Accelerating Public Sector Innovation In Malaysia & The Role Of The CIO

Accelerating Public Sector Innovation In Malaysia & The Role Of The CIO

By Sheriffah Noor Khamseah Al-Idid

By Sheriffah Noor Khamseah Al-Idid Dato’ Syed Ahmad Idid, an Innovation & Nuclear Advocate, Alumni of Imperial College, University of London, United Kingdom & author of books on Technological Innovation, Women & Innovation-The UK Experience.

She is now in the final stages of completing a book on Public Sector Innovation-International Best Practice.

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) — The recent Prime Minister’s Innovation Awards 2017 Ceremony had set the stage for Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak to announce the introduction of a new post of Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) and for establishing Value Innovation Centres (VICs) in all Government Agencies and Ministries.

This innovative concept for Malaysia arises from the Government’s interest to emulate the success of South Korea’s global company Samsung and incorporate its best practices into Malaysia’s Public sector with the aim to expedite the process of generating new ideas that can be forwarded to the National Blue Ocean Strategy (NBOS) level.

Framework for Public Sector Innovation Photo courtesy of Sheriffah Noor Khamseah

PM had said “that to complete the idea of setting up VICs, the function and role of the existing Innovation Units must be strengthened by creating the CIO post in each ministry or department with the aspiration that the CIO will play a key role in mobilising the innovation agenda of the public sector in a more structured and planned way”.


The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines Innovation in the public sector as significant improvements to public administration and/or services that government has a responsibility to provide, including those delivered by third parties. It covers both the content of these services and the instruments used to deliver them.

In its pursuit to help governments adopt and implement innovative practices the OECD has developed an integrated framework for analysing public sector innovation.

The OECD promotes that there are four levels where innovation takes place covering the innovator (the individual), the organisation in which they work, the public sector as a whole as well as society.

The four organisational factors include 1. People- The cultural dimension – how people are motivated within an organisational setting to explore new ideas and experiment with new approaches.

2. Knowledge- The realm of knowledge and learning which allows us to consider issues related to the collection, analysis and sharing of information, knowledge development and learning.

3. Ways of working- The way work is structured within and across organisations may have an impact on innovation in the public sector and;

4. Rules and processes- Rules and processes, (including the legal/regulatory framework, budgeting, and approval processes) may offer (or block) opportunities to innovate.


A Preliminary Pilot Study of Chief Innovation Officers by Innovation Enterprise clearly highlighted that if companies really want to innovate, its going to require far more than just appointing someone with the CIO title and believing that it has innovation checked off and achieved.


Innovation Leadership Study Managing Innovation: An Insider Perspective, a study by Capgemini Consulting and IESE Business School had spotlighted that one of the best indicators of the importance of a function within companies is whether or not someone at the top of the organisation is accountable for it. There is a correlation between having a formally accountable executive for innovation and the reported innovation success rate.

This study had also dovetailed that by their very nature, organizations seek stability and predictability and will tend not to spontaneously drive innovation that destabilises. This means that real disruptive innovation has to be driven by the leadership

Thus in Malaysia’s quest to appoint new CIOs, I would like to make a reference to an article titled ‘Why You Should Eliminate Your Chief Innovation Officer’ posted in Forbes by George Bradt which had outlined The whole premise behind a Chief Innovation Officer goes beyond useless to completely and utterly counterproductive. If one person is in charge of innovation, everyone else are not. And they must be. Anyone not innovating is falling behind those that are.

Additionally, I would like to quote ten years ago, the only people who focused on innovation were doing research and development and marketing, and each had a different take. Now innovation is a chief executive issue. You have to innovate to differentiate. Some people believe the relentless drive toward best practice is part of the reason why innovation has been pushed to the top of many chief executives agendas, by Clint Witchalls, Computing Business, Innovation for the Nation, 17 Nov 2005.

It is thus within this context that it would be fundamental for the Government to appoint CEOs, Heads or Director Generals of Agencies and Secretary Generals of Ministries to serve as the CIOs, and not appoint CIOs to Head Innovation Units. This is to ensure that Innovation strategy, investments and priority will receive the CEOs and Leaders’ attention and commitment as well as engage the entire Public Sector workforce and not just employees of the Innovation Unit in the Nation’s Public Sector Innovation Agenda.

Although it is recognised that the CIOs are not responsible for developing ideas themselves; but are important to establish a process that enables others to communicate, collaborate, create and contribute ideas in establishing and enhancing innovation with internal, and external, teams and partners delivering improved public administration and products and services to the public and country.

As articulated by Robert Brands, CEO of Dutch Manufacturing Company, “If the CEO does not walk the talk, (innovation) is just window dressing and people will say ‘This is the flavour of the month’ and will eventually go away!.


The Innovation Leadership Study – Managing Innovation: An Insider Perspective outline the findings on the Role of Innovation Function as 1) Building and nurturing an Innovation Ecosystem 2) Formulating and Communicating the Innovation Strategy 3) Optimising the Innovation Process and Governance.


Malaysians are indeed encouraged by the Government’s strong commitment to establish and promote National Innovation including Public Sector Innovation. In the 1980s Malaysia adopted the First Generation Linear Innovation Model which is a Technology Push Model which priorities scientific research as the basis of innovation. and lately Malaysia adopted the Second Generation, also a Linear Innovation Model, a Market Pull model which advocates that the market was the source of new ideas directing R&D

However as Malaysia strives to establish an Innovation led economy and to jumpstart Innovation in the Public Sector (including all public corporations and general government at central, state and local levels ) an appropriate National Innovation Model must guide the Government in its investments and development in this area/field.

Thus, it is within this context that it is my pleasure to share international best practices striving to highlight to the Government the need to evolve its present National Innovation Model to a National Innovation Ecosystem taking into account many other factors, in addition to just science and technology, that affects and impact National Innovation performance in my next article.


In Malaysia’s pursuit to emulate Samsung and establish VICs it must be recognised that as a company, Samsung has achieved prescription of success for enhancing and promoting innovation, including amongst others being a responsive flexible organisation.

Thus Government must conduct an indepth review of the current organisational structure and paradigm of Malaysia’s public sector which are highly controlled, rather bureaucratic , impounded by a plethoria of Government circulars to guide and control Government procedures and Government officers and jumpstart innovation by re-engineering, reinvigorating business process flows, removing circulars which have potential to inhibit innovation

Thus in addition to establishing VICs, Malaysia’s National Innovation Model as well as the Public Sector Ecosystem needs to be reviewed and redesigned to support , encourage and fast track Innovation in Malaysia’s Public Sector.