Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Getting Past the Carpet Sellers

One confronting aspect of the tourist part of Istanbul are the carpet sellers. The Istanbul Lonely Planet City Guide warned me, but I was still not ready for the reality of being stopped every few metres and offered carpets, souvenirs, shoe shine, food and tours. The sellers have a carefully developed technique of getting your attention, engaging you in conversation and then getting you into a situation where you feel you must buy something. After the first few hours of this I was ready to get back on the aircraft and never visit Turkey again. But after a day or so I got more used to to brushing off the requests, with a polite "no thank you", or six. Perhaps after a few more days I would have got to the point where I could simply ignore them and say nothing.

However much you may have been warned it is difficult to not react naturally to what appears a genuine, friendly and helpful greeting. This is a face to face version of the scams conducted on the Internet, which play on human reactions. A little like the ELIZA program which mimics human intelligence with a few stock phrases. The sales people have a set of stock phrases ready to respond to key phrases from the tourist. This includes standard responses if the person fails to react. After a while you can predict the exact response you will receive to any think you say.

If you are someone who can't help but stop to help a stray kitten, then it might be best to have a paid guide to protect you from carpet sellers of Istanbul, or go as part of a tour. Alternatively avoid the major tourist areas completely and visit the less traveled areas. In the markets where the locals shop you are unlikely to be bothered.

In a way the carpet sellers are just an extreme version of all sales techniques. The seller attempts to form a relationship with the potential customer. From the skeptics point of view this is just a way to make a sale. But a sales professional would say this is about ensuring the customer obtains satisfaction, which involves a personal interaction, not just an exchange of material goods. Web based e-commerce does essentially the same thing.

Systems such as Amazon.com find out about the customer either directly via an online survey, or by observing the user's interactions. The system then sends helpful information to the customer. If they do not hear from the customer for a wile, systems, such as Amazon.com, will send some product suggestions, based on the user's previous behavior. This is much like the carpet seller.

ps: After escaping the carpet sellers of Istanbul, my telephone rang. It was Tim Hopcraft from Logic Australia Pty Ltd. to say he had some new samples of some samples of interlocking flooring I asked him about for a flexible learning centre to ANU might be building. The new flooring has space to run computer cables underneath and a carpet square attached to its surface. Afterwards I realized that makes him a carpet salesman and so I had not escaped at all. ;-)

Giving conference presentations to culturally diverse audiences

Recently I have been attending a few professional conferences and giving talks in other countries. This is hard work, both for the presenter and audience. So here are some suggestions as to what is needed. Presenters need to invest the time and effort to make a presentation which can be easily understood by an audience with a diverse background and for whom English may not be their first language.

What to say

You need to introduce yourself, your organization and your topic. Tell the audience who your are and how you come to be involved in the topic of the talk. Tell them what it is you will talk about and how it will be useful to them. In may cases the audience can understand what they are being told, but not why they are being told it. Reassure the audience that details of the talk are available in their proceedings, on the web or from you later. This saves them worrying about taking detailed notes.

Have a clear outline of what you intend to talk about, show this to the audience and then stick to that. Have a clear start, middle and end to the talk. The audience will otherwise get lost as to where you are in the talk.

Stick to the topic and to your area of expertise. It is all too easy to stray from the topic and express your non-expert views on irrelevant topics, or worse show your ignorance of the areas of expertise of the other speakers and the audience.

Keep to time limits set for your presentation. Do not use up the question time with talking and do not run over time, even if the moderator seems to think it is okay. Part of being a professional is being disciplined and the credibility of a speaker on any topic can be destroyed by their being unable to stick to the time limits.

If invited by the moderator to introduce yourself, you should do so before saying anything else. Don't talk about the previous talk, about unrelated topics, or thank the organizer for inviting you, or talk about companies you are not associated with. The audience will be sitting there wondering "who is this person?", "what are they trying to tell us". At the end of the talk it is okay to extemporize, after the audience know who you are and by what authority you speak.

In introducing yourself, or preparing the introduction for the moderator to read out, do not be too boastful, bit also not too modest. Customize the introduction for the topic and audience. If you had a major role in developing something you will be discussing, then include that. You can't assume the audience will know you foundered a company or were involved in developing a standard.

You should not say something is "interesting", or "fraught" or use slang such as "a plug", or terms such as "dramas". If it wasn't interesting you would not be talking about it. If it is "fraught" you need to explain in detail in what way, and use different words the audience is likely to know.

Don't ask the audience about local conditions, as it suggests you have not bothered doing any research.

When use the full expanded title of something before using the acronym. This is both to show you know and for people who will have difficulty distinguishing between an acronym and an English word they do not know.

You need to explain the government, legislative or other context, for example do not just mention some law, without saying which level of government and which country it was from.

When referring to another person, use their full name and their affiliation. Don't assume the audience will know who "Tom" is for example, even if they have seen them in a previous talk.

Do not insult or attack the conference organizers or the sponsors. If you have differences with those behind the conference, then you should not be speaking at it. Similarly do not blatantly plug the conference or sponsors: the audience did not come to hear sales pitch.

Tell some person anecdotes to illustrate the points, but do not attempt to tell a joke unless you are very sure it will not be offensive to the audience or just not funny.

Slides

Slides should contain a small amount of very large legible text, illustrated with graphics and photos. You should include web or contact details on the last slide so people can find out more. Include references to source materials on the slides or in supplementary notes. Do not assume the audience will have the supplementary notes, as in many cases they will just have a copy of the slides.

The W3C has guidelines for accessible web design, intended for people with a disability, but these can also be used to make clearer materials for international audience.

Technology to help?

Conference organizers can help with presentations via better technology. Where there are several people on stage, it helps to have a screen at the foot of the stage facing the speakers which duplicates whatever is on the main display. This way the other participants do not need to crane their necks around and put their backs to the audience (which is impolite) to see what the presenter is showing.

Also a very large countdown clock showing how many minutes the speaker has left is useful. Some KL pedestrian crossings have countdown clocks and this could be emulated with a computer application. It could have the display change from green to amber when time was almost up and then change to red for the last few minutes. This would be a polite way to remind the speaker to keep to time, as it is difficult to politely remind them.

Perhaps with some commercial presentations, where time is money, a more extreme intervention is needed. The speaker could be asked to nominate their summary and conclusion slides. The automated system would flip to the summary slide automatically when time was almost up and to the conclusion slide when time was up, taking control away from the presenter. That may sound Draconian, but where a presenter takes twice their allotted time, either due to poor presentation skills or in a misguided attempt to get more than their fair share, this can ruin an event.

You might consider going further and asking the speaker which was their summary slide and which was their conclusion slide, then have the system automatically override their presentation and flip to these slides. Moderators without these tools will just have to do their best to be firm with presenters, so as not to inconvenience the later speakers and the audience.

Architecture of Istanbul

The Istanbul Lonely Planet City Guide told me to prepare to be stunned by Aya Sofia, but it turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. Like St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, it is a vulgar display of wealth for a religion which supposedly values humility. What is remarkable is that such a building has survived this long, but in a sense it hasn't. The original dome fell down in an earthquake after 30 years and was replaced. The building is still being repaired today, with descendents of the stonemasons who build the place no doubt thanking the vanity of the commissioner's of the building and the folly of the architect for more than a thousand years of repair work.

It was good to be able to freely walk around such a famous and ancient building, but I worried if the visitors had a little too much access and would be wearing out the floor, as well as damaging other artifacts. There were signs that the building is carefully monitored, with corner reflector stickers on the columns, so a laser can accurately measure any movement. It is a shame that the repair work on the building is hidden away as I found it the most interesting part. There were also some glimpses out onto the roof, covered with plants and small trees.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque) was a little more to my tastes. This is still a working place of worship. I was worried all the tourists would intrude, but there is a well regulated system to keep them out of the way of the worshipers. The unadorned grey stone was more aesthetically pleasing than Aya Sofia's gold mosaics. The mosque is one big carpeted room, with one may pushing a very old upright vacuum cleaner from one end to the other, in what must be a full time job. It was disappointing to see the tourists who had been politely asked to wear head scarves removing them as soon as they got in the door. On the way out I made a donation (entry is free) and was surprised to get a receipt and a small book of translations from the Koran.


Outside the Blue Mosque, between it and Aya Sofia are a set of wooden covered concrete benches. Each evening at 9pm there is a free sound and light show about the building of the mosque. The commentary is in a different language each evening: French, German, Turkish and English. The light show is a bit dull (they need to invest in some lasers) and the sound track is a bit scratchy, but it is worth sitting there in the twilight.

While the Church and Mosque are Istanbul's big tourist attractions, I found the modest secular buildings more interesting. The Basilica Cistern, Grand Bazaar and many lesser buildings share the same design as these grand buildings: a shallow brick dome, supported by columns, but only a few meters across. To make a larger building the basic unit is repeated on a grid pattern, making a building of any size, with a roof of hundreds of dozens.

Basilica Cistern

In the bazaar, the columns are brick, in the cistern they are recycled stone ones from demolished buildings. The cistern is a disused part of the water supply being an enormous underground rectangular water tank, long forgotten under a city square. It is entered from what looks like a public toilet, but leads down into the large cool, dim space. This is a good place to escape the heat, noise and carpet sellers of the streets above.

The floor of the cistern has a few cm of water over it, with fish swimming around. There are elevated walkways between the columns for the visitors. Colored lights have been installed to accentuate some rows of columns giving interesting reflections in the water. There is water continually dripping from the ceiling. Over the walkways there have been plastic sheets attached between the columns to keep the visitors dry. These are formed into tent like structures matching the dome of the roof and fit in with the architecture.

One section of the floor has been drained so that two Medusa statutes in the base of two of the columns can be seen. There is a cafe near the exit, which appears to have a stage for musical performances built out over the water. The drinks are expensive, but it is worth it to be able to sit in this amazing space.

Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar appears the prototype for the world's shopping malls. There is a grid pattern of arcades with shops on either side. Commodities are grouped in different areas (gold, leather and so on). The building is a simple square module repeated, adjusting for the sloping ground. It is worth looking up at the roof, to see how it changes in the different bazaars.

Around the Grand Bazaar are others for spice, clothes, even electrical goods and hardware. As you get away from the tourist areas, there are the shops which the locals buy things in, including shops servicing the traders, selling plastic disposable containers and ones making the gillers that fast food is cooked on. These stores lead out onto the waterfront, where there is the suburban bus station.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Green ICT at British Computer Society

Mike Bowern from the ACS Green ICT Group passed on a note about the BCS having a Green ICT group.
The British Computer Society established an Ethics Forum last year
(of which I am Manager) - and I thought you might be interested in
the types of things that we are involved in.

The following link goes straight to the Ethics Forum home page:
www.bcs.org/forums/ethics

We have just this week started an Ethics Blog - the first one
on 'Green IT': http://www.bcs.org/server.php?show=ConBlogEntry.419

Further information on 'green computing' issues (including a summary
of the Ethics Forum work): http://www.bcs.org/server.php?show=nav.9369

Dr. Penny Duquenoy, FRSA, MBCS.

Climate change in A trip through Europe and Asia

In Instanbul I met Benedict KUBIAK on "Un voyage à travers l'Europe et l'Asie sur le thème du changement climatique" (English translation: "A trip through Europe and Asia on the theme of climate change"). He is meeting people and writing web ages, a newspaper column and making videos about what he finds.

Museum of Technology and Islam Opened in Istanbul

Photo of new Museum of the History of Islam, Science and TechnologyWalking through Gülhane Park in İstanbul today, I noticed a sign announcing the opening of the "Istanbul Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam". I stuck my head in the door and met Dr. Detlev Quintern from Bremen University. The Islamic Science and Technology Historical Museum was opened Saturday by the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The museum is in what were the Imperial Stables in Gülhane Park in the gardens next to Topkapı Palace. The museum will be opne 9 am to 4pm. It has technological and scientific works by Islamic scholars and is by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK), the Turkish Academy of Sciences (TÜBA), the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality and Frankfurt Goethe University (Germany).

There are three buildings along the edge of the park making up the new museum, with three and a half thousand square meters of display and research offices. There is also a Library of History of Science in the complex.

Currently there are only 140 items on display, but this is planned to be expanded to 800. The museum has replicas of inventions by Muslim scientists between the 8th and 16th centuries, from astronomy, geography, chemistry, surveying, optics, medicine, architecture, physics and warfare.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Desktop EEE PC in June

Istanbul Public Transport

Not so modern as Dubai, but still quite functional, Istanbul's Atatürk International Airport has a few surprises. Visitors from Australia require a visa, but this consists of more of a entry charge than any sort of security check: just pay your 15 euros and you get a sticker in your passport.

There is a very fast and efficient rapid transit system (Istanbul LRT) in the basement of the airport. But to find it you have to go out the building and down a not well marked escalator. Most of the tourists did not seem to notice and got straight in a taxi or shuttle bus. I only found the LRT using the Istanbul Lonely Planet City Guide.

Unlike KL and Sydney, the LRT is part of the regular city transport system, so there is just the same flat fee (less than $2) for a trip to the city center. You can use the same electronic ticketing system (Akbil) as for the rest of the city's trams, trains, buses, ferries and even two Funicular railways. But to get an Akbil device you have to go to one of the main transport hubs, which the airport is not.

The Akbil system is what Sydney should have installed instead of their failed smart card ticket system. The key to the success of the Istanbul system is the standard flat fee for different modes of transport. You press the Akbil device (a contact smart chip in a small metal can, on a key fob or credit card) into the reader at the turn style to board the train, tram, bus or ferry. There is no need to scan it again at the other end of the trip, the same fee applies to the end of the line. In practice you pay several fees for a typical journey: one when getting on the LRT, train then another transferring to the tram, then the ferry and perhaps a bus at the other end.

Like KL, the Istanbul public transport system is overloaded at peak hours. You have to swim though the bodies to get out of the very modern trams at peak hour. There are some very old trains with rust holes in the doors (but very tidy and comfortable otherwise). The ferries are comfortable and the LRT very up to date.

Perhaps the low-floor Bombardier Flexity Swift trams could be improved by doubling their length. Currently two, two car, vehicles are used coupled (the tram stops are designed for this). As a result there are two unused driving cabs in the center of the four car unit. If the driving cabs were eliminated, about an extra twenty passengers could be accommodated. This would also be cheaper, as the driving cabs with their complex electronics cost much more than passenger seating. One pantograph could also be eliminated.

Dubai International Airport

Dubai International Airport is not quite as large as Shanghai, but has the same feel of "lets have something big and impressive". These is free WiFi which works well. The coffee is better than Malaysia, but not much. Apart from that there was little to see while in transit. Perhaps there are some shops elsewhere in the building.

KL City Library and Student Design Display

To escape from the heat and noise of KL I visited the Gombak Setia branch of the Kuala Lumpur city library, located at one end of Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square), with the Royal Selangor Club. at the other.

The Library was hosting a display of work by graphic design students, including displays of multimedia, including video trailers to promote video games. The students were giving presentations about their work and being assessed.

The library is located above the display area. Visitors are welcome and there is no charge, but you have to sign in at the front desk. Malaysians write down their government identity card number so I guess visitors should use their passport number, but no one seems to check: just write your details and take a visitors pass.

Up the stairs there is a reasonable collection of periodicals and books in several languages and computers for research. There is also some sort of gimmicky looking virtual reality display. There is a computer training room somewhere, but I couldn't find it. There is also, curiously, the Abraham Lincoln corner, with a miniature of the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Mall in Washing DC. Why this was there I could not work out.

Linux notebooks down to $US250

LinuxDevices reports that the Bestlink Alpha 400 Linux-based notebook PC is being offered for $US250 ($US180 in volume) It has a 400MHz CPU and a 7-inch color LCD and appears similar is size to the ASUS EEE PC, but with fewer features. The unit only has 128MB RAM and 1 or 2GB of internal flash.There is an SD card slot for more memory, Ethernet and two USB ports (no WiFi built in). Details of the software are sketchy.

OECD meeting on ICT and Environment

Professor John Houghton sent me a note to say he is at the workshop the OECD are currently holding a in Copenhagen on ICTs and Environmental Challenges . This is to discuss the environmental impact of ICTs in the knowledge economy. Slides and video from the conference are available online:
  1. A framework for modelling ICT and environmental challenges using future scenarios
  2. From green attitude to green action: The approach of the Norwegian ICT-industry
  3. Eco-innovation in the knowledge economy: Challenges and opportunities for ICT
  4. Comments and questions
  5. The future impact of ICTs on environmental sustainability
  6. ICT contribution to the emergence of carbon-sober social behaviour
  7. ICTs and the environment: A framework for analysis
  8. Comments and questions
  • ICTs in pollution management, cleaner technologies and better resource management
  1. e-Strategies in governments and business
  2. Networks, energy consumption and managing energy use
  3. Impacts of technology-specific applications: broadband access, DSL and fibre access networks
  4. Comments and questions
  5. Energy efficiency in ICTs
  6. Environmental benefits of broadband
  7. How green IT can beat CO2
  8. Comments and questions
  • The ICT producing sector – challenges and progress
  1. Environmental impact of ICT: A conceptual framework and some strategic recommendations
  2. ICTs, resource management and energy efficiency
  3. The Green IT index and firm organisation
  4. Comments and questions
  5. High tech: Low carbon
  6. The TCO label: Marketing, development and certification issues
  7. The changing role of ICT: An industry view
  8. Comments and questions
  • Policy developments, policy issues and implications for future work
  1. The road from Bali to Copenhagen
  2. European policies for ICTs in a highly-efficient, low-carbon economy
  3. The Global e-sustainability Initiative (GeSI)
  4. Comments and questions
  5. Japan's Green IT Initiative
  6. How Public Administration can contribute to a sustainable ICT
  7. The Action Plan for Green IT in Denmark
  8. Comments and questions

Saturday, May 24, 2008

IPCC Head on ICT and Climate Change

Dr Rajendra Kumar PachauriOne part of WCIT 2008 I missed was Dr Rajendra Kumar Pachauri Chairman of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (I had heard him talk at the ANU in Canberra in 2007). One of the other delegates mentioned that the IPCC Chair discussed the role of ICT in climate change, both the need to reduce computer energy use, but also the way computers could be used to make systems more efficient and so reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

At WCIT 2008 I only met two Australians: one at the Dutch pavilion where there was free beer (thus confirming an Australian stereotype) and one in the hotel how happens to work a few dozen metres from my office in Canberra.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute

Greetings from the Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute, Turkey, I am here to give a Seminar on Internet based systems for emergency warning. The institute is the tsunami watch center for the Eastern Mediterranean region, as a part of ICG/North East Atlantic and connecting seas tsunami warning system.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Broadband in Malaysia

According to the local media (RM15.2b to boost broadband service), The Malaysian government is doing a RM15.2b deal (about $AU5b) with Malaysia Telecom to roll out high speed broadband, increasing household penetration from 18% to 50% by 2010. There will be three zones:
  1. Growth corridors, including KL, with up to 1,000 Kbps
  2. Outside the growth corridors, With 2 Mpbs
  3. Rural areas, with subsidies from a Universal Service Pla (USP).
However, the exact boundaries of the three regions have not been published.

This differs from Australian Government policy which has essentially two regions: one with 12 Mbps and then an remote area with government subsidies. The Malaysian approach makes more sense, recognizing the reality that it will be feasible to provide higher speed access in densely populated city areas.

Kuala Lumpur 2020

Kuala Lumpur is a rapidly changing city. There is a new draft city plan Kuala Lumpur 2020.

Transport

One area in need of planning in KL is transport. There are several transit systems, but these do not connect well and are not large enough for the population.

KL Monorail

There is a KL Monorail, which is larger than the one in Sydney, but still very limited. This has an elevated concrete track which winds its way though the city. The cars are set up for short commuter trips, with limited seating and a lot of standing space. This is a good way for tourists to see some of the city from above the traffic.

There are well designed stations for the monorail with fabric roofs and natural ventilation. However, the large concrete structures supporting the stations intrude on the street-scape. It is unfortunate that something more integrated, or smaller, was not used.

The monorail track is very uneven in places making for a slow and bumpy ride, at odds with the streamlined high tech look of the cars. Also the system is far too small for the city.

Curiously the track ends about 200m from the central railway station. Clearly it was intended to terminate at the station, but the track just stops in mid air, requiring commuters to walk down to street level, across a busy road, down an alley way and then up into the station. What there is in the base of the station is an excellent place to have an inexpensive meal.

The monorail was clearly a mistake in terms of town planning and investment, but one which other cities, such as Sydney have also made.

Metro

There is an automated metro, the Kelana Jaya Line (KLJ) , which is underground for part of the route and elevated part way. This uses driverless cars, larger than a London underground unit, but smaller than a standard railway. The system uses a third rail electrical supply to avoid overhead wires, resulting in a less obtrusive overhead system than the monorail.

The metro service is frequent, fast and efficient. It is a little disconcerting to look out the front of the train and realize there is no driver (there is a manual driving station under a panel at each end of the train). The underground stations have doors on the platforms sealing off the tunnel and making them much more comfortable.

There is a smart card system for regular commuters and recycled tickets for single trips. The usual hard-to-work ticket machines. In three attempts to buy multiple tickets, the machines only worked correctly once.

The metro system interchanges with the very efficient express train service to the international airport and to long distance rail at the central station, KL Sentral. There are also some interchange points to the monorail and buses in the city.

While it works well, the metro system is still too small for the needs of the city. It is unfortunate that the city did not invest in a higher capacity rail service in place of the metro and the monorail. The recent Indian cities use of elevated and underground rail show this can be done in a densely packed city, such as Delhi, with its Delhi Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS, Delhi Metro, दिल्ली मेट्रो).

W3C on eGovernment

Jose Manuel Alonso will be talking on W3C on e-Government at the CSIRO ICT center in Canberra today. W3C are starting an eGovernment Interest Group in their technology and society section. However, I don't see this as useful, as the needs of governance of corporations and non-government bodies have all the same issues as governments. What we need are technologies which will work for all of these and across the sectors.
CSIRO ICT

W3C on e-Government
Jose Manuel Alonso (W3C)

DATE: 2008-05-20
TIME: 12:30:00 - 13:30:00
LOCATION: CSIT Seminar Room, N101



ABSTRACT:
It's no secret that just as the web has revolutionised business, the media, and many other parts of our lives, it is also revolutionising how governments and citizens interact, and how government provide services. But how to do it well is still something of a black art.

In this keynote presentation, the lead of the W3C's eGovernment initiative, José Manuel Alonso, looks at the opportunities the web provides governments, the challenges, old and new, the web poses, and the role of the W3C in helping to develop underlying, interoperable technologies with which to build these services.

José's presentation will cover best practices and methodologies for providing eGovernment services, and look at case studies of how governments and communities are connecting via the web around the world.

BIO:
José is currently the eGovernment Lead at W3C. Prior to joining W3C, José was the Manager for the W3C Spain Office for three years and also served as the Advisory Committee Representative for CTIC (host of the Spain Office).

José has broad experience in project management, software integration, customer relationship, PR and IT consultancy. He received Bachelor's degree in Computer Science and Masters degree in Enterprise Application Integration, both from the University of Oviedo, where he also worked at its Research and Innovation departments as a researcher, developer and lecturer. He also worked previously as consultant and even founded his own Web company back in 1997.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Venture Capital Perspective on the Mobile Industry

In the afternoon I took a break from the MobileMonday Global Summit, and toured the exhibition halls of the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. One computer exhibition looks much like another, but this one had some features different to Australia. There were real estate promotions for high technology developments, most notably Cyberjaya. Malaysian state governments were prominent in the displays.

Also prominent was the national government, with its "MyKad" Government Multipurpose Card (GMPC). This is a compulsory identity smart card which also offers some consumer ePayment functions. Apparently the non-compulsory functions are not widely used, which supports the Australian Government's decision to scrap a similar project.

There were large displays from Microsoft and Intel, but a curiously tiny display from IBM. There also large display by Asian region government and one from Holland.

There were also some devices from companies which did not make a lot of sense to me, such as a special touch screen computer for farmers. This device was not rugged and I couldn't see the point.

Wireless and Mobile Media in Asia for Disasters

Greeting from the official opening of the MobileMonday Global Summit. As with the Malaysian Corporate Governance Conference the opening was far more formal than in Australia, with Malaysian dignitaries as well as an the ambassador to Finland.

Also Madanmohan Rao from Bangalore introduced himself to me, as he was speaking next on the day on emergency us of mobiles. He has edited several books on mobiles and Internet in Asia. He started his talk on the "mobile mandate". He talked about how mobile can be used in disasters. He argued that mobiles are the most important communications devices. He talked about SMS warnings, RFID tagging of relief supplies, Mesh networks and WiMax in a box used in Hurricane Katrina. One example was using SMS to send funds from Malaysia, the SMH asking for SMS about friends in the disaster, Chinese text messages to reassure about aftershocks to avoid panic, China mobile subscribers sending donations. In the case of recent terrorist attacks the phones on the victims were used to contact relatives.

Madanmohan Rao then talked about the "Wireless Ecosystem". He argued that nations need to ensure that they cultivate the mobile industry. He categorized countries into categories, such as restrictive (Myanmar), to Negotiating (China), to "Mature" (Australia) and "Advanced" (Japan and Korea).

Encik Badlisham Ghazali , CEO of the Malaysian government's Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC, previously MDC) gave his formal talk (he must be having a busy day at the conferences). He said that the government aimed to move from 15% to 50% broadband penetration by 2010. He pointed out that mobile devices had a role to play. He also said that this opens up a new area for reaching out to the population, for political as well as commercial use.

I was not previously familiar with the MobileMonday organization. Normally, the name would be enough to put me off looking further, but in this case they seem to be an interesting blend of mobile business people and some researchers. There is a Sydney Chapter.

ICT World in Kuala Lumpur

Greetings from the MobileMonday Global Summit, at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. This is being held in conjunction with the 2008 World Congress of Information Technology and assorted computer exhibitions. I was a little late arriving, being a last minute stand in speaker for a session this afternoon on mobile enterprise and social networks (I am talking about emergency use).

The Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre is a remarkable sight filled with thousands of delegates and visitors. It is a curved building at the edge of a large park (KLCC Park) in the center of KL, with the Petronus Towers on the other side. The effect is similar to Darling Harbor convention center in Sydney, but on a larger scale. For those in a hurry, or who do not to get hot or wet, there is a tunnel from the convention centre, under the edge of the park to the Suria KLCC shopping centre under the towers and on to the KLCC LRT Station (metro).

The MobileMonday Global Summit is one of the more accessible events at the congress. It is free and has panel sessions (the one at the moment is on mobile learning). Screens around the event are broadcasting the heavy duty sessions from the UN GAID event, next door.

Downstairs from the conferences are a series of ICT trade shows, with everything from home PCs to industrial systems.One which got my attention was a device to interface medical equipment to Ethernet, the Active Ethernet I/O. This does event reporting by TCP/UDP/e-mail or SNMP. It is a small computer which can be programmed via the Ethernet interface to carry out functions, such as: "when line six goes high (blood pressure warning) then activate line six (page crash cart)".

Wireless Internet for Emergencies

I will be talking on Wireless Internet for Emergencies at the Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute, Bogazici University, Turkey, 15:30 23 May 2008, with a preview at MobileMonday Global Summit, 17:00 19 May 2008, WCIT2008, Kuala Lumpur:

Wireless Internet for Emergencies

Tom Worthington FACS HLM

Adjunct Senior Lecturer, Computer Science, Australian National University and Director of Professional Development, Australian Computer Society

For the Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute, Bogazici University, Turkey, 15:30 23 May 2008
Preview at MobileMonday Global Summit, 17:00 19 May 2008, WCIT2008, Kuala Lumpur

This seminar will discuss the role of the Internet and the web in emergency warning systems, particularly for Tsunami and for disaster recovery. It looks at the optimization of the design of web based systems for emergencies, including compatibility with mobile telephones. The speaker argues that Internet and web technologies can be used for communication of emergency information to the public, but will require a change in message formats previously intended for emergency workers.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Social Networking for Corporate Governance

Day two of the Malaysian Corporate Governance Conference, 16 May 2008, at the Securities Commission, Kuala Lumpur was opened by by Yang Berbahagia, DatukRanjit Ajit Singh, Managing Director of the Malaysian Securities Commission (where the conference was held).

The MD started by explaining that he had been invited to meet the Queen of Jourdan, who is visiting KL, but decided to keep the appointment to talk to us instead (the very long royal motorcade went past the hotel last night). The MD gave a keynote address on "Malaysian Corporate Governance and Its Impact on the Competitiveness of the Country". The main message was about the need for confidence in companies, in the face of overseas corporate collapses.

Datuk Ranjit Ajit Singh argued that better corporate governance has been shown to increase the value of companies. Not only do large investors look for companies with good government, but also now invest in companies with poor governance with an aim to increase the value of those companies by improving the governance. He said that regulations cannot make companies act ethically; that this is something for corporate culture and ultimately a matter of the individuals in companies. But the auditors are the first line of defence for the company against malpractice. The SC is in the final stages of establishing an audit oversight board (AOB). This will check the auditors who audit major companies.

Also a forensic accounting investigation team is being put in place. One issue which came up in discussions before the event was the role of computer forensics in corporate regulation. However, this is normally only applied after an infringement is suspected. I suggest what is also needed is monitoring of the markets to look for suspicious activity. Data mining software can be used to look for problems. The Australian Taxation Office has a data mining capability, but is choosing a cooperative approach with companies, to agree corporate governance and compliance arrangements.

The MD pointed out that Malaysia has the fourth largest bond market in the region and the largest Islamic capital market in the world, with Islamic banking. In the commission's bookshop, I picked up some of the free booklets about Islamic Capital Markets. The commission issues lists of Syariah compliant securities and guidelines for such companies. It would be interesting to see how much there is in common between Syariah guidelines and environmental/social ethical guidelines used by Australian ethical investment companies, such as Australian Ethical Investments. I suspect they have much in common.

Talking to the MD later, I found he is a graduate of University of Melbourne and he suggested that while there was some in common in assessing companies between Islamic and environmental guidelines, that Islamic capital markets are a different issue and very complex.

SESSION SIX: BUILDING ACCOUNTABILITY & SUSTAINABILITY
THROUGH INVESTOR RELATIONS

  • What is the power of investor relations (IRs) function?
  • How does a company maintain an effective communication policy with shareholders through IRs?
  • How would one draw the line differentiating between Corporate Social Responsibility and IRs? They seem the same, but they are not.
  • In order to achieve greater transparency and accountability in financial performance reporting, what would be the best IRs initiatives proposed/practiced by award winning companies?
Whilst limitations on voluntary disclosure do exist as it may facilitate comparison by competitors, too little disclosure will defeat the purpose it serves. Thus, what would be the 'right' amount of disclosure to ensure the desirability of disclosure is achieved?
Moderator: Mr Puvan J. Selvanathan, Executive Director, Caux Round Table Malaysia
Speaker: Mr Justin Leong, Chairman, Malaysian Investor Relations Association (MIRA), Head of Strategic Investments and Corporate Affairs, Genting Bhd

At this point I decided to take a break from the conference and visited the excellent SC library on the first floor. This has an extensive range of business book and periodicals, as well as online access. I found publications on Islamic banking and Islamic insurance. In terms of design of the library, there are semi-circular desks for casual access computers wrapped around the pillars of the building. Each desk can accommodate two computers to be used while standing. This makes good use of space, which otherwise would be unusable near the pillars. However, no computers have yet been installed on these desks. There was also free public WiFi, but I was not able to get it to work.

One useful publication was New Horizon: Global Perspective on Islamic Banking and Insurance, with an article "Malaysia: Leading the Way" (Rajab-Ramadan 1428, July September 2007). One point this made is that Malaysia's rise as an Islamic banking country has occurred since the 1980s. This started out with Tabung Haji, to provide a way to save for a pilgrimage and provide welfare services on the journey. The government introduced legislation in the 1980s for Islamic banks. There are also Islamic insurers (takaful). Islamic banking has 15% of the sector in Malaysia.

The article makes much of the Malaysia International Islamic Financial Centre (MIIFC) and its promotion of "sukuk" government bonds. They point out that Islamic bonds have to be backed by tangible assets, rather than an exercise in interest rate movements. Given the recent problems in global financial markets with financial instruments which turned out to be backed by noting at all, sukuk makes a lot of sense. There are also some government tax exemptions to promote the new market.

The library has an excellent view out to the Science Center opposite. The windows are shaded by the projecting roof of the building and by perforated metal louvers on the bottom third of the windows. As well as shading, the louvers give some reassurance for those with vertigo, such as myself, who are uncomfortable standing next to a floor to ceiling glass wall with a sheer drop below.

I had some difficulty getting into the library as while it is advertises as being open to the public, it has an access card lock on the door. Presumably members are issued with cards elsewhere. But I was able to attract some one's attention and was welcomed in to visit. After the bustle of KL's streets, a library is a calm and familiar space. One aspect of the library which created mixed feelings was censorship of publications. An edition of Newsweek magazine had a photo of some scantly clad young women covered with felt tip pen. The idea of such censorship I find worrying, but in this instance the photo was not essential to the article it was with (about the sexual views of US college students) and I would prefer not to have to look at the photo.

SESSION SEVEN:ICT IN CORPORATE GOVERNANCE -THE AUSTRALIAN EXPERIENCE

The importance of information and communications technologies (ICT) can not be ignored as the world is heading towards this direction for effective sources of information, communications and world-wide connectivity. Thus, this session aims to cover the followings:
  • Overview of Standards
  • Electronic Reporting
  • Fraud and other Threats from ICT
  • ICT impact on Corporate Performance
  • ICT Corporate Compliance Requirements
Moderator: Mr Puvan J. Selvanathan, Executive Director, Caux Round Table Malaysia
Speaker: Ms Marghanita da Cruz, Principal Consultant & Director, Ramin Communications, Australia

The slides for Ms Marghanita da Cruz's talk are available online. One interesting point which came out is that a new international standard for ICT Corporate Government is being developed, based on the Australian standard. This would appear an excellent opportunity for Australian consultants and trainers to provide services to the world about the new standard. Mr Puvan J. Selvanathan, the moderator entered into a dialog with the speaker on the relevance of code, using architecture as a metaphor. This seemed a very deep and significant discussion, but like most of the audience, I had no idea what they were talking about.

One audience member asked about the legal status of the Australian ICT Corporate Governance standard, which shows a difference in view in different national jurisdictions. Australian standards have no legislative force, being from a non-profit, non-government body. Some standards are given the force of law by federal or state legislation, or are included in regulations, but most are not.

Another question was about "e systems", such as online tax form submission and if the investment in such systems was worthwhile. I commented that take-up of systems such as Australia's eCensus was only about 15%, but this was enough to more than pay for the cost of the system.

SESSION EIGHT: COMMITING TO RESPONSIBLE BUSINESS PRACTICES
  • How do responsible business practices contribute to the success of a company in global businesses?
  • What kind of value do companies see in committing to responsible business practices in the long run?
  • CSR encompasses many different aspects in relation to responsible business practices. The concern is how does a company manage all different aspects of CSR in the global competitive environment?
  • What is the art of balancing the social aspect, economic welfare and environmental aspect of CSR?
Moderator: Mr Puvan J. Selvanathan, Executive Director, Caux Round Table Malaysia
Speaker: Dr Geoffrey Williams, Managing Director, OWW Consulting

Dr Williams discussed investor relations. He pointed out that hedge funds are starting to adopt a similar view to other investors, while still having a shorter view of time spans. Large investors expect personal access to senior company staff, possibly at their location overseas. These investors may only want a few investments in Malaysia. Financial analysts are time poor and risk averse and so will tend to favour large companies which are liquid, can be understood easily. They want reports in the morning and easily understood. He also had useful advice on dealing with the financial media. The main message was that Investor Relations information should be suitable for the particular audience. Even statutory information for the stock exchange needs to be well written as it is ultimately read by customers.

At question time I asked how to avoid being seen as devious if you produce different version of the information targeted to different audiences. The answer suggested was continuous disclosure, releasing information as it becomes available. One interesting suggestion was to lodge presentations to conferences with the stock exchange, before the presentation, if there is any price sensitive information in the presentation. Apart from meeting legal requirements, this could be useful marketing, with the stock exchange acting as an additional source of information.

End of Conference

The conference was a worthwhile event. Much of the value is in the informal discussions between participants, allowed for in the generous breaks in this conference. One insight by a delegate was that the Government has an ICT unit to encourage use of systems in government called MAPU (which seems equivalent to the Australian Government's AGIMO).

In may ways the issues of regulation and oversight I am familiar with for ICT systems apply more generally to corporations. ICT professionals could usefully learn about the wider context of business, but also have something to contribute, in terms of being able to build ICT systems to help with governance and also their more rigorous scientific and engineering approaches to governance.

Social Networking for Corporate Governance

An area in which I believe there is considerable scope for development is in the use of social networking technology for corporate governance. On May 12, 2008 Google announced "Google Friend Connect, a service using emerging social networking standards to allow third party web sites to provide social networking services. Currently this service is mostly confined to Google social networking products and aimed at non-business use. However, these show potential for expansion into business use.

The same standards as used for social networking, such as: OpenID, OAuth and OpenSocial, could be applied to corporate systems, using data access APIs as used by Facebook, Google, and MySpace. Management and board discussions could then take place using these tools, in much the same way social discussions now do. This would provide the rapid online communication and tools for group working, but with full audit trails complaint with government standards.

Those corporations and cities, who invest in the research, education and implementation needed for social networking for business may well be the Google, Microsoft and silicon valleys of the 21st Century.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Internet based systems for emergency warning, Seminar, Turkey, 23 May 2008

I will be giving a seminar on Internet based systems, for emergency warning and disaster recovery, at Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute, Bogazici University, Turkey on 23 May 2008. The institute is the tsunami watch center for the Eastern Mediterranean region, as a part of ICG/North East Atlantic and connecting seas tsunami warning system. Visitors are welcome to attend the seminar:

Seminar

Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute, Bogazici University, Turkey

Friday, 23rd of May 2008 at 15:30

Topic: Internet based systems, for emergency warning and disaster recovery

Speaker: Tom Worthington FACS HLM, Australian National University and the Australian Computer Society

This seminar will discuss the role of the Internet and the web in emergency warning systems, particularly for Tsunami and for disaster recovery. It looks at the optimization of the design of web based systems for emergencies, including compatibility with mobile telephones. The speaker argues that Internet and web technologies can be used for communication of emergency information to the public, but will require a change in message formats previously intended for emergency workers.

About the speaker:

Tom Worthington is a member of the Project Management Committee of Sahana open source disaster management system used for the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. At the Australian National University he teaches the design of web based systems. As Director of Professional Development of the Australian Computer Society, responsible for our e-learning programs.

See:

World Congress on Information Technology 2008

The World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT 2008) starts here in Kuala Lumpur at the Convention Centre on May 18 to 22, 2008. This is being held at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre , which I can see out of my hotel window, near the Petronas Twin Towers. Along with the congress, there is the MobileMonday Global Summit, the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN GAID), and the IKOM Software and Services Showcase 2008 (PS³ 2008) computer exhibition and the PC Fair International 2008.

The PC fair is free and opens10 am Sunday so I thought I would go along. The other events sound a little daunting. I have met Vinton Cerf, when I talked at the 11th Annual Internet Society Conference but have not met Mr. Gates (he is appearing as a hologram). But if someone involved in the event would like me to come along and blog, I would be happy to do so.
There is a three-day congress, a Link Program for business matching that includes a series of structured business-to-business (B2B), business-to-government (B2G) and business-to-industry (B2I) meetings, an ICT exhibition, a debate on current ICT issues and ancillary activities like tours, golf tournament, F1 experience and a spouse program.

WCIT 2008 is jointly organized by the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC) and the Association of the Computer and Multimedia Industry of Malaysia (PIKOM), with the support of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation Malaysia.

WCIT is the flagship event of the World Information Technology and Services Alliance (WITSA), a consortium of 73 international ICT organizations whose members comprise more than 90% of the global IT market.

WCIT 2008 is tipped to be the starting point of many successful collaborations between nations and organizations, made possible only by a congress of such significance.

Video Wall Specification

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology have issued a request for Expression of Interest for Provision, Installation and maintenance of a Video Wall. The specification seems excessively high for the application, requiring gaps less than 1mm between screens, which is likely to result in an unnecessarily complex design and high cost:
Provision, Installation and maintenance of a Video Wall
ATM ID ITR 033/2008
Agency Bureau of Meteorology
Category 43222619 - Video networking equipment
Close Date & Time 12-Jun-2008 3:00 pm (ACT Local time)
Publish Date 16-May-2008

Description

The Canberra Office of the Water Division of the Bureau of Meteorology requires a Company to undertake the design, delivery, installation, maintenance and support of a VideoWall for use in displaying Windows and UNIX driven application windows, as well as incorporating a videoconferencing solution seperate to this process into this solution.

Main specifications for the VideoWall are that it:

* Covers a screen area of as much of a backing wall of 6.465m wide by 2.685m high (floor to ceiling height) as is possible;
* must have seamless borders between screens e.g less than 1mm border).
* uses high resolution;
* have automated colour and brightness matching
* preference for DLP Technology;
* provides a connection to a console consisting of four MS Windows PCs (each with dual screens); and
* provision of a maintenance and support contract.

Permit Management System for UN Sanction Enforcement

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has issued a request for Expression of Interest in a "Permit Management System Software tool for UN Sanction Enforcement law". This will be a computer based system for tracking permits for trade restricted by UN sanctions (presumably to prevent a repeat of the AWB debacle). The system will have a web interface , with exporters able to apply for permits on-line and DFAT staff able to monitor applications and exchange information with other Government Agencies. Users will be able to receive UN updates and notifications via a secure web interface.

This sounds alike an excellent idea. I suggest that DFAT should make the system open source and contribute it free to the UN for their use and to the nations of the world. The UN could use the software to provide the sanctions updates and those countries who are unable to run their own system could use a web based interface to an hosted system.
Permit Management System Software tool for UN Sanction Enforcement law
ATM ID DFAT08-DID-016
Agency Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Category 43230000 - Software
Close Date & Time 10-Jun-2008 2:00 pm (ACT Local time) ...
Publish Date 15-May-2008 ...
ATM Type Expression of Interest
Description
DFAT is seeking Expressions of Interest for provision of a comprehensive electronic management system (software) for trade permit applications under, and enquiries in relation to, UN sanction enforcement laws. It is expected that all information related to a query or application will be located in a central repository. Duplication of data entries will be minimised and managers and processing officers will be required to have access to full histories of queries or applications and any related documentation. The proposed solution will need to have a public web interface available to DFAT and non DFAT users. Government users will be able to request advice or seek information in relation to UN Sanctions beyond that currently on the DFAT site. Exporters, and other clients, will be able to apply for and obtain permits on-line. DFAT Managers will be able to monitor the progress of permits, including applications, throughout their life cycle. DFAT officers will be able to exchange information with other Government Agencies, as required. Users will be able to subscribe to a list of UN updates and receive notifications via a secure web interface. ...

From: Permit Management System Software tool for UN Sanction Enforcement law, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade ATM ID DFAT08-DID-016, 15-May-2008

Corporate Governance Leadership

Session two of the Malaysian Corporate Governance Conference at the Securities Commission, Kuala Lumpur, 15 - 16 May 2008, covered the Power of the Board:

LEADERSHIP CALL IN GLOBAL BEST PRACTICES


Moderator: Mr Philip Koh, Senior Partner, Messr Mah-Kamariyah & Philip Koh
Speaker: Mr Jiv Sammanthan, Senior Executive Director, PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory Services
Some parties have argued that many Malaysian directors do not take corporate governance seriously enough. This does not only hurt the organisations, but the society and nation as a whole. Thus, what role does the board of directors play in ensuring the welfare of the society and the competitiveness of the nation? What are the principal responsibilities of the board?
  • What constitute an effective board and what would be the demands and challenges to assume a leadership role in the emerging global environment?
  • Having good judgement is a subjective matter, but it is important especially in determining the size of non-executive participation. Thus, what factors are deemed good judgement? Is there a quintessential guide in exercising good judgement for directors?
  • Maintaining a successful relationship between the board and management is all about an issue of effective communication. Thus, what are the key elements in ensuring an effective communication between the two parties?
Jiv Sammanthan talked about the need for a culture of governance, governance versus management, short term compliance versus long term planning. PWC have done an analysis of the remuneration of directors in Malaysia in comparison with Australian and the UK, adjusted for the cost of living. The average for Malaysia is RM33K and for the top 100 companies RM35K.

Jiv noted that the average has been increasing each year, whereas the top 100 have been relatively stable. Malaysian remuneration is low compared with Australia and the UK. He suggested that companies had to be prepared to pay to get what is needed. I found the remuneration very high, given that the director effectively only does a few days work a year for their pay.

SESSION THREE:IMPACT OF COMPANIES (AMENDMENT) ACT 2007 AND CAPITAL MARKETS SERVICES ACT ON BOARD DECISION MAKING

Speaker: Mr Philip Koh, Senior Partner, Messr Mah-Kamariyah

Philip went through changes to Malaysian corporate law which make it similar to that in Australia. Examples were explicit laws stating that directors cannot use company assets without approval. and whistle-blower protection. This made me wonder if there could be simply be a set of international laws to make compliance easier.

Leveraging on Technologies to Manage Challenges in Corporate Governance

Ms Michelle Yee, Solution Architect - Governance, Risk & Compliance, SAP (Asia-Pacific Japan)

Michelle was the first speaker to define what Corporate Governance is. She then showed how corporate governance legislation has been introduced in the Asian region in the last ten years. She argued that tools such as SAP's GRC Access Control and "dashboard" can be used to improve governance and risk management. She made a reasonable case, but some of its impact was reduced when someone asked what SAP stood for and that they had never heard of SAP. Michelle understandably found it hard to react to this, as like me, she assumed everyone had heard of SAP. Perhaps the company needs to do more of this awareness raising with senior corporate people.

There could be an opportunity for SAP, or another software company, with the Australian Government tendering for a Permit Management System Software tool for UN Sanction Enforcement law. Presumably this is to help prevent a repeat of the AWB debacle.

Networking Luncheon

Lunch was in one of the function rooms of the Security Commission's new building. This remarkable structure is circular, matching the Malayisia National Science Centre (Pusat Sains Negara) across the road. There is a sunken tropical garden outside the SC builsing, which seems to be used to propagate the pot plants for the offices, as well as providing an outdoor child minding center for children of the staff. The building also has a store selling publications about corporate law, including Islamic capital markets (they produce a free quarterly bulletin: "Malaysian ICM"). Examinations are also held in the building for people working in the securities industry.

Conference Room

The conference was held in a well equipped conference room , but with the most complex video projector mount I have ever seen. The projector is mounted on top of a section of the ceiling tiles which is lowered by an electric motor, with a bellows type mount. But the video screen is on a slight angle to the wall, and to match this the hole cut in the ceiling for the projector is also on an angle. It would have been a lot simpler to make the hole the size and shape of of four ceiling tiles, so no cutting or trim would be required.

During a break I discovered from one of the delegates that the Security Commission's is considered a smart building with computer control of services for energy efficiency. The only evidence I saw of this was automatic taps and flushing in the toilets. This is not a criticism of the building, but high praise. Unfortunately with many such smart buildings the systems become very obvious when then break down after a short while, but the SC systems seem to be working well. One minor problem I saw were touch screen kiosks around the building which were all switched off (and perhaps were being replaced with wall mounted screens).

SESSION FOUR: ACCOUNTABILITY & INTERNAL AUDIT FUNCTION (IAF)
  • What are the duties of audit committees in relation to IAF? What are their roles in accountability?
  • How do audit committees establish and preserve their independence with the management?
  • What would be the expectations and perceptions of internal audit in the continuous engagement with the management?
Moderator: Mr Walter Sandosam, Vice President Audit, Maybank and Vice President, Institute Internal Auditors Malaysia
Speakers Mr Lee Min On, Partner, KPMG Business Advisory and Governor, Institute of Internal Auditors Malaysia

One interesting internal audit issue Lee Min On discussed was compliance versus consulting. He argued that IA had a role in consulting, using the example of an organisation which used two staff to look after petty cash, in excess of what the risk from the loss of the small amount of money involved. He also talked about examples such as system design weakness, breakdown in control and management override.

I was a little uncomfortable with the idea that the internal auditors would also act as consultants, as if they suggest a process for the organisation to use, they then will find it difficult to dispassionately audit the process they recommended. Lee Min On responded that the auditors should only make suggestions for management to decide on and not be involved in the decision or implementation. Some of the most interesting issues, of the relationship between the IAs and the audit committee, were left to last.

SESSION FIVE: SHAREHOLDER ACTIVISM AND PROTECTION OF MINORITY INTEREST - THE MALAYSIAN EXPERIENCE

Moderator: Ms Marghanita da Cruz, Principal Consultant & Director Ramin Communications, Australia
Speaker: Mr Lee Leok Soon, Head, Client Services, The Minority Shareholders WatchDog Group

Mr. Lee Leok Soon has a slightly different point of view to most of the other speakers at the conference, as he effectively works for the small shareholders of companies:

1999 : MSWG recommended.
The creation of a Minority Shareholder Watchdog Group was proposed in the Report on Corporate Governance (Green Book), February 1999 Issue, commissioned by the Ministry of Finance on how to enhance Corporate Governance in Malaysia. The Report recommended the adoption of a Malaysian Code on Corporate Governance. Click here to view the Green Book of February 1999 and the the Code on Corporate Governance of March 2000.

2000 : MSWG incorporated.
In August 2000, MSWG was incorporated as a public company limited by guarantee.

2001 : MSWG established.
“The year 2001 ushered in two further milestones, namely, the incorporation of the Malaysian Code on Corporate Governance into the revamped Listing Rules of the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange and the establishment of Badan Pengawas Pemegang Saham Minoriti Berhad, or the Minority Shareholder Watchdog Group Limited. The latter will promote better and more effective corporate governance practices which could set a benchmark for others in the region.”

From: Our History, MSWG


See also Books:
Corporate governance
Technology and Corporate Governance
Leadership in corporate governance
Audit and Corporate Governance
Corporate social responsibility (CSR)
Shareholder Activism

Friday, May 16, 2008

Corporate Governance in Malaysia

This week I attended the Malaysian Corporate Governance Conference at the Securities Commission, Kuala Lumpur, 15 - 16 May 2008. The conference was organized by the Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute. These are some impressions from the first day of the conference, format, topics, venue and business in Malaysia.

Format of a Malaysian Conference

A business conference in Malaysia seems to have much the same format as in Australia, but with some of the elements of the one I attended in China. There was more formality with the opening of the program than usual in Australia, the dignitaries being introduced and presented with gifts. There was a generous amount of time in breaks to meet people and the conference organizers spent a lot of time introducing people to each other, which made for a more interactive event than many Australian conferences.

As well as a lectern on the stage there were two comfy arm chairs and coffee table. Each session started and ended with the moderator and speaker sitting down, which made for a more comfortable atmosphere.

Opening Address: CEO Malaysian stock exchange

The conference keynote address was by Yang Berbahagia Dato' Yusli Mohamed Yusoff, Chief Executive Officer, Bursa Malaysia (the Malaysian Stock Exchange, previously the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange, KLSE, or Bursa Saham Kuala Lumpur ). Like Australia, the Malaysian stock exchange is a non-government entity, with some regulatory functions delegated from Parliament. Malaysia introduced new governance rules in late 2007, so governance is topical.

The Bursa Malaysia CEO said there was more room for reform in governance by Malaysian companies and they needed to do more than just comply with the rules. He addressed the need for leadership in companies, with accountable and prudent governance in the interests of shareholders, in response to scandals in companies. The board of directors of listed companies are charged with safeguarding the assets of the company. The primary market focus of the stock exchange is to maintain good governance to encourage investment. He said the most important tool was to create a corporate culture for accountable conduct without reducing the need for risk taking. Investors are looking to invest in companies with ethical business practices.

The CEO also mentioned environmental and sustainability issues as ones which make business sense, with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Two years ago Bursa Malaysia produced a CSR Framework for Malaysian PLCs, at the time the government included a requirement for CSR reporting by companies.

This year the role of auditors is being reviewed. The stock exchange has its own guidelines for audit oversight.

The CEO also addressed the need for global standards. In January 2007 corporate governance requirements were changed to require a corporate audit committee.

Having the stock exchange chief at the conference was a high honour for the conference delegates. After his address there was a media scrum with the CEO outside the door.

The Venue: Securities Commission Building

Malaysia Securities Commission HeadquartersThe conference was held in the headquarters of the Malaysian Securities Commission. This is a showcase high technology building by Hijjas Kasturi Associates (construction management by Bovis Lend Lease) is a parkland setting.

False floor Access Floor SystemOne feature of the building is underfloor air distribution, using Cementitious Infill Steel Access Flooring. A false floor is used for the air conditioning and also cables for power and data.

One logistical problem I had was the lack of espresso coffee. I wandered downstairs to the Securities Commission cafeteria, but they did not have any. On the way I noticed that as well as impressive conference rooms, the SC also had a fully equipped video conference facility, called the "Dialogue Room" (there is a video of the room online):
The Dialogue Room situated at the Lower Ground Level 1(LG1) has a seating capacity of 44. The room set-up is ideal for press conferences, small group training, board meetings as well as discussions. The room has a U-shape seating arrangement and each seat is equipped with a touch-panel console for a microphone and a voting system.

From: SC BUILDING Conference Facilities, Malaysia Securities Commission, 2007
One interesting inclusion in the building are day rooms, in the lower level:
Guest Day Rooms These air-conditioned rooms situated at the Lower Ground Level 2 (LG2) are specially built for guests and are supplied with double beds, bathrooms with showers, as well as telephones. These facilities are for guests to freshen-up before their sessions.
Conference sessions for day one

SESSION ONE: CREATING SUSTAINABLE GROWTH IN THE GLOBAL
BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT

Moderator: Mr Puvan J. Selvanathan, Executive Director, Caux Round Table Malaysia
Speaker: Yang Mulia Tunku Abdul Aziz, President, Caux Round Table Malaysia, Former Special Advisor on Ethics to the UN Secretary General
  • What are the growing trends in corporate governance in global economies?
  • What are the detrimental factors to the sustainability of businesses in global emerging economies?
  • What do companies in developed economies do to create sustainability? What can Malaysian companies learn from them?
  • Does size matter? Does sustainability differ from a large multinational company to a small company?
  • What do Malaysian companies need to leverage on to create sustainable growth in global businesses?
The Caux Round Table is a body I had not previously heard of. My understanding is that it is a non-government body formed in response to problems of corruption in business, to foster more ethical practices internationally with moral and responsible capitalism. Caux Round Table currently do not have an Australian branch, although there are some Australians involved internationally.

Yang Mulia Tunku Abdul Aziz reminded the audience that is is ten years since the 1997 Asian financial crisis. He criticized the misuse of "Asian values" as a cover for corruption, saying that values such as respect for elders should not prevent questions being asked about the actions of corporations.

Puvan J. Selvanathan looked at the details as used in Caux Round Table projects, concentrating on sustainability. Unfortunately he did not define what he meant by "sustainability" (nor did other speakers at the conference). In Australia, this term is currently used almost exclusively to refer to environmental sustainability, but in Malaysia seemed to be referring to social and business issues as well.

Puvan argued that corporations needed to move to an "involve me" model, with shareholders actively involved, not just observers. He then mentioned Corporate social responsibility (CSR), which seems to be a hot topic in Malaysia. He argued that lack of CSR can result in very negative publicity and good corporate governance is a risk mitigation strategy.

Cover of Profit for Life: How Capitalism Excels by Joseph H. BragdonJay Bragdon's 2007 book "Profit for Life", was cited emphasizing companies stewardship of resources. He argued that this "hyppie" language was coming back into vogue for business. He then quoted Porter in the Harvard Business review on companies needing a healthy society. Cannon was given as an example of the Japanese concept of "Kyosei" with companies acting responsibly.

However following the new Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd's emphasis on evidence-based policy , is there evidence to support these claims for CSR? While it might be good in the long term for socially for companies to act ethically, doesn't the evidence show that in the sort term they can make such large profits by acting unethically that this outweighs the risks?

In response to a question about this Tunku argued that there was a need to ask hard questions about the actions of senior people, even if this causes some embarrassment. He used the example of the former Secretary General of the UN setting up a foundation for humanitarian purposes, with prizes given. Even though the funds were given for, and to be used for, humanitarian purposes there were ethical issues as the funds were not to be used through the UN. Puvan advocated using a code of ethics, using the example of that for architects (he is by training an architect). This seems to be essentially the same issue as ethics for ICT professionals. The Malaysian 2020 plan also got a mention from one of the questioners at question time (an interesting comparison could be drawn with the Australian 2020 Summit).

See also Books:
Corporate governance
Technology and Corporate Governance
Leadership in corporate governance
Audit and Corporate Governance
Corporate social responsibility (CSR)
Shareholder Activism

e-Learning in Mid Air

Singapore Airlines Airbus 380 at Sydney AirportThe new Singapore A380 airbus is equipped with a Linux computer in every economy seat, but traveling Malaysian Airlines, I had to bring an ASUS EEE PC. Even so I noticed that the entertainment in the Boeing 747 economy seat came with e-Learning, along with interactive games.

The interactive system did not make a good start. The system crashed with a segmentation fault and I had to wait a minute while it rebooted itself. This was useful in that the diagnostics showed the screen was at 640 x 480 pixels. Newer systems such as the airbus have a higher resolution, but even with the maximum practical screen of about 9 inches, there is only so much that can be displayed.

This is the second time within a few weeks that I have seen a problem with an airline entertainment system. The previous was on a QANTAS 747 to Perth which had to be rebooted. It is a little disconcerting to see the aircraft rebooting Microsoft Windows 3.0 in mid-flight, but then that is not running the flight controls. The report of a software failure which could have brought down a Boeing 777 flight out of Perth was released recently.

But back to e-learning; the system offers: Travel guide, Berlitz languages, b-Wise (business topics) and Soundview executive book summaries. The display showed an email address at mascorp.com and so presumably is from Panasonic Avionics.

The travel guide is a little out of date, having been last updated in December 2005. There are a few seconds delay after selecting a city guide, while the next module is loaded. Modules were offered for Asia, Europe, America and the Pacific. The interface makes good use of the limited screen size with simple graphics and menus operated by the hand controller's games buttons (up down, left right, select). Selecting the city guide for KL, I was disappointed to be confronted with a frozen menu bar as the system crashed again:
“galib: Signal 11: Segmentation fault received. ... System is going down NOW !! Sending SIGKILL to all processes. System is halted. Press Reset or turn off power.”
But then this was an old aircraft. Some of the panels in the toilet are, quite literally, held together with adhesive tape (Polyken 290FR aircraft cargo compartment tape to be precise). No doubt newer aircraft have newer entertainment systems.

While the system was rebooting (again), a little about how the EEE PC goes on an aircraft. What makes the EEE PC difficult to use on a desktop: the small screen and keyboard, is very useful in an economy class seat. The notebook sits firmly on the tray table (some larger notebooks tend to tip over). There is plenty of space around the computer for coffee, seat controllers and the like. The keyboard is less difficult than on a desk and the tiny touch pad is easier to use than a large one.

The language package for the in flight entertainment system is from DTI Software . This offers a large range of languages to learn in and from. However, the disappointment is that this is not multimedia: the system shows you images and words, but there was no audio pronouncing the words and so making it of limited value.

One interesting aspect is that the language package uses the controller in landscape (games) mode, whereas the travel guide uses it in portrait (telephone) mode, thus the up-down/left-right keys are rotated 90 degrees, which is confusing.

b-Wise was also also developed by DTI Software . This was the most disappointing of the e-learning packages. It provides a few paragraphs of text per screen, with some maps and photos. However, the screen resolution is so low that the text is all but unreadable. The resolution of the text generator does not appear to match that of the screen, the anti-aliasing is not set correctly, or perhaps this is a JPEG image, complete with text, but for whatever reason it is not usable.

Soundview executive book topics provides very abridged versions of business books. These have such titles as “Putting the Moose on the Table”, “Leadership Lessons from Lewis and Clark's Daring Westward Expedition” and “The Wisdom of Crowds” (TWOC). I selected TWOC and found it consisted of 50 pages (screen fulls) of text, plus 23 minutes and 40 seconds of spoken book. As with the business guides, the screen text is not really readable, but the audio worked well. The screen text is more abridged that the audio, but is useful reinforcement, however, the screens do not automatically update to keep up with the audio, the pages have to be changed manually.

The audio has a tinny quality, as if it has been decompressed and re-compressed several times, but is adequate. The controls for the sound are limited to pausing, there is no fast forward, rewind, or chapter skip. Overall Soundview is the most useful of the e-Learning units. The simplistic nature of business books particularly suits this summarising and presentation style. Books such as TWOC present a few simple ideas which can be summarised in a few pages; the books tend to repeat examples of these few simple points to reinforce the lesson (almost to the point of being indoctrination, rather than education). However, there was not test, or review at the end, so this is not really e-Learning anyway.

Also it is a little worrying that if it books such as TWOC are what the average business person can cope with, then then more sophisticated techniques for online business now being developed may be beyond most people in business to understand. ICT professionals, myself included, may be vastly overestimating the ability of business to absorb new online developments. One problem might be testing these ideas on university students, who are not be representative of the average business person. My ANU students in particular are far above the average. I had to get that plug for the ANU in, as they paid for the EEE PC. ;-)

But while criticizing the features of the in-flight system, it is worth keeping in mind how remarkable it is to have such systems while traveling over the South Australian desert at 756 kph (courtesy of iXplor moving map system a .On a previous trip aboard a RAAF C130 transport aircraft, things were a little more primitive. When I asked the navigator on the flight deck where we were, he gave me the longitude and latitude.

ps: After the flight,
Malaysia Airlines sent some details of their systems:
The following is what we gathered from our Inflight Services Dept. Further information can be found on our corporate website at www.malaysiaairlines.com.

We update our movies title monthly .

B747/777: 3000i system which gives the passengers audio/video on demand (AVOD). More than 300 hours of inflight entertainment, including 50+movies, over 100 tv shows, 70 games, and 200 CD albums.

A330-200: Inseat Video System for Business and Economy Class. More than 3 movies and 10 TV programs are available.

A330-300: Overhead video system for Economy Class. For Business Class, it is the portable media player that carries 100 hours of on-demand movies, tv shows, and 10 games.

Portable Media Player : PMP available on A330- Business Class only with 10 latest Hollywood movies playtime for 02 months. ...