KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 2 ― The country must step up training efforts to produce the estimated 20,000 data professionals who will be needed by 2020, the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) said today.

There are currently around 8,000 such professionals in the country.

MDEC chief executive Datuk Yasmin Mahmood said training and education must also go beyond preparing Malaysians to be data professionals, as they should also be ready for the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution.

“There’s a lot more work to be done,” she told reporters at the sidelines of the second Next Big Tech Asia conference here.

“Now we have to see how our data science professionals can be equipped with additional know-how so they will be AI-ready, because AI is anchored on data and data science too.”

Yasmin said there was strong prevailing demand for data professionals as companies accept that they must embrace the development.

“They need to have a data-driven enterprise but the problem is they have to get the right people,” she said.

She noted that Malaysia has home-grown talent to meet such demand, but said foreign talent such as those from the US and Iran were also working here as data scientists.

Yasmin expressed hope that local universities would be able to produce more graduates in the field but said the focus should also be on quality rather than quantity alone.

“So that’s why we work together with the universities to ensure that the industry and universities are in touch, so those who graduate from university are at the level required and expected by the industry,” she said.

Yasmin noted that few universities previously offered modules on data science, but said this has changed with more now offering courses in areas such as data science and data analysis.

This has also now evolved into universities starting to embed data science modules in subjects that are not related to the information technology (IT) background, she said.

Earlier today, tokens of appreciation were given out to six universities that have included data science or data analytics as components in degrees in fields as varied as pharmacy, medical biotechnology, dietetics with nutrition, accounting, education and business.

These were the International Medical University Malaysia, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Henley Business School of the University of Reading Malaysia, Universiti Teknologi Petronas, Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) and Help University.

Who uses the data-driven approach?

Yasmin said large banks, telecommunications companies and many start-ups in Malaysia were already using big data to drive their business, but mid-level companies were yet to do so.

“The adoption rate at these mid-tier companies is not so robust now,” she said, adding what was required now was to increase awareness and also provide enough data professionals if such companies adopt a data-driven approach.

Yasmin said many local start-ups providing data analytics solutions were already enjoying success with most of their business coming from outside of Malaysia, adding: “So we have to increase the adoption rate among Malaysian companies.”

Earlier today, Deputy Communications and Multimedia Minister Eddin Shazlee Shith urged companies and start-ups to adopt analytics, big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning in order to stay relevant in a highly competitive environment with increasing costs and regulatory pressures.