OPINION: Tech expediency is key to crises response

When the prime minister said that the Covid-19 pandemic situation has created “new norms” – he was spot on. Over the past few weeks, we experienced that first hand.

When the movement control order (MCO) was first announced on March 16, the ministry of international trade and industry (MITI) announced soon after that the opening of applications for special approval to continue operating during the MCO.

The ministry was tasked with processing all the applications from companies that were operating as part of the supply chain for essential manufacturing and services. We received more than 12,000 applications that was processed by a small army of processing officers working 24 hours a day, sifting through all the applications within a very short time window.

The next announcement came on April 10, when the government decided that certain economic sectors would be allowed to gradually open, based on strict standard operating procedures on health practices.

OPINION: Tech expediency is key to crises response

All of us knew that putting together an application system this time round, in a short time, was a tall order, as the applications to be processed would multiply multi-fold – and we had only days to build a system that typically would take between three to six months.

In seven days, an application system was put in place, called the Covid-19 Intelligent Management System (CIMS 2.0). While the first round (CIMS 1.0) utilised a simpler e-form and database system, the CIMS 2.0 required a complete rebuild. This was due to a more complicated policy framework – used as the basis for the system architecture – being established to govern the safety procedures for companies to operate while preventing further outbreak of Covid-19.

The design thinking of the system development team was to build a user-friendly front-end user experience (UX), while developing a flexible back-end administration and approval dashboard. The entire system had to sit on top of a systematic and intelligent infrastructure that could cater to a high traffic volume.

The system development and validation were performed in parallel with the ministry’s process of formulating specific policies and procedures to govern the application and approvals, based on the guidelines set by the cabinet. There were constant amendments to the policies, such as the decision to retract the opening of barber shops and optical shops – requiring us to be very fluid in how we structured the application system development.

OPINION: Tech expediency is key to crises response

On April 13, we opened the system for applications. In the first 24 hours, the team, with the support of Cybersecurity Malaysia and their partners, had to dynamically troubleshoot the system, as more than half the usership comprised of unexpected individual registration of accounts, in contrast to the design which was initially built for company registrations only.

The Malaysia Automotive, Robotics & IoT Institute’s (MARii) technical team worked around the clock to reconfigure the load balancing of the system and address new issues that included improving the front end to have a more robust process flow, and only allow legitimate companies through the system.

At this point, the troubleshooting process gave us butterflies in our stomachs – any decision we made was crucial. We had to manage the chaos by ensuring that the technical team worked in unison with the communications team, to also cater for the thousands of applicants that called or wrote into our hotlines, emails and social media channels.

The CIMS 2.0 system has received and processed many more applications compared to the first round, and at a much higher rate of processing speed.

Looking back at the last few weeks, we learned how crucial technology can be in dealing with national crises. While many Malaysians have begun to appreciate the technology behind online meetings, webinars and virtual classes – on a national scale, revitalising the economy requires a deeper grasp of the tools of tomorrow in order to save our future.

I am extremely proud and grateful for the entire team, internally and externally, for putting up a heroic performance in this crisis. Moreover, the main takeaway would be that the accelerated learning curve from this short period of time is priceless – crisis situations teach you things you can’t possibly learn through years of classes. It pushes you beyond your limits, and lets you discover new abilities you never knew you had.

As we reopen our economy, we have to keep staying vigilant – for those of us who helm the organisations and businesses, we now have a national duty to ensure we all stay healthy, from both physical and economic aspects.

In this aspect, we must come to terms with the new norms of living in a world where we must be ready to quickly adapt – arming ourselves with the right principles, procedures and technologies to ensure we can sway back and forth with the winds of change without falling out due to a lack of readiness.

I’d like to thank and congratulate the minister, MITI top management and MARii directors for their leadership in balancing tough decisions during this crisis. My most heartfelt thanks also goes out to the technical team of the CIMS 2.0 project, the ministry’s processing team, government experts and private consultants, as well as those who manned the communication points to ensure the economic ball keeps rolling forward – all of you are the “economic front liners” and deserve the country’s deepest appreciation.

Madani Sahari is the CEO of Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii).

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not represent or reflect the views of paultan.org.