Friday, March 13, 2009

Language and Service-Oriented Technology

I joined this street rally in Kuala Lumpur on 7 March 2009

Tear gas grenade exploded a hundred meter away from me, the white smoke carried by the wind blowing toward our direction, the angry crowd started to disperse with tearful red eyes. It was painful on the face too; a Malay woman who overtook me cried out. One young Malay guy who covered half of his lower face with handkerchief distributed crude salt to every protester he met. Swallow it, it reduces pain, he said, and it worked. He must be a veteran in street protest business. I was lucky because my contact lenses prevented the gas from direct contact with my eyes. No tears and runny nose! :)

I joined the approximately 8000 crowds led by the NGO (Non-government organization) last weekend for a street rally calling the government to resume the teachings of Science and Mathematics subjects in mother tongue instead of in English.

The teachings of Science and Math in English in primary school were implemented in 2003 and were extended to secondary schools in 2007. It was a thumbs-down decision made by our former Premier, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed; it clearly contradicted his own well-known pet project, Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC Malaysia), which was in line with his Vision 2020 mission to lead Malaysia towards becoming a developed country in the year of 2020.

Science & Math: Formula to Upgrade Technology Capability
Tun’s MSC Project was generally welcomed by the nation. There were two visionary objectives targeted under this mega project, first was to improve productivity by deployment of ICT (Information, Communication Technology), and second was to produce state-of-the-art ICT products to compete in the world’s market level for income generation.

To succeed in the first objective, the challenge was in finding strategies to remobilize the existing clumsy government bureaucratic machinery. To yield a positive result for second objective, it had to be tied up with a long term education planning. Particularly when this former Prime Minister’s ambition was to transform Malaysia from a mixed agriculture and lightweight heavy industry country into a knowledge-based economy country, we need a lot of young trained talents.

Indisputably Science and Mathematics are the two core subjects required to improve technology aptitude while language is used merely as a communication tool in teaching the subjects. Any language that can help to uplift the standard of these two subjects should be encouraged. Needless to say, the best medium is to use the mother tongue. The Japanese, the German, the French among a few, thrive in technology advancements without even using English as the language. If similar formula is applied, the best solution is by using Malay for national schools, Chinese for Chinese primary schools and Tamil for Tamil primary schools.

We have observed discouraging outcomes, the standard of Science and Mathematics deteriorated in these few years, and the young students’ future was victimized from this unwise education policy. As the Malay saying goes “Yang dikejar tak dapat, yang dikendong berciciran,” which translates in this context as neither English language is improving nor students excel in Science and Mathematics.

Language: Formula To Upgrade Service Capability
Majority will agree on the importance of English as the most widely used language in the world; and to go global, ones have to be proficient in the language. But shall we jeopardize these two core subjects for the sake of English language? Instead, in educationists' opinion, we should increase the time and/or add sessions for English subject. It’d most probably improve student’s command of English, and it’d not sacrifice the standard of Science and Math at any level.

Stan Shih and Acer Notebook

I recalled the Founder of Acer, Stan Shih (also one of the International Advisory Panels for MSC project) when giving his speech in an ICT conference held in Kuala Lumpur a couple of years ago, addressed the audience, “R&D in Malaysia should focus in service-oriented technology.” That’s the strength of Malaysia in view of our multi-cultural environment. He said we were not there yet for real hi-tech core technology development. His blunt but sincere comments enraged some politicians.

I have the same viewpoint. Some Malaysia’s politicians and businessmen like to boast that the country is blessed and ecologically rich with plentiful natural resources, rainforest, a variety of plants and animals, and etc., perfect for biotechnology development. I laughed out loud when I hear this proclamation. In fact, the keyword of biotechnology is not bio-, but the technology. In developed countries, biotechnology means genetic engineering, DNA technology or genetic modification to produce supposedly a better breed of produce and livestock; whereas in Malaysia, it means Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia), a herb that boost male’s libido.

Service-Oriented Technology: Language + Technology
I accept the shortcomings of Malaysia in providing high-tech talents. When we started our R&D for FingerTec, we transferred the fingerprint algorithm from our parent company, Peking University Founder Group of China, and concentrate the research and development on second tier technology such as product design, firmware, SDK (System Development Kit) and application software, which I think are equally important too.

Nowadays, many core technologies including fingerprint algorithm can be acquired, just like many different mobile phones that share the same operating system. But you still may choose this brand over the other due to many different considerations that drive your preferences.

And with the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religion and multilingual environment in Malaysia (Most Malaysians are multilingual and we mean three to four languages), we understand people better. We understand the concerns and sensitivity, and the fulfillment, which can be easily translated to benefit us coping with customers better in service-oriented business world.

The software and its user interface, the efforts of localization, the user guides, the marketing materials, the service and support system, all in all, eventually transform a sophisticated technology into a do-it-yourself and off-the-shelf kind of products. Our commitment in providing customers with everything possible translate to become a motto, “With FingerTec, everything is easy!

No doubt, this is our unique advantage.

by Teh Hon Seng, CEO, FingerTec HQ

Wednesday, March 11, 2009 &

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Kindle 2

I always admire, and consider it the greatest website in the era of new economy. Perhaps a lot of people have a different view for they would rather choose YouTube, Google, Facebook, Wikipedia or some other cooler websites as their pick. In fact, I visit those Web 2.0 websites more than I do Amazon.

Yes, all these websites including Yahoo! and eBay are great.  But I have my reasons to rank Amazon No. 1 in my list. In terms of Web 2.0 capabilities, Amazon seems laggard. In terms of business model, selling books and a variety of tangible stuff and groceries online, merely shifting market place to a virtual world, is really old fashion. And the Kindle reader and eBook sale of Amazon are at their initial stages; the success is yet to tell.

Moneymaker vs Transformer
Unlike Amazon, Google for example, mainly based its business on search engine and AdWord pay-per-click online advertisement, continues yielding fat incomes every year (USD21.8 billion in 2008).  While the net generation continues to fold, they stand proud of YouTube and Facebook, which have attracted investors to throw tons of money at them while still at their start-up stage, and with no clear business model to ensure profitability.  Google bought the online video site YouTube for USD1.67 billion in the late 2006; in September 2007, Microsoft offered USD300-500 million to acquire 5% stake in Facebook.

In view of ideas, inventions, and creativity, I agree that Google, Google Earth, Facebook and Wikipedia make greater revolutionary contribution than the Amazon’s B2C which have now expanded to cover C2C e-Marketplace. 

My rationale of selecting Amazon as the greatest website is relatively straightforward. Amazon is a role model that bridges the old and the new economy; Amazon is a transformer.

In the beginning of any new eras, you can start fresh with all kinds of wild thinking. It may work out pretty well if you pushed the right button.  But how about in a world that is full of unloadable old burdens, which you just can’t discard.  You can’t just embrace the virtual world and forget about the real world. You can’t just distinctly segregate the two worlds and pretend that they stand independently without any connections at all. And you can’t just leave the brick and mortar businesses aside and say that they are too old to be rejuvenated by tapping on the available Internet resources.

Inventing vs Remaking
We are in the midst of transition.  In my opinion, to start fresh with a new idea is much easier than to inject a new idea to refresh an old system. And Amazon did it with superb results. Amazon is a very good reference for myriads of old businesses out there that are struggling to get a breather. 

The role of Amazon does not end here. The Amazon was selected by Business Week (2nd March 2009 issue) to top the 25 best companies in Customer Service Champs list. They even outran the real world traditional companies that actually meet their clients, face-to-face everyday, in services!

I support the decision to place Amazon at the reign of The Best Service Champ. I buy books from Amazon and online Barnes and Noble bookstore; and I deal with Yahoo, Google and Alibaba for FingerTec’s ads too.  I’ve had some perfect experiences from Amazon and Google; but Yahoo! and Barnes & Noble left me with nightmares.

To earn a solid thumbs-up in the virtual world
I quote this paragraph directly from Business Week, “For the past, Amazon has earned a reputation for strong service by letting customers get what they want without talking to an employee.  Sales clerks are nonexistent. Orders ship with a few mouse clicks. Packages arrive on doorsteps quickly. It all happens with monotonous regularity even as the number of customers has doubled in the past five years to 88 millions. But when things go wrong at Amazon – and they occasionally do – the company’s employees get involved. That may be where Amazon stands out most markedly from other companies, and helps explain how the company earned the No.1 spot on Business Week’s customer service ranking this year.”

You won’t find the slightest glitch, you won’t lost in the maze of interlinks, everything from their website is perfectly covered, the online shopping experience at Amazon is pleasant; and complaint emails for any kinds of problems would be replied within a day.  

I stole quite some online business concepts from Amazon and Google. I contemplate our service commitment, and how the services can be delivered online without real human contact, and the customers still give you a thumbs-up. And how to extend our technical support services to cover end users too. And when things go wrong at FingerTec, how our people get involve straightening things out fast and efficient. Of course, we have more to learn and our system needs fine-tuning.

 Stay tuned, more to come
Without Internet, there is no Amazon, no miracle to turn a supposedly traditional business into a gem.  Without Internet, FingerTec is just a banal brand too, and we would be confined to a smaller regional market.

And we don’t limit ourselves to learn only from Amazon. We adopt Google’s unconventional clean and simple front page as our main page, and their motto, “Don’t be evil” as our belief to move the entire company ahead. We make use of online resources to enrich our system like placing FingerTec’s product video clips on YouTube and using Google Map to mark our worldwide resellers on the map.  

Besides enriching our product line, you can expect FingerTec to continue adding in many more features to our B2B Internet platform to benefit our customers. 

by Teh Hon Seng, CEO, FingerTec HQ