I spent some time recently in Kuala Lumpur attending Huawei’s Asian innovation day. The event was heavily skewed towards a Malaysian-centric message, but rather than being irrelevant to me, it was a good insight into the way Huawei thinks about developing its markets.

I was talking with an old friend who I visited while in Kuala Lumpur. Despite working in the IT industry, his awareness of Huawei was limited to knowing of them as a handset and carrier-services vendor. Huawei is, of course, far broader than this assessment would suggest. The company has a massive footprint – from smart cities to cloud computing, from consumer devices to carrier-scale networking kit.

It is hardly surprising that a company like Huawei, with going on 200,000 employees and a truly global spread of operations, would have a hard time explaining the breadth of its operations – but whereas it’s easy enough to cover the expanse of operations of companies such as Amazon and Microsoft, it is far harder for Huawei. Part of that, of course, is because it is headquartered in China and suffers the same fate as more non-US companies – it is given less attention than it deserves.

But much like other Chinese companies such as Alibaba, not paying attention to Huawei is a big mistake. This is a massive player that looks set to get bigger in the future.

And so, for a Western commentator, to be given an insight into how this Eastern company operates within Asia, was of great interest.

State-level interactions

At the event I attended, the deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, was effusive in his praise for Huawei. And it is no surprise since Huawei is a key part of Malaysia achieving its digital aims. Indeed, opening the event I was at, Huawei rotating CEO, Guo Ping commented on the fact that Malaysia aims to become one of the world’s top 20 economies by 2050. And the ways it wants to achieve that lofty goal looks like a hit list of technology industry buzzwords – faster broadband networking, cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), and IoT platforms.

But rather than simply aspirational goals with no pathway to delivery, Malaysia is partnering deeply with third-parties to achieve these aims. Malaysia is targeting an increase of its broadband speeds to 25Mbps in rural areas and 100Mbps in metro areas by 2020 and vendors like Huawei are key enablers of this aim.

Indeed, reflecting on the opportunity for these state-level public/private partnerships, Guo Ping opined that “involvement at the national level is critical” to enable industries to go digital.

Announcing a raft of MoUs

The event was a chance for Huawei and Malaysia to publicly announce a raft of different Memoranda of Understanding with Huawei relating to cybersecurity, regional development, university education, and research & development.

The event was a veritable smorgasbord of pomp and ceremony as MoU after MoU was ceremoniously signed. MoUs were signed between Huawei and the state government of Terengganu, CyberSecurity Malaysia, SME Corp Malaysia, and Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS).

While the detail of the MoUs are of limited interest to those outside of Malaysia, the strategy that Huawei is using to expand its footprint there certainly is.

End to end enabling of digital transformation

OK, I get it, the term “digital transformation” is a buzzword. But hyperbole aside, it is clear that software is changing the way organizations and entire economies work and in order to leverage these opportunities, a raft of things need to be in place.

This is where mega-corporations like Huawei, with the product, financial and geographical footprint to really move the needle at a macro level come it.

In order to really leverage the opportunity that digital offers up, work needs to happen at all levels of society. The education system needs to adapt to change its deliverable to output young people skilled in digital technologies and some of the softer skills. Infrastructure needs to be put in place to offer the best levels of connectivity possible. Regulation needs to be developed to allow public and private organizations to take advantage of global cloud computing players, and where there are valid reasons for not using a global vendor, Governments and private organizations need to build out regional and local clouds. A culture of innovation needs to be built and forums need to be created which encourage experimentation in digital technologies. Finally, the capital structures need to be put in place to fund digital innovation.

All of these various pieces of the puzzle were reflected upon at the Huawei event and, furthermore, initiatives were announced to move the needle on all of them – from the build-out of local data centers to state-wide training in the use of digital solutions. From partnering with educational organizations to teach students the skills they need ahead, to the build-out of the foundational infrastructure that will carry all that data.

MyPOV

Clearly, Huawei isn’t doing this work for philanthropic reasons – it is a commercial entity and there are billions of dollars at stake here. But what is certain is that while these initiatives will be immensely profitable for Huawei, they will also help to change the paradigm within Malaysia.

Within the context of a sadly limited dialog which tends to focus only on US vendors and their own expansion plans, taking a look at vendors such as Huawei, and initiatives they’re implementing in developing economies is very interesting.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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