.MY passing thots

Commentaries on current and topical issues in Malaysia

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The KLIA - Subang dilemma

The debate on KLIA or Subang as the hub for budget airlines continues to hog the limelight. Naturally, views are still divided between the two locations and it is not surprising either why regular travelers in the Klang Valley are all for Subang.

It is not an easy decision to make and any further delay on the final decision of the location for the new low-cost carrier (LCC) terminal would have an adverse effect on Malaysia’s competitive edge as a regional hub for budget airlines. Singapore has a head-start at least with its decision on the construction of a new LCC terminal with the completion scheduled for early next year.

The speedy decision from across the causeway is understandable, given Air Asia’s explosive growth and expansion beyond the domestic market and now presence in Thailand as well as Indonesia.

Air Asia has a valid case in favour of Subang and making the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport a hub for low-fare carriers in Asia. After all, Air Asia is in the business of offering the lowest fare and can only do so at the lowest cost.

And here comes the dilemma. Can the nation afford to have the LCC terminal outside KLIA? On paper, it is a viable proposition but can it be done at the expense of KLIA? The traffic has grown in recent years but the world-class airport in Sepang is still a very much an under-utilised airport. We can actually count the number of non-MAS Boeing 747 aircraft at the tarmac with our fingers even during the peak hours.

KLIA looks busy but still very dependant on the growing domestic traffic. And needless to say, having the LCC terminal (outside Sepang) may have a great impact on MAS’ domestic flights which are competing head-on with Air Asia.

Malaysia has talked about being an aviation hub going back to the mid 80s and obviously it was never in contention given the appeal of Singapore as the regional gateway and now Bangkok, emerging as the closest competitor to the island republic in this region.

But there is hope for Malaysia to emerge as a regional hub for budget carriers and possibly even aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul.

Making Subang the location for the LCC terminal surely looks very promising and perhaps the competitive edge that we need to compete with Singapore for the sizeable share of the budget airline business.

So will it be KLIA or Subang? Let’s toss the coin.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Betamax vs VHS - a lesson never learnt by Sony?

Stiff competition and eroding margins have obviously affected Sony's bottom-line on the back of the recent announcement that its operating profits for the current financial year (ending March 31) will drop by about 31 per cent.

Sony has blamed plummeting consumer electronics prices and shifting market trends in its core television and audio segments although it has increased its market share in many of its core product areas.

For many years, Sony has remained the consumer's preferred brand name anything from televisions, Walkman portable stereo sets to computers and still and video cameras. Sony has also often set the benchmark when it comes to product innovations and designs in tandem with the lifestyle of today's savvy consumers.

Without a doubt, "It's a Sony" has been an effective marketing driver to win market and mind share but not anymore with equally promising products from rivals and new competitors in Korea and Taiwan minus the premium prices that are often linked with Sony products.The worse has yet to come as competition and lower margins continue to impact these commodity-like products no different from computers and its related peripherals.

In some ways, Sony has lost its competitive edge with the escalating numbers of the Digital Age products, including LCD and plasma TVs, DVD recorders and lately MP3 players that have reduced the product differentiation killer that Sony once enjoyed and dominated.

The free-falling prices of the digital products are not helping Sony either and its exit from the PDA market vis-à-vis Sony Clie (outside the Japanese market), despite its product appeal and strong market share, is a case in point.

What’s more, Sony’s monopoly in the cassette and CD Walkmans apart from Mini Disc took a severe beating with the proliferation of MP3 players in which Apple has enjoyed a roaring success with the iPod.

Above all, Sony’s failure to recognise the “evil” of non-proprietary-based storage cards used in an increasing number of digital products may be the silent killer for Sony.

Savvy consumers are leaning towards common and non-proprietary cards like compact flash and SD/MMC cards which are available for a fraction of the Memory Stick Pro or Duo card. Today, I have to pay only about RM180 for a piece of a 512MB CF card but nearly RM400 for a similar capacity Memory Stick Duo card.

I have no problem buying a Sony TV or video camera (without using Memory Stick of course) but I have yet to be convinced to own a Sony electronic organiser (before its withdrawal from the market), still digital camera (although selected and newer models support CF cards), a MP3 player or even a mobile phone.

Perhaps, Sony has yet to learn from its strategy failure with the Betamax video recorder in the battle with the VHS despite its aggressive marketing efforts. Betamax was by far more superior to VHS but the cheaper format in the latter won the majority of buyers.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Battle of the MPVs

Enter another potentially runaway winner - Naza Citra (rebadged Kia Carens) - on the back of the launch of the highly successful and versatile Toyota Avanza.

Affordability has been redefined with the seven-seater Naza Citra being offered at RM79,888 on-the-road (in Peninsular Malaysia) and a couple of pleasant surprises - dual front airbags, anti-lock braking system, sunroof and leather seats - thrown in as standard features.

For sure, Malaysians will be making a bee-line for the nearest Kia showroom and the queue, perhaps, can be longer than the nearest traffic police where the summons settlement rush has been hogging the headlines in recent days.

Besides competition, Malaysians are actually enjoying cheaper cars, including popular Japanese makes through overtrade, discounts and cheaper finance charges despite the revision of excise/import duties leading to higher official prices of new vehicles.

It is a welcome change for consumers, the same way we are spoilt for choice when we buy groceries, electrical appliances and even computers.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

How about an online MAS Travel Fair?

The Malaysia Airlines Travel Fair '05 (Feb 19-20) is back again and naturally as a follow-up to the overwhelming success of last year's showcase. Many would either recall the "great bargains" or "great chaos" at Mid-Valley and it is hardly a surprise why the national carrier has decided on a location outside the city limits to cater to the anticipated crowd this time around.

MAS' announcement, however, stopped short of offering the goodies through its website which will certainly help to manage the crowd for those only seeking to purchase cheap air tickets and nothing else. The tour operators, obviously, can use the fair to lure the holidaymakers with their affordable tour and "free n easy" packages.

Understandably, MAS also wants to support its travel agents but surely it makes more sense to offer its regular flyers and travellers a choice of buying options just like its current online booking facility. Needless to say, it is hassle-free with the advent of the Internet which has already changed the whole landscape of the travel and leisure business.

Many Malaysians have already enjoyed the benefits of e-banking and Air Asia's online transactions and so have many with the Genting and Dell Malaysia websites, to name a few. What the consumers need is a compelling platform to conduct such transactions and anything more like an enticing online carrot is a big bonus for the rakyat.

Even in a competitive market environment where consumers are spoilt for choice, many have no qualms of paying slightly more for a ticket rather than spending half a day at the MAS Travel Fair which more often than not, is a case of penny wise, pound foolish.

The A&P budget for the MAS Travel Fair can be better utilised to encourage more local travel and tour operators to set up their own websites with online booking services. And better still, educate their valued business partners the art of survival in the Digital Age instead of competing the conventional way - throwing prices in the already pencil-slim margin business of theirs.

Sad to say and with the exception for a handful of players, many operators still have done very little to leverage on the Internet for their travel business.

The added convenience aside, MAS can extend its ever corporate citizenship role by complementing the government's efforts to encourage PC ownership and the benefits of the Internet to gain knowledge and take advantage of online transactions.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Making world headlines for the wrong reasons

First, it was a controversial landmark ruling by a Syariah Court ruling that an SMS is valid as a statement of divorce if it is verified in Court.

And now, we have two more stories in a space of four days that have placed Malaysia in the limelight again – pirated copies of Longhorn, the next version of the Microsoft Windows operating system, which are widely sold in Johor Bahru.

And what followed next is a controversial statement from a PAS assemblyman who said the promotion of polygamy would do more to help single mothers than teaching them computer literacy.

I wonder what comes next after this.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Public sector efficiency - an open letter to Pak Lah

The rakyat and silent majority welcomed with open arms Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's call for efficiency among civil servants on the back of his infamous quotes - "work with me, not for me" and "tell me the truth."

The issues about bureaucratic red tape and inefficiency among government servants have been the subject of much conversation over the years but more often than not, they were swept under the carpet. It was a genuine concern of our new Prime Minister and his surprise visit to the Immigration Department must have surely sent a strong message across.

It will be an uphill task if we are looking for an overnight solution to improve the public sector efficiency. To be fair, Datuk Seri Abdullah's visit to the Immigration and "greeted" by complaints of the long queues should not be used as a yardstick due to the all-familiar last minute practice among Malaysians to renew their passports for the school holidays, Hari Raya and the Christmas festive seasons.

The short-term solution obviously is to open up more counters and hire more people. But for a better and a long-term solution, we need a compelling vehicle to help improve efficiency and accessibility of public services, and make them hassle-free for the rakyat.

Let us take the passport renewal as an example. One needs to make at least three trips to the Immigration Department - to collect the form, submit the form and payment and finally to collect the new passport.

For a start, we can reduce it to two trips and all it takes is to leverage on the Internet, downloading the form from the website. For some strange reasons (perhaps the RM1 fee), the online passport application form is not available although the Immigration Department has other forms available for downloading. It should be seen as a move to make it more convenient for the rakyat and the government should encourage more people to opt for the electronic form by waiving the RM1 fee.

In a nutshell, this calls for a total revamp of the government's e-government initiative with priorities, for a start, given to essential services involving the public, many of which are very basic and do not require sophistication of the websites and heavy investment in the IT infrastructure.

Many would recall Malaysia's much hyped e-government initiative some three years back with the pilot project involving online payments for Tenaga and Telekom bills, among others. There was little headway and in no time it was overshadowed by the banks' aggressive online payment marketing campaigns.

There are of course many people who are still skeptical about the Internet. It takes a commitment to make it works and companies like Maybank and Citibank along with Air Asia and perhaps Genting have proved many pundits wrong. And it is as simple as understanding consumers' needs and making sure there are compelling advantages of visiting the websites.

The move to improve the government connectivity with the rakyat should work in tandem with the need to improve the computer penetration rates in households, an effort which was put to a grinding halt following the government's decision to abolish the EPF computer purchase withdrawal scheme due to wide spread abuse last year.

The rakyat would recall Datuk Seri Abdullah's assurance to find other ways to expand the usage of computers to ensure Malaysians were not left behind in the digital age.

Mr Prime Minister, let us kill two birds with one stone, making it more convenient and easier for the public to transact online with the government and at the same time building a knowledge-based economy and encouraging more people to own computers at homes.

Monday, November 24, 2003

UiTM and the petrol station saga

"Green belts are green belts .... please leave them alone". It's a familiar "tune" we have heard time and again over the years each time the community were locked in a "war" with local authorities on approved projects that the rakyat protested in unison, justifying their claims such projects would harm the surrounding environment.

Interestingly, UiTM was in a similar predicament over the approved construction of two petrol stations and a fast food outlet in the green belt close to its campus in Shah Alam. Its Vice-Chancellor, Prof Datuk Seri Ibrahim had said the project "must go" in the interest of the university's 43,000 students at the campus and the environment.

He went on saying about the need to preserve the environment and that it would be meaningless if the authorities refused to implement environment-friendly policies. The state government acted quickly and had on Saturday (Nov 22) ordered work on the Petronas and ProJET stations to be stopped immediately. It was also reported the contruction of the petrol stations were approved in 1999 and 2000 respectively.

One is left to wonder why this controversy only surfaced recently (after two to three years) and the speed of the state government's decision to issue a stop work order on the two petrol stations.

The rakyat favours environment-friendly policies and let's hope state governments and local authorities, including DBKL will be just as prompt in issuing stop work orders when there's a merit and justification for calls against projects that can possibly harm the environment.