Demonstrator Application (DA) Story

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Ahmad Raslan
National IT Council, Malaysia

As an open economy, Malaysia's (With a total land area of about 127,000 square miles, the nation comprises of mountainous regions, virgin rain forests and separated into two regions - West Malaysia and East Malaysia by the South China Sea) economic prospects depend on the international market. More than ever, global competitiveness today is shaped by the effective engagement in the rapid creation and diffusion of knowledge and information, changing how investments are made and the way goods and services are produced, marketed, and traded.

A knowledge economy involves the development, exploration, storage, interpretation and application of knowledge in the computer, telecommunications and multimedia industries (collectively known as Information and Communications Technology - ICT), as well as their application to more traditional sectors of economy such as agriculture and manufacturing.

Coming out with new ICT-based products and processes depends on knowledge-based approaches and management. Hence, the need to develop a knowledge society: Malaysians who have the ability, capacity and skills to generate and capture new knowledge, and access, absorb and use effectively, information, data and knowledge, with the support of ICT.

In short, the development of a knowledge economy is dependent on the development of a knowledge society. Here, the key factor of production is people, rather than land, labour or capital.

So it is that people development sits at the heart of the National IT Agenda (NITA), identified by the government as the key development thrust for Malaysia for the next millennium. Launched in 1996, the NITA's final goal is the creation of a Values-based Knowledge Society.

This task to develop and oversee the NITA falls upon the National IT Council (NITC), chaired by the Prime Minister and comprising of Cabinet ministers, senior government officials, private sector leaders, academicians and community sector representatives.

In building a k-society with Malaysian values, the solution lies beyond merely laying cables to wire up the whole nation and placing computers in every home. The overarching need is, in fact, to ensure that a digital divide does not widen the economic divide between those who have access to ICT and knowledge, and those who do not. Three issues, in particular, need to be addressed: access and equity, creating value and qualitative transformation.

These issues can only be addressed through comprehensive people development within the tripartite relationship of infostructure and ICT content and application development.

However, to inspire citizens to get on board the ICT bandwagon, the NITC would have to demonstrate the real benefits that can be reaped by various communities and individuals by migrating to the information age via use of ICT.

A solution would be the use of demonstrator application (DA) or pilot projects. DA's are small projects that span a short time frame, with clearly defined objectives. To be accredited DAs, nominated projects must feature the following characteristics:

· Small, focused and short-term projects
Ideally, the projects should be small and focused on solving a particular problem within a target community. The implementation of the project should not exceed a period of more than 12 months.

· Smart-partnership driven
The roles and responsibilities of each partner in a project should be clearly defined with each contributing a specific value towards the set objectives.

· Emphasis on community inclusion, community building and local content creation
Each project should actively involve the community members at large and contribute towards the knowledge acquisition process by the community. The community, for its own consumption, should also create local content, ideally.

· Model of sustainable development
The project should be able to sustain the continued development of knowledge for the benefit of


Proposed by the NITC in early 1998, DA is a key initiative for the realisation of objectives set out in NITA (National IT Agenda). The DA Program was granted RM50 million under the 7th Malaysia Plan (1995-2000). The DA's initiative is very much focused on a community capacity-building approach. Such an approach entails among others:


DA Progress

In general, DA projects have benefited a wide range of communities that lack necessary ICT skills and knowledge.

There are total of 45 DA projects covering different target communities. The majority of these projects focused on e-community development. This indicates that these projects have a wide and common appeal, and are not esoteric in nature.

From these 45 DA's projects, an estimated 1.24 million people from 15 different target communities will potentially benefit from ICT exposure in various ways.

The 15 target communities include:
· Small and medium sized enterprises.
· Educators.
· Orphanage and Home administrators.
· Patients and their family members.
· Army veterans.
· Researchers.
· People with disabilities (hearing impaired).
· Farmers.
· Mixed community in locality.
· Students.
· Urban and sub-urban family members
· Members of women's organisations.
· General Practitioners and doctors.
· Government servants.
· Publishers.

In terms of technology development, most of the projects are focused on leveraging the power of the Internet to serve targeted communities, that is, via the development of a vertical portal. This portal is supplemented by database development.

In certain instances, specific applications were developed for target communities. They include multimedia information kiosks, e-commerce tools, e-mentoring systems, multimedia courseware, an IT system for the hearing impaired community, and e-book technology. The development of these applications is encouraging and indicative of the availability of local talent and resources to create applications that suit specific needs.


The Demonstrator Application (DA) a unique formula established in 1998 to give all Malaysians an opportunity to be acculturated and be involved in ICT-based and related activities.
Lessons learned
The introduction of the DAGS to citizens was one of the first efforts by the NITC to practise what it preaches by providing the financial impetus to e-projects. The Demonstrator Application Grant Scheme (DAGS) has experienced rapid growth since its launching in April 1998. Along the way, DAGS has come to be recognised as a dynamic program that supports innovative projects relating to information communication technology (ICT), as well as being a model of a smart partnership project between the public, private and community interest sectors. Looking back, we acknowledge that the NITC Secretariat was not completely prepared for what took place since the announcement of the DAGS. But it resulted in valuable lessons learned, which has helped make the DAGS projects an even more effective and worthwhile endeavour. Some of the crucial lessons that the DAGS Secretariat members learned are:

· The need for a strong Promoter and Knowledge Broker
From the onset, it was evident to the DAGS team that the identification and participation of a project promoter is critical to the success of the DA project. The promoter generally plays the role of knowledge broker, who takes ownership of all development pertaining to the DA project. The promoter is instrumental in encouraging, inspiring and pushing the limits of human ability in completing the task ahead. Without the promoters, the DA project will be as good as failure from the start.

· A willing and available pilot community
A willing and available pilot community as a target is the flip side of a strong promoter. Having a good promoter alone will not suffice. The community, who are the direct beneficiaries, needs to have a right mental attitude and correct mindset in order to succeed. With the involvement of the target community, the promoter need not swim against the current. Rather, they flourish as a team, heading toward a common objective.

· An experimental attitude
Both the promoter and the community need to have an innovative experimental attitude in order to test the limits of human creativity. Without creativity and an experimental attitude, there will be little improvements and innovation to the way things normally progress in the course of time. Smart partnerships with private sector technology providers will further require a risk-taking attitude. As this is purely a project to demonstrate the viability of a DA project, a certain amount of risk-taking spirit needs to be considered by the technology providers, which goes beyond the secular reasoning of profit-oriented approach.

· Sustainability plan is important to ensure for project continuation
As the DA program only funds a project for a period of twelve months, the project needs to develop a clear sustainability and commercialisation plan into their business model right from day one. Without sustainability and self sufficiency plans, the project risks collapsing after the twelve-month period of financial support from the DA program. The whole effort then would turn into a wasteful endeavour and a costly lesson learned. Hence, a self-sufficiency plan needs to incorporated from the start of the project.

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