Shaping a bright and inclusive digital future, in Malaysia and beyond

Azrin Azlina Anuar remembers growing up in the town of Subang Jaya in Malaysia, where her parents would walk to the nearby city council office to pay their cukai taksiran land tax. 


Now that her parents are retired and in their golden years, they no longer need to make this journey.  


“I was so happy when the local council developed an online portal,” said Azrin. “I basically key in an account number, choose a mode of payment, and I can immediately pay for their cukai taksiran online.” 


This simple convenience, she said, was just one example of an individual citizen interacting with a public sector agency that has digitalised its services. 


Azrin, who is the Head of Visa Government Solutions for Asia Pacific, related this anecdote as she gave a keynote presentation at the GovInsider Live – Malaysia conference in Putrajaya last November. 


The event, which featured leaders from the public and private sectors, carried the theme of “Pioneering a Tech-Driven, Future-Ready Malaysia” and focused on the challenges and learnings from government digital transformation efforts in the country. 

Going digital and serving the rakyat

Azrin shared five focus areas as ‘universal opportunities’ for governments to improve their public services and better engage with citizens and businesses. Image: GovInsider Live Malaysia


Azrin highlighted that on the post-pandemic landscape, people are now used to conducting transactions online, and governments need to be mindful of how to serve and interact with citizens and businesses, all while meeting their expectations. 


“Creating that digital process for accepting payments and delivering public-sector service is going to help enable that trust and efficiency, not only for governments but also for the rakyat [ordinary citizens] and the businesses that you serve,” she said, addressing the public servants in the audience. 


For each of the interactions “as a rakyat and as a business, I’m expecting a great user experience, and I’m expecting security,” she added. 


Public sector digitalisation is not new to Malaysia, Azrin said, noting ongoing initiatives such as the Malaysia Digital Economy Blueprint (MyDigital), the Public Sector Digitalisation Strategic Plan 2021-2025, and the Malaysia Smart City Framework. 


“The objectives are really geared towards how [to] achieve a digital government by 2025, and Malaysia has made great strides,” she said. 


Malaysia was 19th among 73 countries in government e-payments adoption in a 2018 ranking published by The Economist Intelligence Unit. According to MyDigital, 80 per cent of government agencies in Malaysia have adopted e-payment services as of 2023. 

Five focus areas for a truly digital government 


A study by global payments firm Visa and management consulting firm Kearney, conducted in 2022 with government officials and policymakers, identified five “universal opportunities” for governments to improve their public services and better engage with citizens and businesses. 


1. Digital payments acceptance 

“Governments are using technology to reduce ‘friction’ and make it easier for citizens and businesses to make government payments,” said Azrin.  


2. Public disbursement 

“Governments are facing greater pressure to make disbursement payouts like subsidies or aid payments more quickly to targeted beneficiaries, and mobile payments technology has been a key enabler,” said Azrin. 


3. Digital enablement of small, medium businesses 

“Small, medium businesses are the largest engine of growth, in any country,” Azrin said. “Governments play a key role in supporting these businesses, in partnership with the private sector, particularly to enable access to finance.”  


4. Government commercial pay 

“Technology is enabling government administrations to make procurement, and how to manage their official expenses, easier, more transparent, and more accountable, so that they can also speed up payments to government suppliers,” said Azrin. 


5. Big (payments) data 

“Governments are increasingly turning to Big Data,” said Azrin. “Why? Because they provide real-time insights for governments to help monitor and measure the efficiency of their policy initiatives.” 

Challenges and opportunities in embracing digital transformation 

During her keynote speech, Azrin said that the primary objective of digital government was ‘not digital development, but rather… supporting human development through digitalisation.’ Image: GovInsider Live Malaysia

Speaking on a panel discussion about how digital government, a digital economy and a digital society could shape the future of countries, Azrin outlined three challenges Visa has observed in interactions with governments.


Governments, she said, often grapple with many time-consuming manual processes; they lack the ability to get a big-picture view of government expenses, to be able to track spending and implement controls; and they sometimes struggle with multiple procurement platforms and are unable to centralise them. 


She highlighted as a success story Visa’s Government Payment Card programme in the United States, which saves the US Government USD1.7 billion annually.  


Azrin also shared that Visa has worked with the Singapore and Australian governments on expense management platforms that improve transparency and offer time savings. 


“In one case, where we worked with the Australian government, they had estimated time savings of seven hours per employee, because they no longer needed to manually input some of their expenses.” 

An inclusive e-government leaves no one behind 


Quoting from a 2022 United Nations e-government survey, Azrin ended her keynote speech echoing the survey’s finding that the primary objective of digital government “is not digital development, but rather… supporting human development through digitalisation.”  


“Designing for inclusion is critical to ensure that no one is left behind,” she said. “You have to be really solving a real-life challenge for the rakyat and for businesses. That’s how you get usage and adoption.” 


Highlighting how Malaysia has adopted technological advancements and digitalisation in recent decades, Azrin said she was hopeful for the digital future that awaits.  


“And I think the private-public sector cooperation is going to be key to move this [government digital transformation] further forward, to really embrace what it is to be a digital government.” 

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