To educate first or to go ahead and do it. That is the poser facing players in the electronic data interchange (EDI) market in Malaysia. Two reports, three licences and 10 years later, EDI progress has been marginal at best. ANITA DEVASAHAYAM reports...

MALAYSIA has been dragging its feet on electronic data interchange.

As a high profile and potentially lucrative business, EDI in Malaysia has been fraught with political overtones that have been stumbling blocks to its development.

Although three companies have already been issued licenses for EDI ~ Information Networking Corp (INC), Value Added Data Services (VADS) and EDI Malaysia ~ only one, Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB), a shareholder in VADS, has gone ahead to implement EDI at Port Kelang.

The others are still focusing on the "education" aspects of EDI.

PR consultant at EDI Malaysia, Haslinda Tahir, said: "We need to educate the public about EDI before progressing further."

However, exactly how much education will be sufficient is unclear.

Some observers feel that awareness is best increased through both education and practice. That would be a more practical philosophy compared to just mere education.

These must have been the exact thoughts of PNB group chief executive Datuk Khalid Ibrahim.

PNB is part of a consortium, called Kelang Port Management, which in its efforts to privatise the port, will also implement EDI-based port and cus toms clearance facilities for all port users.

"The government has called for the setting-up of a nationwide EDI network. We want to show that we are capable of delivering EDI," said Datuk Khalid.

PNB is a government-owned investment conglomerate with activities as diverse as manufacturing, trading, transportation, urban and rural development, property and finance.

PNB owns Kontena Nasional (KONNAS) which is the main haulier at Port Kelang.

It is confident of succeeding in this EDI venture because KONNAS and another 200 companies which it owns will be captive customers.

PNB intends to have the Port Kelang system up and running by December

It has had quite a bit of experience in implementing nationwide computerised networks; the first was for the postal services department here.

And PNB was given carte blanche by the government to computerise the Road Transport Department last year.

These successes augur well for PNB, which has proven itself a worthy implementor and systems integrator. Now it will undergo the toughest acid test with EDI.

Its biggest stumbling block in implementing EDI will be the Customs and Excise Department.

According to inside sources, the Customs Department is too involved trying to get its own computer system up and running to care about developments in PNB's EDI arena.

"They are indifferent to us," he said.

Datuk Khalid admitted at the only setback PNB would face was the standardisation of the forms and documents from Customs.

Still he is optimistic that e Customs Department 11 eventually be prepared standardise the forms for EDI purposes.

EDI was necessary to facilitate effective and efficient cargo handling and customs clearance for shippers, hauliers, forwarders, port operators and Customs, he emphasised.

Datuk Khalid explained that the EDI services would be available to all port users initially and the system would be linked to various Customs checkpoints for automatic clearance at a later stage.

The issue for PNB to tackle now is whether Customs will have a common interface for all ED1 users or whether they would have to interface through an independent clearing house.

EDI Malaysia, another EDI licensee, has been talking about setting up a national clearing house for EDI.

Sources revealed that PNB intended to extend its EDI services through its public services network set-up at post offices. It might also implement similar EDI systems elsewhere, they said.

"Many parties have ambitious visions with EDI. As far as we are concerned, we are doing it," said Datuk Khalid.

Published on March 29 ,1993, Asia Computer Weekly