, Malaysia

Data privacy is essential to building trust, further digital innovation

Vivien Mah of EY Consulting observed a great push in the world, calling for higher standards of protecting the privacy of customers.

Vivien Mah is a Partner with the EY Business Consulting team in Malaysia. Prior to joining the company in 2011, Mah was with a Big 4 consulting firm in Singapore and was part of the Asia-Pacific third-party risk and security team of an international bank, where she focused on governance, compliance, and protection controls on digital assets and information.

She currently leads large-scale transformation programmes for governance and compliance initiatives; digital audit; trust by design and global data privacy agenda.

Mah has over 16 years of experience in the fields of information technology, retail, manufacturing, and oil & gas. Her focus areas include technology risk advisory, enterprise risk management, governance and compliance, data privacy programmes and technology audit services.

She has also been an active member of the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) and is a Board of Director (2022/2023) in the ISACA Malaysia Chapter and a member of the International Association of Privacy Professionals since 2011. At the same time, she is an advocate of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusive (DE&I) agenda in EY, focused on championing the agenda of Women in Technology.

In talking about the Malaysian business landscape, Mah pointed out that the ever-changing digital world will urge organisations to address where they stand on data privacy, digital surveillance technology, encryption algorithms, artificial intelligence (AI) and facial recognition technology.

“Organisations that have deployed newer digital technologies without embedding privacy by design principles or little to no input from privacy professionals may face difficulty in regaining customers' trust if their information has been breached,” she said.

Mah spoke with Malaysia Management Excellence Awards to discuss how the consulting landscape has fared since the pandemic, how trends in management are shaping the ways of working, and how management can promote a more diverse and inclusive environment.

How do you think the Malaysia consulting industry has fared since the onset of the pandemic? How has the industry adapted to the challenges it has faced in the previous years?

The pandemic has definitely set the pace for digital acceptance and accelerated digital transformation. It has changed the way we work, the way we think and how we prioritise certain areas over others. 

Whilst the industry dealt with what we called the "great resignation" back in 2020/2021, the uncertainty over the pandemic’s effects on the economy and the high unemployment rate in 2022 have kept employees in their current jobs. However, we are currently faced with the challenge of retaining our talent in the country. The consulting industry is losing its talent to overseas entities, driven mostly by a desire for higher total pay, better career opportunities, flexibility, and international exposure.

Employees around the world, including Malaysia, now hold more sway in the job market, according to the EY 2022 Work Reimagined Survey – with more than one-third (36%) of Malaysian respondents saying they are likely to quit in the next 12 months. In response to this, many consulting organisations, including EY, have developed mobility programmes, flexibility at work and international project assignments to provide our people with the experience and the hope to retain talent in-country.

Technology and digital skill sets continue to be a challenge for the industry. The boom in digital transformation, enterprise data hubs, e-procurement, and AI technology isn’t going away anytime soon. There is too much risk around controls, security, data privacy and the right framework – tools and processes - to support these new challenges. The drive to become an “intelligent organisation” requires more than just technology. It is a fundamental transformation that sweeps across an organisation’s value chain, people, and its culture. Having the right competency and skill set to determine the right balance between technology and its underlying processes is still scarce.

What do you think are the most critical topics that organisations need to address over the next 5 years?

I am big on protecting personal data. One of the key topics for me that organisations will have to address is where they stand on data privacy, digital surveillance technology, AI, encryption algorithms and facial recognition technology. 

For example, we were anxiously waiting for the amendments to the Malaysian Personal Data Protection Act 2010 which was scheduled to be tabled at the Malaysian Parliament for approval in October 2022. The proposed amendments will strengthen our existing data privacy regulations, and this is very much needed to protect and secure our data. Organisations will not only have to consider the security aspect of this personal data but also the rights of data subjects, privacy, ethical AI, and the impact of encryption on communities and individuals. 

There is a great push around the world calling for higher standards in protecting the privacy of individuals. Organisations that have deployed newer digital technologies without embedding privacy by design principles or with little to no input from privacy professionals may face difficulty in regaining customers’ trust if their information have been breached. Data privacy and protection is more than about limiting risk, it is an essential means to build trust and power, and further digital innovation.

What do you think are the trends in management evident in the country at the moment? How can companies leverage this to improve their leadership?

Workforce diversity and work flexibility are the most talked about trends at the leadership table. More so than ever, work diversity plays an important role in attracting talent and retaining existing employees in an organisation. Employees feel that their differences are being valued and are what ultimately brings everyone together and can be the secret to a successful, thriving organisation.

The majority of employees are also seeking remote-work flexibility and say they want to work remotely at least two days per week. We see many organisations offering a work arrangement that is hybrid and flexible in where and when employees can work. This includes condensed working weeks where possible, allowing for flexible work options and equal opportunity for both men and women, and providing the support they may require. Organisations should also look at reinventing the workplace and creating a work-technology experience that provides the tools for collaboration, productivity and learning.

With more employees and companies placing greater consideration on diversity and inclusion, how do you think management can ensure an inclusive and empowering environment for their stakeholders?

I have been very privileged to be in an organisation where diversity, equity and inclusiveness are core to how we live our values. We have a very impressive ASEAN DE&I Leader and strong female role models who have impeccable leadership skills in empowering female leaders to nurture and grow in their own way.

What really works for me are the mentoring programmes/initiatives where women can freely express themselves, knowing they have a safe harbour of support. It is also essential to recognise that everyone has different starting points and it is okay to start at a point where you feel most comfortable.

Organisations can create and implement their own diversity and inclusion plan for employees to become familiar with practising diversity and inclusiveness within the workplace. At EY, we have the DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusiveness) Committee, which I am proud to be part of. Some of the initiatives being rolled out include a representative mix on the leadership team; upskilling our hiring managers to be aware of the qualities and benefits of varying backgrounds; allowing for a fair hiring process; building an inclusive environment where everyone feels a sense of belonging to the team.

What qualities are you looking for in choosing this year’s Malaysia Management Excellence Awards winners?

I am looking for a team that has demonstrated agility, authenticity, and innovation and whose initiatives have brought impactful gains – not just for the success of their business but also for beneficial outcomes for their customers, employees, and society.

Like a master who knows his craft, the team must have garnered the ability to maintain management excellence over a sustained period of time and has continued to generate original, creative and innovative business ideas.

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