created and it is a very exciting time for Malaysia because we are poised to be leaders well beyond the borders of this region."
As connectivity improves within the country and as smart devices become more and more pervasive, the concept of IoT will automatically come alive, says Prakash Mallya, country manager for Malaysia and Singapore at Intel Technology Asia Pte Ltd.
“We are pretty ready on the solutions providers’ side,” says Hasannudin Saidin, director of digital entrepreneur division, Digital Malaysia, Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC).
“Local authorities and developers are also wanting to make their cities smarter. There is also a push towards green technology, low car emissions and greater environmental awareness. All this is merging into smart cities with intelligent devices and solutions.”
Hasannudin shares that MDeC has already started connecting industry players with the hopes of forming such an ecosystem, and believes that this would ultimately lead to the growth of the IoT industry in Malaysia.
So far, out of the total of 3,400 MSC status companies, he says 96 organisations are operating in the area of data analytics. Meanwhile, 201 companies are providing Cloud computing services, another 159 are involved in embedded systems and 166 of them offer mobility solutions.
However, there are still challenges that need to be overcome in order for Malaysia to make the most of IoT.
“I think the main obstacle why IoT hasn’t picked up yet in Malaysia is the adoption rate,” says Sim Hon Wai, general manager of MDT Innovations Sdn Bhd.
“It’s not a very big market yet. Malaysians have been subsconciously using IoT and had started way ahead compared to other countries, but we are lagging behind in terms of adoption.”
In addition, Prakash says putting the right technological infrastructure and business environment in place will be crucial.
“Businesses will definitely want to take advantage of things like IoT, there’s no question about it. It’s just that you need to make the right environment available for them. At the end of the day, it’s going to be about ecosystems,” he says.
Another challenge would be the need to ensure open standards are used when deploying an IoT system.
The system can only really work if all its parts are operating on open standards so that all the data can be used interoperably,” explains Kelly. “You need to deploy a solution which allows the data to flow transparently.”
Besides that, he adds that network security and cost factors also need to be kept in mind.
“Making sure the entire (network) path is secure, from the sensors all the way up to the Cloud and back again is a key challenge that needs to be factored in for engineering solutions,” Kelly says.
“You also have to look carefully at how much each installation will cost and what benefits it will give you. You need to be able to deploy a set of scalable solutions.”
Moreover, a major concern lingering in the minds of both industry players as well as consumers would be the issue of privacy.
“Cross border IT security and privacy is always difficult subject because it involves various governments working together to try and harmonise their privacy laws,” Kelly says.
However, he adds that the risk can be mitigated by offering everyone the opportunity to opt-out of sharing their data in the IoT if that is what they prefer.
“This will help you as an individual manage your personal data. From a technology perspective, the IoT is an economics exchange in many ways. You get something from being connected, but you will need to determine whether the benefits you’re receiving is worth what you have to give up,” Kelly explains.
Meanwhile, in the public sector, the challenge for IoT implementation lies in fostering greater collaboration amongst the various government agencies.
“At times, the government sometimes works in silos and this could be an obstacle,” Hasannudin notes.
However, he says there have been improvements in this area recently, with agencies like Mimos and MDeC currently working together to create a national IoT blueprint.
The government also has an important role to play when it comes to the issue of upholding interoperable standards for IoT within the Malaysian market.
“Standards setting is a very complicated process, but the good news is that there are a lot of open standards that can be chosen from which are already out there,” says Kelly.
“The government’s role would be to assess existing standards to decide what’s most appropriate for local conditions. It doesn’t have to invent brand new ones. Once these are in place, it will unleash innovation and creativity amongst industry players.”
In Sim’s opinion, such standards should be determined by market forces.
“Solutions providers like us just have to go along with the existing standards. It’s not economical for us to create our own because we don’t want it to be proprietary such that no one can get in and there’s no widespread adoption,” he explains.