A Quick Look at Cyberjaya – Malaysia’s ‘Silicon Valley’


By Eli James | e27

In the spring of 1999, Businessweek ran a cover story titled ‘Mahathir’s High-Tech Folly’, on the challenges plaguing the then Prime Minister’s plan to set up a regional ‘Silicon Valley’ within Malaysia. The plan was ambitious: it detailed the development of a large economic zone, stretching 750 square kilometers, and promised fiber-optic networks, research facilities, tax breaks, and new ‘cyberlaws’, protecting any multinational setting up shop in the country. The economic zone was named the ‘Multimedia Super Corridor’(MSC), and the city in which this development was supposed to happen – Cyberjaya.

For a while, all was good. Mahathir had managed to convince Silicon Valley luminaries Bill Gates (Microsoft), Lawrence Ellison (Oracle) and Scott McNealy (Sun Microsystems) to sit on a 41-member advisory panel to the project. They lent the MSC immediate weight and credibility. In talks during a 1997 global tour to sell Cyberjaya, Mahathir called the city his ‘gift to the world’, and promised that it would be a ‘global bridge to the Information Age.’ The praise poured in. Businessweek reported that Mahathir was ‘regarded as something of a visionary in high-tech circles’. Microsoft then announced that it would make MSC its regional headquarters. For a brief moment, it seemed as if Malaysia — with its cheap land and inexpensive, English-speaking workforce — was set to become the region’s go-to choice for multinational technology companies.

Then the Asian Crisis hit. The Businessweek piece mentioned earlier in this article was written shortly after the worst of the crisis had passed, and it covered the effect of the crisis on the MSC through the lens of its leader:

While recession is partly to blame, Mahathir’s response to the crisis has dealt the most serious blow. His rhetoric blaming Jewish conspirators for his country’s woes has dismayed multinationals. So have his moves to impose currency controls–and his decision to arrest Anwar Ibrahim, his former protege and Deputy Prime Minister, and put him on trial. ”Mahathir’s behavior has set back the MSC several years, even in a best-case scenario,” says a Westerner who has advised on the project. ”Worst case, it has destroyed the momentum.”

Key foreign investors pulled out shortly after the crisis, and the Government has since stepped in to prop Cyberview Sdn Bhd – the company tasked with the management and development of the planned township. After an initial series of IT campaigns, the national agenda for MSC development has ground to a halt.

Today, Cyberjaya is but a whisper of that original promise. It is a moderately successful economic zone, with IT parks and office blocks and above-par Internet connectivity. But the hype is gone, and whatever coverage there exists today are mostly press-releases by Cyberview.

The township consists of commercial/office blocks, a science park, two universities, and a couple of residential buildings. It is this last point that is a sore spot for Cyberjaya — Cyberview has been working to rectify a lack of housing in the area, which has been responsible for an emptying out of the city at night. Unsurprisingly, there is not much of a nightlife in Cyberjaya — many workers there commute back to neighbouring Kuala Lumpur after the day is over, decreasing the township’s population count from 36,000 to about 14,000 at night. And it is telling that while there are people from Cyberjaya who commute to KL, few from KL come out to Cyberjaya for anything but work.

Cyberjaya has few shopping facilities and little or no entertainment outlets (beyond a township community club).

There are, however, signs of renewed interest in the project. Most recently Malaysian company Emkay Group and India’s Embassy Group entered a joint-venture project called the MKN Embassy Techzone. The project promises three million sq ft of office space on a 12-hectare land parcel in Cyberjaya, with the eventual aim of getting IT companies both foreign and local to relocate to the area. This effort seems to be rather successful – in 2009 Cyberview reported an expected 10% increase in companies moving into Cyberjaya.

And if that isn’t a good enough sign, Cyberview reports that in the coming months, the Hewlett-Packard (HP) Global Information Technology Hub is set to open in the township, along with an 80,000 sq ft SME Technopreneur Centre and Phase 2 of a K-Worker (Knowledge-worker) Development Centre.

But a March 2009 story is more telling of the current direction Cyberjaya is headed for. Malaysian newspaper The Star reports, that with an increased number of government-linked companies and departments, Cyberjaya is ’slowly moving away from being an information communication technology hub’. It appears that the original dream, at least, has been forgotten.

So what does this all mean? First, Cyberjaya is a development zone set up to attract foreign tech-based multinationals. As a township its function is primarily economic, with little non-essential amenities apart from that which is required for it to run. There are blocks built for the incubation of small and medium size enterprises (SMEs), but as of press time the entrepreneurship programs provided by the government in relation to Cyberjaya are patchy, at best. And it must be noted here that Cyberjaya is not focused on web startups – the majority of locally grown SMEs are companies like CRUiSE GPS Systems, a ‘Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking and navigational solutions provider’, and RL Dynamic Engineering, a ’specialist in advanced educative, entertainment and training motion simulators’. In simpler terms, Cyberjaya is more geared towards the Intels of the tech world, as opposed to the Twitters or Facebooks which seem to be all the rage in Silicon Valley today.

It is hard to say if Cyberjaya has been a success or a failure – my view is that the verdict is still out on this. On the one hand, the township has been a disaster for many of the original investors. After the Asian crisis and Mahathir’s resignation, there has been little impetus to grow Cyberjaya as originally planned. But on the other hand, Cyberjaya has managed to attract a significant number of companies over the past five years, and Embassy Group’s chairman Jitu Virwani has been reported saying “Here was a city with all its infrastructure just waiting to be tapped by IT companies. It was amazing. It’s something we dream about in India.”

Perhaps it is that last point we must remember: that although the infrastructure exists, Silicon Valley (and – by extension – Cyberjaya) is more than the sum of its parts; more than a collection of office blocks and incubation clusters and wafer fabrication plants. It is made of people – of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs and technologists – and people are what Cyberjaya needs the most.

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  1. #1 by monsterball on Tuesday, 13 July 2010 - 10:17 am

    As long as you do not have smart Malaysians to work along side… to assist the foreigners in High Tech stuffs…you can never succeed.
    Indians Koreans and Chinese brains have surpassed Malaysians in this business as all our best brains…mostly Malaysian Chinese have secured jobs with good salaries..in foreign lands..which make UMNO B very happy…until now…being exposed playing double standards in all matters.
    A great example right now..is a Minister accusing Anwar as Russian Agent based on a blog post.
    Yet so much have been written at RPK’s blog on the murder case…nothing happen.
    In fact..Najib is treated like a pure Saint…having PRK and Bala on the run.
    There is nothing that UMNO B can do to beat any country with their cow brains and all good brains not wanted to make the cow brains look smart…exactly like the Smart Tunnel…now so Stupid Tunnel..all because CORRUPTI0NS are mixed up in every deal.
    When Stadium and school roofs are falling off.. Putra Jaya and KLCC roofs leaking…after few years…bridges falling off…such simple so call High Tech cannot give the expected life spans..we want to talk computer high techs?
    Our so call “Silicon Valley” is more and Admin Centre than anything else..right now..I will not be surprised it will turn up to be a great R&R place for high tech guys to enjoy…as it seems right now…being so.

  2. #2 by Godfather on Tuesday, 13 July 2010 - 11:37 am

    Satu lagi projek Barisan Nasional. Destined for failure like all the other white elephants.

  3. #3 by cintanegara on Tuesday, 13 July 2010 - 1:07 pm

    There is no doubt about our beloved statesman, Tun Dr. Mahathir being one of the greatest leaders of all time. His enemies as well as friends will surely miss and remember him. That’s why they keep on talking about him though he is no longer leading the country. As a charismatic leader, Tun Dr Mahathir carried out his promise to step down from the post he’s held for more than two decades. Unlike DAP ‘veteran’ leaders who are not willing to step down and afraid of losing power…

  4. #4 by BoycottLocalPapers on Tuesday, 13 July 2010 - 1:21 pm

    DELL closes its factory in Penang and moved to China because of UMNO’s regime anti-Jewish policy. Michael Dell is a Jew. Many people in Penang lost their jobs and UMNO regime don’t care because these people from Penang are not UMNOputras.

    Can the Palestine or Arab open a new computer factory in Penang?

    Intel microprocessor is made in Israel. Can we use Made in Palestine microprocessor?

    [deleted]

  5. #5 by steven chan on Tuesday, 13 July 2010 - 2:32 pm

    PPl like cintanegara are f****** blind that Mamaktahir is the father of racialism n contributed to NEP so that he can use for own enrichment n his cronies .Please dont forget that ppl are not talking about him just that he is senile and talking nonsense so ppl are just responding to his stupid statements.

  6. #6 by monsterball on Tuesday, 13 July 2010 - 2:38 pm

    Same old ambil bodek comment by cintanegara.
    “greatest leader of all time” he said of Mahathir.
    But ex Judge Ian said..”Mahathir is the devil reincarnated”.
    Now you judge who us more wiser…cintabodek or the judge.
    Of course cintanegara thinks all of us here are not smart enough to debate him.

  7. #7 by monsterball on Tuesday, 13 July 2010 - 2:49 pm

    Cintanegara is not blind.
    He is a typical UMNO B racist member that depend on UMNO B for hand outs ..and if UMNO B looses the 13th GE…he needs to set up a road side polish shoe corner..or go back to the kampong to be a farmer.
    He dares not collect newspapers…or set up a food stall like others….earning a living…without depending on handouts by UMNO B.
    Cintanegara chose to depend on UMNO B….so he needs to keep calling all sorts of UMNO B balls.
    This typical racist… no dignity nor principles in life.
    This is the hypocrite Muslim we know plenty in UMN0 B.
    CORRUPTIONS have taken over all their souls.

  8. #8 by monsterball on Tuesday, 13 July 2010 - 3:33 pm

    hi cintanegara …mamak need to step down because he was no more popular.
    Now we have Pakatan Rakyat…LKS…Karpal and all the old horses of oppositions are still very popular and respected more and more each day by more and more Malaysians of all races.
    Did you not see the Sibu miracle? Are you blind?
    Mahathir retired?…are you a NUT too?
    Yes blind and a nut you are…talking nonsense all the time.
    You sure love to see LKS retire ..just as Najib love to see Anwar in jail.
    hi self proclaimed intellect…you think we are stupid?

  9. #9 by Godfather on Tuesday, 13 July 2010 - 4:16 pm

    The father of all Ali Baba’s in Bolehland – the honorary title we can bestow on Mamakthir. Cintanegara should take note that this Ali Baba and his band of 40 thieves from UMNO helped themselves to the goodies for the past 30+ years – and is still crying “tak cukup”.

  10. #10 by omeqiu on Tuesday, 13 July 2010 - 4:28 pm

    I can understand the outburst against cintanegara. My take is to ignore this guy completely. Soon he will disappear.

  11. #11 by on cheng on Tuesday, 13 July 2010 - 4:59 pm

    Mengikut UMNO, Cyberjaya, Fail, no fail tak apa, yang penting, ketuanan dan NEP mesti di perkukuhkan di cyberjaya juga

  12. #12 by ringthetill on Tuesday, 13 July 2010 - 7:25 pm

    As with most things Malaysian, the idea is good but the implementation and subsequent policies go awry after a while. I believe many know what the faults are in administration of the country. The denial that problems exist, lack of conviction, in-fighting, lack of morals and the inability to treat ourselves fairly and as equals will not bring any changes.

  13. #13 by boh-liao on Tuesday, 13 July 2010 - 11:57 pm

    When we look back now, we realise dat MMK was a disaster 2 M’sia – a crook who talked a lot but useless in effective implementation
    Dat’s Y M’sia is in a mess today, compared 2 many recently opened nations like China, Vietnam.

  14. #14 by Bunch of Suckers on Wednesday, 14 July 2010 - 12:28 am

    What? Multimedia Super Corridor’(MSC)? Bunch of suckers can run and manage Multimedia Super Corridor?

    [deleted] As long as there are “Brains Drain” and big mouth Mamathir can never succeed in Hi-tech! Look at those North Eastern Asians with smart brains & hard-working nations, Hi-Tech booming like mushrooms!

    [deleted]

  15. #15 by limkamput on Wednesday, 14 July 2010 - 3:46 pm

    Want to know the difffence between Silicon Valley of California and Silly-con valley in Cyberjaya?

    Well, one is market driven, the other is state directed. One is driven by investors’ own money, the other one is a scheme to siphon government money.

    Mamakthir is a half baked economist
    He is no luminary
    He is lunatic
    From squandering money
    Now he wants to be fascist
    Look at all the sh!t
    From crooked bridge
    To APs
    And now is Melayu bangkit
    He thinks he is such a hit
    But no one give him a sh!t

  16. #16 by House Victim on Wednesday, 14 July 2010 - 5:25 pm

    What had MHT done to justify his fulfilment of a Stateman?
    Ruin the Jurdiciary System?
    Expanding number of Ministery and ministry without even fulfilling their duties?
    Expanding number of Public Servant with more obstruction to the Rules of the Public instead of serving?
    Allowing Public Servants, like himself to misappropriate Public funding to “save” GLC even with those Sweat if not blood earning money of the EPF?
    Allowing mis-appropriation of public land into cronies’s and so be private?
    Rules and Regulations with no obligations to be governed or enforced?
    Turning Police, MACC and AG to serve the Power and not the Order and Justice of the Society?
    Taking awaying Government Investment on Public Services into Private Ownership by the cronies? Why Transportation be invested by the Government and converted into Concessionaries?
    Why mos , if not all Government depatgment, being ISO certified but cannot even respond to their Duties?

    With Oil money, but, People cannot even get a fair treatment with scholarship?
    Not even a fair chance for Employment in Malaysia?
    ………………………………
    Creating a lot of clowns who feel no shame for lieing and selfishness without feeling guilt or facing any punishment!!
    Lawyers acting out of laws!
    Judges blind to Justice!
    Police being a tumble block to security!
    Bankers acting as Loan Shark without intervented!!
    Freedom of Speech hammer by ISA!
    Obligation of Government hidden by OSA!

    Water retention Ponds for Condominium Projects and allowing House Club to turn into Hotel?

    A double-crosser with hands of dirty magicians without Hearts!!

  17. #17 by joehancl on Wednesday, 14 July 2010 - 7:10 pm

    If this project had been in the hands of the S’PORE govt., it would have taken off and be an icon now in the Asean region if not the world. I simply cannot understand how thick skin the malaysian leaders can be. They have no sense of shame.

  18. #18 by c730427 on Wednesday, 14 July 2010 - 7:16 pm

    i am not trying to discriminate but if you give this project to no-umno developers, Cyberjaya will be economically vibrant and prosper.

    i have a suggestionm ynot give ibrahim ali a try, let him manage cyberjaya since he is full of agendas.

    let’s see what he can do for his agenda.

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