IT Push

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SAINS CEO Dato Teo Tien Hiong

Incorporated 22 years ago, when Sarawak was still a backwater for computerisation, Sarawak Information Systems Sdn. Bhd., or SAINS, is involved in a project to overhaul the whole process of public finance in Sarawak. Inside Investor sat down with SAINS CEO Dato Teo Tien Hiong to ask about this project and Sarawak’s ICT development.

Q: Could you give an impression of the size of SAINS? How many people are employed, how many offices do you have in Sarawak and all over Malaysia?

A: We currently have about 550 people: 50 are in Peninsular Malaysia with a few more in Brunei and Sabah, and the rest in Sarawak. There are a total of 19 regional offices across Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia with 12 locations across Sarawak. We are currently in the process of building a corporate headquarters, and we have already completed a data center and an office block. We have three office locations in Sabah, one in Brunei and another three in Peninsular Malaysia. Apart from our own points of presence, we are working with business partners and alliances strategically to increase our market reach, utilising different skills for different areas. Our ICT staff is split between professional and support groups, where 70 per cent are in the professional, and 30% in the support group. Currently customer relationship development is a strong area of focus.

Q: Who stands behind SAINS? Could you give an outline of the ownership and your involvement?

A. The customers are the people who stand behind us. Without the customers we cannot survive. As far as ownership is concerned, the Sarawak government is the sole owner of SAINS. The driving force in making SAINS the ICT industry pioneer and shaper in Sarawak as well as a leading ICT mover in Malaysia is, without any doubt, the Chief Minister. Apart from that, the Company Board of Directors, chaired by the then Minister of Social Development, the various State Secretaries and State Financial Secretaries are also a key collective factor behind the continuing success of SAINS over the years. With the visionary support of the Chief Minister it was decided in 1989/90 to change course with the way ICT utilisation was developing for the Sarawak government. An earlier setup through a “State Computerisation Committee (SCC)” within the state government administration was instituted in 1985; but after about five years it was not going anywhere. At the time, I was the Deputy Director of the State Planning Unit and was away in Japan for three months. When I came back, because of my earlier involvement, I was told that a corporate entity had been formed to replace the SCC and I was offered the challenge to run it as a private sector replica. I remember responding that I was not interested in copying and running a model that was not working. Instead, I wrote up a two page strategic overview and offered to take up the challenge if they would support my proposed roadmap, which they did, and the rest is now history. In the end, I must say the Chief Minister is still the ultimate owner of the SAINS game-plan, because without his visionary leadership buy-in and commitment, it would not have happened. Apart from the Chief Minister, I am also lucky to have a very supportive Board of Directors, especially the State Secretary, who represents our main customers in the state civil service, for which SAINS was initially established.

Q: SAINS has been around for more than 20 years, what technical skill-sets and services do SAINS have or provide?

A: When SAINS first entered the IT sector in Sarawak in 1991, the state was considered a backwater of computerisation. We were one of the first players in the local IT industry. At that time the field was unpopular because there were few jobs in the local IT market. Young people saw no point of going into a computer science tertiary education. For those who did, there were limited career avenues to explore. The big break came from the vision of the Chief Minister Taib Mahmud in embracing IT as a strategic enabler for the state government in driving socio-economic development and modernisation. His vision translated into the formation of SAINS as a corporate body in 1991 when an earlier attempt through a “State Computerisation Committee” within the government administration did not achieve the desired outcome. We had to create the IT industry for Sarawak practically from scratch. Remember that we are in Sarawak, away from the mainstream of the country, Peninsular Malaysia, namely the Klang Valley, so the only viable way for us to go was a complete end-to-end model.  Under this model we strived to achieve both width and depth. Apart from software design and development, we also undertake implementations, security, networks and systems engineering, training, support and maintenance down to call centres. Today we run our own data centres and undertake significant R&D initiatives to create unique solutions for our customers.

Q: What are SAINS current biggest projects?

A. SAINS is undertaking three large holistically integrated projects at the moment. Project 1, the LASIS Project, is an implementation of a fully integrated GIS centric ICT solution for all land matters in Sarawak with the aim of replacing manual processes and enhancing productivity. The complicated business logics and back end systems engineering work on the project have been done. Together with the ICT Unit of the Chief Minister’s Department and the Land and Survey Department, which is the custodian of the project, we are now pushing towards e-LASIS for more efficient and effective public service delivery through various channels including mobile computing. In 2012 this solution won the Geospatial World Excellence Award in the category of Application of Geospatial Technology in Land Administration in the Netherlands. Project 2, or  SIFBAS, will be completed by April 2013 and consists of a totally integrated solution that includes 35 applications to assist the management of the state’s public finance, including: revenue, budgeting, investments and expenditure, as well as organising such tasks as managing outstanding loans, interest payments and other financial matters. Project 3, dubbed e-Local Authority 2 (eLA2), is undertaken for the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development.  It involves the redesign of earlier systems for local authorities, of which there are 26 bodies in Sarawak. It is a nightmare for the Ministry to oversee and manage all of these local authorities. So the project focuses on process-based re-engineering and improvements of the local authority system as a holistically integrated solution. It has been implemented for one city and 4 district councils under Phase 1 in 2012. The total project will complete in 2014.

Q: Who are your largest customers and what have been the biggest success stories so far?

A. The largest of customer of ours has been the state government of Sarawak with which we have been working closely and comprehensively since the formation of SAINS. Over the years our efforts have seen the Sarawak state government propelled from being the least to become the clear leader in computing among all the states in Malaysia. In the process we have created intellectual property rights (IPRs) for over 200 application systems and won numerous national and International recognitions both for the solutions created as well as for the management of the company. Our latest world class accolade is the Geospatial World Excellence Award in the category of Application of Geospatial Technology in Land Administration for the LASIS Solution as mentioned earlier. Our second largest customer is the Malaysian federal government, for whom we have done several large nation-wide award winning projects, including the e-Syariah, Welfare and U-Library solutions.  Apart from that, the Integrated Court System which is a thoroughly end-to-end solution that we implemented for all the courts in Sabah and Sarawak for the federal government won the United Nations sponsored World Summit Award under the category of e-Government and Institutions in 2009. We are currently looking for opportunities to take our solutions overseas.

Q: What is the status and acceptance of e-commerce in Sarawak and which services does SAINS offer in this sector?

A. E-commerce is growing and is a generational kind of thing. The young will take to it like ducks to water; the old still finds it more comfortable shopping the traditional way. This is something that takes time. Of course in rural areas the necessary facilities may not all be there; so the exposure is mainly in the cities and other urban centers. The question is what do we do about it? This is especially relevant to us because of the position we have taken as the pioneer and shaper of the ICT industry in Sarawak. Where relevant, all our ICT solutions today are e-commence and mobile computing enabled. We have also developed a payment gateway – “PayBillsMalaysia” – which enables online financial transactions on our systems by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Q: What are the challenges in recruiting skilled IT personnel in Sarawak? What training facilities does SAINS have?

A: There are challenges on both the supply and demand side. One of the challenges is to get the universities to produce the right type of competencies among their graduates. We very often do not see that in the graduates.  A bachelor degree in computer science may be irrelevant nowadays as you have to be very specifically trained in today’s world, be it in systems engineering, security, networking, data centre knowledge, etc. But then, who are we to tell the universities to tailor their programmes to meet the industry requirements here? The best we have done this far are informal exchanges of views with some local universities. Then there is the demand side. During our initial years, we could not find experienced people to work for SAINS. Today, the situation is totally different; the local ICT industry is well established.  We are a well respected ICT company; so sourcing for appropriate skills is relatively easier than when we started and the industry itself did not exist. Apart from that, we are also now better able to provide the training facilities as well as specific mentoring for the people recruited into the company. Our greater long term objective is of course to achieve a good equilibrium of supply and demand of appropriate skills here in Kuching, Sarawak to sustain a viable ICT community and develop a Centre of Excellence for creating international ICT solutions.

Q: What are your expansion plans in Sarawak, Malaysia, the region and beyond? Would you be open to foreign partnerships or foreign investors?

A: Apart from being nationwide in Malaysia, we currently have operations through partnerships from New Zealand to the Middle East. We are definitely open to collaboration with foreign parties either here in Malaysia or in their home countries, provided always, on the basis of sustainable win-win outcomes

Q: SAINS has won numerous national and international awards and recognitions for achievements and work in ICT solutions. How has that helped you in marketing your services and expertise globally?

A: Among the many recognitions and awards that we have received is the United Nations World Summit Award for our Integrated Courts System. These national, international and world class awards help us not only in creating local and international mind-share, but also open doors and win competitive awards and contracts.

Q: How have you help provide services to SMEs?

A: We have implemented many different kinds of solutions and created more than 200 IPRs. We are now focusing on leveraging these to help develop the local SMEs. In this regard, we have conducted a survey recently to find out more about the market here. Moving forward, we are engaging with local ICT SME companies as business partners and offering them solutions through the channel marketing model. This partnership approach will be strategic in increasing the usage of ICT among the local SMEs.

 

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Reading Time: 7 minutes

SAINS CEO Dato Teo Tien Hiong

Incorporated 22 years ago, when Sarawak was still a backwater for computerisation, Sarawak Information Systems Sdn. Bhd., or SAINS, is involved in a project to overhaul the whole process of public finance in Sarawak. Inside Investor sat down with SAINS CEO Dato Teo Tien Hiong to ask about this project and Sarawak’s ICT development.

Reading Time: 7 minutes

SAINS CEO Dato Teo Tien Hiong

Incorporated 22 years ago, when Sarawak was still a backwater for computerisation, Sarawak Information Systems Sdn. Bhd., or SAINS, is involved in a project to overhaul the whole process of public finance in Sarawak. Inside Investor sat down with SAINS CEO Dato Teo Tien Hiong to ask about this project and Sarawak’s ICT development.

Q: Could you give an impression of the size of SAINS? How many people are employed, how many offices do you have in Sarawak and all over Malaysia?

A: We currently have about 550 people: 50 are in Peninsular Malaysia with a few more in Brunei and Sabah, and the rest in Sarawak. There are a total of 19 regional offices across Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia with 12 locations across Sarawak. We are currently in the process of building a corporate headquarters, and we have already completed a data center and an office block. We have three office locations in Sabah, one in Brunei and another three in Peninsular Malaysia. Apart from our own points of presence, we are working with business partners and alliances strategically to increase our market reach, utilising different skills for different areas. Our ICT staff is split between professional and support groups, where 70 per cent are in the professional, and 30% in the support group. Currently customer relationship development is a strong area of focus.

Q: Who stands behind SAINS? Could you give an outline of the ownership and your involvement?

A. The customers are the people who stand behind us. Without the customers we cannot survive. As far as ownership is concerned, the Sarawak government is the sole owner of SAINS. The driving force in making SAINS the ICT industry pioneer and shaper in Sarawak as well as a leading ICT mover in Malaysia is, without any doubt, the Chief Minister. Apart from that, the Company Board of Directors, chaired by the then Minister of Social Development, the various State Secretaries and State Financial Secretaries are also a key collective factor behind the continuing success of SAINS over the years. With the visionary support of the Chief Minister it was decided in 1989/90 to change course with the way ICT utilisation was developing for the Sarawak government. An earlier setup through a “State Computerisation Committee (SCC)” within the state government administration was instituted in 1985; but after about five years it was not going anywhere. At the time, I was the Deputy Director of the State Planning Unit and was away in Japan for three months. When I came back, because of my earlier involvement, I was told that a corporate entity had been formed to replace the SCC and I was offered the challenge to run it as a private sector replica. I remember responding that I was not interested in copying and running a model that was not working. Instead, I wrote up a two page strategic overview and offered to take up the challenge if they would support my proposed roadmap, which they did, and the rest is now history. In the end, I must say the Chief Minister is still the ultimate owner of the SAINS game-plan, because without his visionary leadership buy-in and commitment, it would not have happened. Apart from the Chief Minister, I am also lucky to have a very supportive Board of Directors, especially the State Secretary, who represents our main customers in the state civil service, for which SAINS was initially established.

Q: SAINS has been around for more than 20 years, what technical skill-sets and services do SAINS have or provide?

A: When SAINS first entered the IT sector in Sarawak in 1991, the state was considered a backwater of computerisation. We were one of the first players in the local IT industry. At that time the field was unpopular because there were few jobs in the local IT market. Young people saw no point of going into a computer science tertiary education. For those who did, there were limited career avenues to explore. The big break came from the vision of the Chief Minister Taib Mahmud in embracing IT as a strategic enabler for the state government in driving socio-economic development and modernisation. His vision translated into the formation of SAINS as a corporate body in 1991 when an earlier attempt through a “State Computerisation Committee” within the government administration did not achieve the desired outcome. We had to create the IT industry for Sarawak practically from scratch. Remember that we are in Sarawak, away from the mainstream of the country, Peninsular Malaysia, namely the Klang Valley, so the only viable way for us to go was a complete end-to-end model.  Under this model we strived to achieve both width and depth. Apart from software design and development, we also undertake implementations, security, networks and systems engineering, training, support and maintenance down to call centres. Today we run our own data centres and undertake significant R&D initiatives to create unique solutions for our customers.

Q: What are SAINS current biggest projects?

A. SAINS is undertaking three large holistically integrated projects at the moment. Project 1, the LASIS Project, is an implementation of a fully integrated GIS centric ICT solution for all land matters in Sarawak with the aim of replacing manual processes and enhancing productivity. The complicated business logics and back end systems engineering work on the project have been done. Together with the ICT Unit of the Chief Minister’s Department and the Land and Survey Department, which is the custodian of the project, we are now pushing towards e-LASIS for more efficient and effective public service delivery through various channels including mobile computing. In 2012 this solution won the Geospatial World Excellence Award in the category of Application of Geospatial Technology in Land Administration in the Netherlands. Project 2, or  SIFBAS, will be completed by April 2013 and consists of a totally integrated solution that includes 35 applications to assist the management of the state’s public finance, including: revenue, budgeting, investments and expenditure, as well as organising such tasks as managing outstanding loans, interest payments and other financial matters. Project 3, dubbed e-Local Authority 2 (eLA2), is undertaken for the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development.  It involves the redesign of earlier systems for local authorities, of which there are 26 bodies in Sarawak. It is a nightmare for the Ministry to oversee and manage all of these local authorities. So the project focuses on process-based re-engineering and improvements of the local authority system as a holistically integrated solution. It has been implemented for one city and 4 district councils under Phase 1 in 2012. The total project will complete in 2014.

Q: Who are your largest customers and what have been the biggest success stories so far?

A. The largest of customer of ours has been the state government of Sarawak with which we have been working closely and comprehensively since the formation of SAINS. Over the years our efforts have seen the Sarawak state government propelled from being the least to become the clear leader in computing among all the states in Malaysia. In the process we have created intellectual property rights (IPRs) for over 200 application systems and won numerous national and International recognitions both for the solutions created as well as for the management of the company. Our latest world class accolade is the Geospatial World Excellence Award in the category of Application of Geospatial Technology in Land Administration for the LASIS Solution as mentioned earlier. Our second largest customer is the Malaysian federal government, for whom we have done several large nation-wide award winning projects, including the e-Syariah, Welfare and U-Library solutions.  Apart from that, the Integrated Court System which is a thoroughly end-to-end solution that we implemented for all the courts in Sabah and Sarawak for the federal government won the United Nations sponsored World Summit Award under the category of e-Government and Institutions in 2009. We are currently looking for opportunities to take our solutions overseas.

Q: What is the status and acceptance of e-commerce in Sarawak and which services does SAINS offer in this sector?

A. E-commerce is growing and is a generational kind of thing. The young will take to it like ducks to water; the old still finds it more comfortable shopping the traditional way. This is something that takes time. Of course in rural areas the necessary facilities may not all be there; so the exposure is mainly in the cities and other urban centers. The question is what do we do about it? This is especially relevant to us because of the position we have taken as the pioneer and shaper of the ICT industry in Sarawak. Where relevant, all our ICT solutions today are e-commence and mobile computing enabled. We have also developed a payment gateway – “PayBillsMalaysia” – which enables online financial transactions on our systems by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Q: What are the challenges in recruiting skilled IT personnel in Sarawak? What training facilities does SAINS have?

A: There are challenges on both the supply and demand side. One of the challenges is to get the universities to produce the right type of competencies among their graduates. We very often do not see that in the graduates.  A bachelor degree in computer science may be irrelevant nowadays as you have to be very specifically trained in today’s world, be it in systems engineering, security, networking, data centre knowledge, etc. But then, who are we to tell the universities to tailor their programmes to meet the industry requirements here? The best we have done this far are informal exchanges of views with some local universities. Then there is the demand side. During our initial years, we could not find experienced people to work for SAINS. Today, the situation is totally different; the local ICT industry is well established.  We are a well respected ICT company; so sourcing for appropriate skills is relatively easier than when we started and the industry itself did not exist. Apart from that, we are also now better able to provide the training facilities as well as specific mentoring for the people recruited into the company. Our greater long term objective is of course to achieve a good equilibrium of supply and demand of appropriate skills here in Kuching, Sarawak to sustain a viable ICT community and develop a Centre of Excellence for creating international ICT solutions.

Q: What are your expansion plans in Sarawak, Malaysia, the region and beyond? Would you be open to foreign partnerships or foreign investors?

A: Apart from being nationwide in Malaysia, we currently have operations through partnerships from New Zealand to the Middle East. We are definitely open to collaboration with foreign parties either here in Malaysia or in their home countries, provided always, on the basis of sustainable win-win outcomes

Q: SAINS has won numerous national and international awards and recognitions for achievements and work in ICT solutions. How has that helped you in marketing your services and expertise globally?

A: Among the many recognitions and awards that we have received is the United Nations World Summit Award for our Integrated Courts System. These national, international and world class awards help us not only in creating local and international mind-share, but also open doors and win competitive awards and contracts.

Q: How have you help provide services to SMEs?

A: We have implemented many different kinds of solutions and created more than 200 IPRs. We are now focusing on leveraging these to help develop the local SMEs. In this regard, we have conducted a survey recently to find out more about the market here. Moving forward, we are engaging with local ICT SME companies as business partners and offering them solutions through the channel marketing model. This partnership approach will be strategic in increasing the usage of ICT among the local SMEs.

 

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