MALAYSIA - unlike Hong Kong - has been making great strides in the use of electronic data interchange (EDI). Much of the success of EDI's introduction has followed the appointment of Kamarudin Abu Bakar to the post of chief operating officer at EDI Malaysia. Since Mr Bakar took on the job last January, he has installed a Unisys UNIX system running INS software. His job was simplified when the Ministry of Trade and Industry took hold of the reins of ADS and EDI. (ADS is a system based on the United Nations Layout Key, which simplifies the preparation of standardised trade documents.) The government and the National Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia (NCCIM) have signed a 15-year joint development agreement with EDI Malaysia to implement the system countrywide. ''In some ways, we rushed [things] because of VADS, another firm out here, which claims it offers EDI,'' said Mr Bakar. ''We wanted to demonstrate what EDI really is, [to also] service businesses, push the initiative of ADS and give a basis to a real EDI community.'' Already on offer are two key services called Dagang Net. Apart from electronic mail facilities, the EDI service conforms to the internationally agreed UN EDIFACT standard. By linking into EDI Malaysia, businesses can transmit structured commercial documents to each other, oblivious of the other's hardware and software formats. Dagang Net acts as a clearing house. The three major requirements were that the system had to be regarded as ''open'', have X400 communications compliance, and be a proven product. EDI Malaysia chose a U6000 solution from Unisys running INS - a proven EDI software product developed by ICL and GE Information Systems. The system uses two U6000s - one as a disaster recovery unit, and disk mirroring technology with storage of more than five gigabytes. He said EDI Malaysia was driven by software rather than hardware, with the exception being open systems - in this case UNIX - being vital. ''Later, when we want to expand our services, it'll be much easier. We can put virtually any database on the system to run what we want,'' said Mr Bakar. But he said he was under no illusions about how successful EDI would be. He said: ''The benefits of EDI are real, but the difficulties are real, too. The difficult question is that of consensus and getting companies and institutions to accept it. To derive benefits, these have to be accompanied by change and change is always difficult.'' ''While EDI Malaysia is the only company in the country to hold a licence for EDI services, it is made up of private investors and profit is another driving force. ''It's the sort of system that could take time to make a profit but also it's the sort of system that could snowball into success,'' said Mr Bakar.