What the future holds for the Malaysian digital economy as Jack Ma jumps on board

Malaysia woke up to a surprise last week on news that Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group and also a prominent global e-commerce leader, has agreed to act as digital economy adviser to the Malaysian government.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced Ma's appointment in a Tweet last Friday. According to The Star, Najib also confirmed that Ma had said yes in attending the launch of Malaysia's E free trade zone in March. This came before he launched Alitrip Tourism Malaysia along with Ma last Friday, in order to attract more Chinese tourists to Malaysia.


Many of the digital experts and tech entrepreneurs A+M spoke to, welcomed the news.

Azran Osman-Rani, CEO of iflix said "It’s very exciting for Malaysia to have Jack Ma as an adviser to the government in relation to the growth of our digital economy. This truly shows both the tremendous progress and potential of Malaysia in terms of the ever-growing digital ecosystem."

Meanwhile, digital marketing agency VML Malaysia's head of digital Lee Chin Chuan added that:

Ma's expertise on e-commerce scene in Greater China, will help in shaping the Malaysian e-commerce scene in the next two to three years time.

"Although our Internet penetration ranked high across Southeast Asia, majority of Malaysian are still on research online and purchase offline," Lee said. Hence, he thinks it's time for marketers to grab the opportunity to look into the e-commerce product and traffic strategy in order to drive the whole digital transformation scene together with our government in this case.

For MDA president Serm Teck Choon, Ma's appointment will surely benefit Malaysia's e-commerce sector also because, "Jack Ma has built Alibaba as an e-commerce giant in the world."

"Ma has a pairs of eyes that can see the future. While the whole world was working on B2C model in late 1990's, he started Alibaba from B2B model, and only got into B2C later," Serm, who also serves as the country head of CtrlShift Malaysia, added.

With that, Serm said, the e-commerce players in the country should also take chance to learn from Ma in envisioning and building relevant products and services to serve their customers. This is specially while Budget 2017 aims to introduce the world’s first digital free trade zone and digital hubs, Ma can definitely play a key role in helping this initiative as he himself has preached about the same idea in June this year.

As the idea of setting up digital free trade zone is still new, Serm said the government can surely get many relevant advice from him along the way of setting this up. Besides those precious e-commerce advice, Ma's appointment is also expected to inspire more tech and digital entrepreneurs coming up in Malaysia.

"Whilst Malaysia already has some tremendous digital success stories, Ma is exceptionally inspirational. He is a global icon who will not only put Malaysia more firmly on the digital map, but who will act as a guiding light for both the current and next generation of tech and digital leaders in this country," Iflix's Osman-Rani said.

The fact that Alibaba which was founded with an extraordinary long-term vision and built on discipline and a continuing willingness to innovate, Osman-Rani said Ma will be able to foster a culture of ambition, vision and innovation in the Malaysian digital economy. On top of that, he could be an inspiration for many young Malaysians to dream of building a global business "from right here at home".

Serm said Ma's appointment also reminds him of Malaysia’s appointment of Bill Gates as an advisor in 1990’s while Malaysia was launching Multimedia Super Corridor.

"It signifies the shift of technologies of the last 20 years, started from desktop computing to the digital economy, and from Silicon Valley centric to the whole world particularly in Asia," he added.