Malaysia: Towards spatially enabled society

Malaysia: Towards spatially enabled society


Deepali Roy
Assistant Editor, Geospatial World
[email protected]


Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy in Southeast Asia, separated by South China Sea into two regions, Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo. Ever since its independence in 1957, Malaysia's economic record has been one of Asia's best. Real GDP grew by an average of 6.5% per year from 1957 to 2005. Malaysia witnessed an economic boom in the 1970s, following which it expanded to become a multi-sector economy from being a raw material producer. The country's rich natural resources ensure healthy agriculture, forestry and mining sectors.


Fast growing economy
Malaysia was the 33rd fastest growing economy in the world in 2010, with a real GDP growth rate (constant prices, national currency) of 7.156 percent. Malaysia recovered fairly strongly from the 2008 global financial crisis where the economy declined for a brief period of time in 2009 – GDP growth (constant prices, national currency) fell to negative 1.71 percent in 2009 compared to a positive average of 5.824 percent from 2003 to 2008. The Malaysian economy got a boost with growth in services and manufacturing in 2010, which grew by 6.8 and 11.4 percent respectively, according to Economy Watch. In tandem with its economic growth, Malaysia is fast sprucing up its infrastructure and investing in nation building. The country has also introduced the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP). The ETP focuses on key growth engines or National Key Economic Areas, including agriculture, tourism, healthcare and retail which are spatial in nature.

Vision – 2020 & Malaysia Plan 2011-15
Vision 2020, introduced by former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir bin Mohamad, calls for the nation to be self-sufficient, industrialised and a fully developed country, by the year 2020.

The Tenth Malaysia Plan (2011-15) will be implemented based on strategic thrusts, programmes and allocations which are needed to realise Vision 2020 and to advance the nation to high-income and achieve developed nation status by 2020. The Plan targets an annual gross domestic product growth of 6 percent over the next five years, which is expected to be led by the private sector, with strong base support within the services sector. Per capita income is projected to rise to USD 12,139 by 2015, up from USD 8,256 in 2010. The Plan lays strong emphasis on creating a nurturing business environment.

Malaysia established its National ICT initiative, MSC Malaysia (formerly the Multimedia Super Corridor) in 1996, launched by former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad. The establishment of the MSC programme is seen as crucial to accelerate the objectives of Vision 2020.

Government uptake and support
Geospatial technology in Malaysia is largely driven by the government, both as a user and as a facilitator in supporting initiatives to promote the technology. According to Dr Noordin Ahmad, Deputy Director General, National Space Agency, there is a lot of push factor from the government, with the government promoting the use of geospatial technology within its departments. Applications are also getting wider, moving from 'simple mapping' to 'spatial analysis'. Another factor promoting growth is that local agencies are increasingly asking for digital submission of geospatial data on various details. Malaysia has established Malaysian Center of Geospatial Data Infrastructure (MaCGDI) as the nodal agency to drive the use of geospatial in the country.

National Spatial Data Infrastructure
Malaysia Geospatial Data Infrastructure (MyGDI) is an initiative by the government to develop a geospatial data infrastructure to enhance the awareness about data availability and improve access to geospatial information. This infrastructure aims to develop partnerships among agencies to produce and share geospatial information thus providing customer-focused, cost effective and timely delivery of geospatial data. Through its application MyGDI Explorer, MyGDI facilitates online access to geospatial information, informs Puan Fuziah binti Abu Hanifah, Director, MaCGDI.

National Committee on Mapping and Spatial Data
The government has set up National Committee on Mapping and Spatial Data, spearheaded by the Department of Survey and Mapping (JUPEM) that acts as advisor to the government on mapping and spatial data issues. This Committee has been mandated to formulate policies related to the use of geospatial technology, informs Datuk Prof Sr Dr Abdul Kadir Bin Taib, Director General of Surveying & Mapping, JUPEM.

Verticals driving business

Surveying & mapping
The Malaysian government’s vision of becoming a developed nation by 2020 encompasses the concept of ‘Digital Malaysia’ – underlining that all information should be spatially enabled. The national surveying and mapping agency, JUPEM has undertaken a number of initiatives to enhance the availability of spatial information. JUPEM will also be initiating the establishment of a 3D cadastre. With the 3D cadastre, JUPEM aims to have a complete, real-world model for all land parcels. JUPEM is also strengthening its mapping procedures. Moving from ground sourced data, the organisation is incorporating data from multiple sources for mapping, including satellite data, radar and aerial photography. Moving from upstream to downstream, JUPEM is working towards strengthening its data dissemination services in addition to its data processing. JUPEM is also moving towards fully service-oriented architecture to enhance its services to users, says Dr. Abdul Kadir.

Oil & gas
Oil and gas industry is one of the key pillars of the Malaysian economy. The industry played a significant role in the country tiding over the financial crises in 1987 and 1997. In 2010, Malaysia was the 28th largest oil producer and the 17th largest natural gas producer in the world. Currently, Malaysia has 2.9 billion barrels worth of proven oil reserves and 2.35 trillion cubic metres of proven natural gas reserves.

The industry recognises the role of geospatial technology and is incorporating the same in its processes. Explaining the role of geospatial information in oil exploration process, Razali Ahmad, Senior Manager – Geomatics Department, Technical Service Division; Petronas Exploration; Petronas Carigali Sdn Bhd, says that in the oil and gas exploration and production business, more than 80 percent information is location based and location is the starting point for almost all activities. Any mismanagement of location data along the way can cause potential loss of investments.

For on-site activities too, modern technologies like high-resolution satellite imagery and GNSS are being used rather than manual processes. In addition, the technology can also contribute in extending the lifespan of the reservoir.

Urban development & transportation
In line with its aspiration to become a developed nation, the Malaysian Government is committed to ensuring a high quality of life, developing attractive and safe areas to live in. It is also faced with rapidly urbanising population with rising expectations. The country's statistics department estimates that over 70% of Malaysia's population will be urban by the year 2020. With the demand outstripping the supply of land available for development, prudent urban development is high on agenda of Malaysian government. The 10th Plan lays strong emphasis on restructuring the public transport sector. and continuing to invest in infrastructure to make public transport the mode of choice. In order to accommodate growth, the Plan encourages compact urban development. For conurbations composed of multiple towns or cities, this means ensuring that each satellite city or town surrounding the core city centre is in itself a vibrant place to live, work and play and is efficiently connected to town centres.

Utilities have been one of the catalysts for the socio-economic development of Malaysia during the past decades. The country's national plans have given priority to enhance the utility services to support the growth and competitiveness of other sectors.

Tenaga Nasional Berhad, a vertically integrated electricity utility company, is making significant investments towards enhancing its capability to manage and operate its assets by leveraging on Geospatial technologies, among other things. TNB had formulated a long term GIS Masterplan, covering 50 major functions, from planning until asset retirement. The scope of the project covers generation, transmission, distribution, ICT communications and properties. The company is also using service oriented architecture for successful integration between its GIS system and other systems.

With rising population, growing urbanisation and escalating demand on water resources, water supply companies are strengthening their technologies to meet the challenges. Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd (SYABAS) has launched the Operation Command Centre (OCC), as a step to improve their clean water supply system. The system features SCADA wireless system, GIS and a hydraulic model. GIS system helps to project real-time data as well as store data related to incidents at certain locations, while the hydraulic model is used to measure the water pressure and water flow.


Space technology
Malaysia is actively working towards developing and promoting space technology. The National Space Agency, responsible for all satellite activities including GNSS and remote sensing satellites, is also developing the downstream sector – the utilisation of space technology, both GNSS and remote sensing, informs Dr Ahmad.

The Agency is also drafting National Space Policy to enhance the contribution of space technology towards economy, develop new applications and develop professionals. The country is expanding its satellite development programme to embark on a five-year RazakSAT-2 programme. The programme will be driven by the National Space Agency (Angkasa) and Astronautic Technology. It is valued at USD 63 mn and is expected to be launched in 2015.

Palm oil plantation
The palm oil industry forms the economic backbone of Malaysia. Malaysia currently accounts for 39 % of world palm oil production and 44% of world exports. With plantations being spread over large areas which are difficult to monitor manually, technologies like remote sensing and airborne surveys have an important role to play in palm oil plantation management. Precision farming too is catching up.

Early stages: Even though the country is steadily adopting the technology, it has a long way to go. Industry stakeholders feel that the technology is in early stages of adoption, with people only beginning to realise the potential of technology and hence not a significant tool in decision making. Mohaizi Mohamad, CEO, Geomatika Technology opines most government organisations have GIS systems but it is used mostly in routine work, with less than five percent of its potential being realised.

Lack of clear geospatial schemes: The Economic Planning Unit (PEMANDU) does not realise the value of geospatial technology to achieve achieve the Malaysian vision 2020, says Mohaizi. He also says that while ICT scheme is there, there is no geospatial scheme for geospatial graduates and ICT is only an enabler of geospatial. Dr. Ahmad feels that as geospatial is not yet recognised as industry, it often affects funding into the sector.

Inadequate capacities: Industry stakeholders feel that the technical skills in the government sector are very low, with low computer literacy making training more difficult. Certain administrative stipulations prevent absorption of GIS graduates into government, resulting in lack of geospatial technical expertise in the government sector.

Need to develop industry: Stakeholders observe that the government users prefer to carry out their geospatial activities themselves. This hampers market growth as vendors do not get sufficient opportunities to execute value- added, core geospatial services.

Data sharing and data accuracy: There is a lack of coordination of various geospatial activities and policies are not in place in terms of data sharing, feels Hanifah, Director, MaCGDI. A user opines that the data received is often not current and accurate. This affects operations as the currency and accuracy has to be addressed by users through their internal mechanisms.

National Geospatial Act: MaCGDI and JUPEM are currently in the process of developing National Geospatial Act. Once implemented, the Act will likely go a long way in streamlining and giving impetus to the growth of the industry.

Norms on standards: Lack of data standards is often an issue faced by geospatial industry in many countries. In Malaysia, JUPEM is involved in the committee for GIS standards and he is the chairperson, says Dr. Abdul Kadir. The standards committee has developed the Malaysian Standard (MS) 1759 for features and attribute codes to facilitate data integration and data sharing among agencies. The committee also has adopted and adapted the ISO TC/211 standards to become MS ISO that can be used by all GIS community in Malaysia.

With steadily growing awareness about geospatial technology, a slew of development activities with inherent geospatial component, keen efforts by nodal agencies to promote and grow the technology, Malaysia is an extremely fertile ground for the geospatial industry. As the government spreads its wings and takes flight to the next level of social and economic development, the geospatial industry too will find new horizons.