Building digital Sarawak: The only way forward

Abang Johari points at the model of the Sarawak Legislative Assembly complex, situated near the Darul Hana development, after opening the SMA office.

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In a world where virtually everything from social to industries is disrupted by technology, Sarawak’s move to focus and accelerate a digital transformation was a wise one.

Significant digital initiatives in 2020 so far

QR-coded wristband developed by SMA.

Covid-19 may have brought the global economy to a standstill, but the Sarawak government through Sarawak Multimedia Authority (SMA) lost no time in leveraging on digital technology to better handle the devastating pandemic.

SMA rolled out a digital tracking device, the QR wristband, to help curb and monitor the spread of Covid-19 in the state.


The digital surveillance solution has given the State Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) the “scalable capability” to monitor the disease at all points of entry in Sarawak.

Under the solution, all those entering Sarawak are issued a QR-coded wristband based on two categories: person under investigation (PUI) and 14-day stay home notice.

In addition, SMA has come up with an official mobile app called i-Alerts to keep Sarawakians informed of the latest Covid-19 situation in the state.

The official mobile app can also help the state combat fake news during this crisis.

SMA has also collaborated with local maker communities from various organisations to help frontliners during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Together, they have helped to produce face shields using 3D printers and laser cutters at SMA’s Creative Heritage Innovation Centre in Bangunan Yayasan Sarawak here.

A 3D printer creating a face shield frame.

Pushing Sarawak’s digital transformation into high gear

Sarawak today must learn to adapt at digital speed.

This has been Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg’s clarion call since the start of his administration which has worked to
move Sarawak forward by embracing digital technology and develop strategies that can best help industries and people thrive against such a backdrop.

“We have to match the aspirations of our young people. We must leave a legacy for them and enable them to embrace global economic growth.

“To do this, we have no option but to embrace technology to develop the state and give a better future to Sarawakians,” he said.

Having said that, preparing and keeping up with constantly changing technology is no walk in the park but vital to secure Sarawak’s digital future.

The start of Sarawak’s digital transformation journey

Abang Johari (centre stage, red tie) together with senior ministers in a group photo with the members of the organising committee as well as distinguished guests at the closing of IDECS 2019.

To spearhead the digital transformation to advance Sarawak’s economy and reduce reliance on natural resources, an International Digital Economy Conference Sarawak (IDECS) was held in April 3-4, 2017, the second edition in May 14-15, 2018 and third edition in July 8-9, 2019.

This led to the setting up of Sarawak Multimedia Authority (SMA), Sarawak Digital Economy Corporation (SDEC) as implementing agent of SMA, and the Sarawak Digital Economy Strategy 2018 to 2022 on Dec 13, 2017.

Chaired by Abang Johari himself, SMA’s primary objective is to spearhead, oversea and facilitate the development and implementation of the communication, multimedia and the state’s digital economy initiatives.

Meanwhile the five-year Sarawak Digital Economy Strategy plan outlines 47 strategic actions to drive the state economy towards achieving high income status by 2030.

Abang Johari is confident the strategic actions under the state’s digital economy agenda will spur economic growth to 6 per cent by 2030 and turn Sarawak into a developed state within the next decade.

It covers eight economic sectors namely agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, smart city, digital health, e-commerce, digital government, and social (sports, social, arts and culture).

The strategy is supported by seven enablers consisting of digital infrastructure, digital skills and talent development, research and development, digital innovation and entrepreneurship, digital and data, cyber security and digital government.

Abang Johari has also committed RM1 billion to expand the ICT infrastructure throughout Sarawak including building 600 telco towers over two years with 5G capabilities to connect rural and underserved areas which are not economically viable for private telco service providers to invest in.

Three years on, numerous significant initiatives have been implemented to nurture a digital ecosystem that will support Sarawakians, especially the young and future generations, to thrive and flourish in the rapidly evolving technolgy-driven era.

Setting up business incubators

The Tabung Ekonomi Gagasan Anak Sarawak (Tegas) Innovation Hub was set up at i-Com Square and launched by Abang Johari on Aug 28, 2017.

Digital Innovation Hubs have since been expanded to Bintulu, Miri and Sarikei as part of the Digital Economy Strategy to build one in each division to promote and nurture talents, support entrepreneurs and develop innovators throughout Sarawak.

Each hub is designed with various facilities including a co-working space, conference room, event space, and of course, internet connection.

At the same time, a RM27 million Sarawak Digital Village is being planned at Samajaya Free High Tech Park here which is expected to be materialised by this year (2020).

The Digital Village will become a platform to facilitate technology transfer and commercialisation and to accelerate the maturity of start-ups through global accelerator partnerships.

Sarawak’s very own cashless payment system

Abang Johari trying out Darul Hana Patingan Mosque’s Sarawak Pay facility by scanning the QR code with his smartphone.

On Nov 15, 2017, the state goverment launched the nation’s first e-wallet Sarawak Pay, a mobile app that allows cashless payment at participating retailers in the state.

It has also collaborated with Bank Simpanan Negara to provide rural people with access to financial services through the bank’s agents and the e-wallet.

Sarawak Pay users in the rural area with no access to a financial institution can now receive money in their e-wallet through any of the 424 BSN agent banks in the state.

Today, the platform has registered 328,738 users and 43,673 merchants statewide.

Research and Development

Abang Johari at the opening of Centexs Technical, Digital and Heritage Integrated Complex in Santubong.

Centre of Technical Excellence Sarawak (Centexs) has collaborated with Huawei Malaysia to support the state’s Digital Econony Transformation Agenda, particularly to develop digital talent and innovate technology.

Huawei will also focus on bringing the latest ICT technology and knowledge required to support initiatives such as smart city, smart rural connectivity, smart campus, smart agriculture, smart building, smart education, smart tourism, safe city and more.

In March 29, 2019, Centex launched the first-ever digital training lab, Centexs Technical, Digital and Heritage Integrated Complex.

The 8,000 square feet digital training lab is equipped with indoor and outdoor practical sites designed for digital infrastructure specialist programmes covering wireless, microwave, centre, telecom energy hardware installation.

The training lab will provide skills training with 80 per cent hands-on focus with the use of latest Huawei equipment and Data Centre IT equipment.

Facilities at the complex also include
training rooms, a cafeteria, hostel, multi-purpose hall, lecture theatres, pavilion, football field and futsal court.

Other initiatives to support entrepreneurs and start-ups

Abang Johari launched the Digital Kenyalang programme which seeks to support and assist some 3,000 micro-entreprenuers across six divisions in Sarawak to market their products in Peninsular Malaysia and the wider Asean region.

Run in cooperation with Malaysia Digital Economy Co-operation (MDEC), it is aimed at enhancing the incomes of those from low-income households and also reducing poverty.

Digital government, smart cities

As for the digital government initiative, an online identification and authentication system known as ‘Sarawak ID’ has been implemented to enable the public to access and use the various online services or application systems of the Sarawak government.

As of July 1, 2019, the number of Sarawak ID registered users stood at 208,644 with 20 government services had been made accessible online.

Meanwhile, since helming Sarawak, Abang Johari has come up with 81 initiatives.
The 81 initiatives encompass various aspects of building up Sarawak, such as regaining Sarawak’s lost rights, leapfrogging the state’s digital and technological development as well as revenue engineering, injecting funds to boost infrastructure in rural areas, fair religious and racial policies and many others.