Malta is already being put on the map as a location for international ICT research and development as activities incorporated in the ICT Gozo Malta project are marketed at important events, Synaptic Laboratories chief executive officer Ron Kelson and project manager David Pace told The Sunday Times.
Launched earlier this month, the ICT Gozo Malta project is a network working to support, attract and co-ordinate local and international ICT and research and development collaboration. Its scope includes information exchange and technology transfer, product promotion and commercialisation, and ICT demonstration projects with global marketing potential.
Based in Gozo, the project was co-founded by the Gozo Business Chamber and Synaptic Laboratories, an IT research and development firm specialising in cyber security led by Australian directors.
The project is the result of a community-driven volunteer effort, with its first phase part-financed by the Gozo Ministry under the ‘eco-Gozo’ initiative, and the Gozo Business Chamber.
Mr Kelson and Mr Pace said immediate business opportunities created by the project include direct collaboration of local companies and individuals in the early phases of development of a broad portfolio of technologies under foreign- or Maltese-funded contract bids.
“These collaborations would constitute ‘early bird’ membership of the first cluster of excellence and provide international showcasing of local talent and resources,” Mr Kelson added.
“Direct funding support by businesses or the government of one or more of the projects would create a local dynamic which would ensure Malta’s participation in these cutting-edge technologies is guaranteed. As the technology proposals are very advanced, the strongest interest in participation comes from the US and UK, where the importance and relevance of the designs has been most readily verified.”
Malta’s potential as a centre for international research and development is already being showcased at important events – Synaptic Laboratories was recently invited to participate in the United States National Cyber Security Summit, an invitation-only event which explored the problems and solutions for the protection of all of the US’s national critical and essential infrastructures.
In its entirely, the project is ambitious and broad, and its purpose is described as being the creation of a one-stop shop for innovation, research and development, support, collaboration and investment.
Mr Pace explains that the project has already brought together government officials and key people in industry and academia with a shared vision to enhance and encourage the local ICT industry.
At the core of the project is the portal at www.ictgozomalta.eu, a platform allowing any interested party to share information about its capabilities. The website will also act as a showcase for the advantages of doing business with Malta and to share ICT Gozo Malta’s innovative ideas and projects with export potential for both local and foreign audiences.
“We will provide a skills register to establish the range of skills and experience suitable to support exciting new ICT projects locally,” Mr Pace explained. “In Synaptic Laboratories we already have a research and development company willing to engage local ICT educational institutions, firms and people with recognised development skills in Gozo and Malta. Through direct collaboration, Synaptic Laboratories offers the opportunity to develop the ICT industry further through local participation in international contract bids that are already identified, and where eligibility to bid has already been established with the relevant foreign funding sources.”
Mr Pace said the targeted projects would have high international visibility, further promoting the network and the ICT industry. It was only though local support by ICT professionals, businesses and government that such a concept could become a reality, he stressed.
Mr Pace added that the project was being guided by an advisory board composed of representatives of government agencies, education and commerce. The board will help develop the business plan to build the membership and explore Maltese funding opportunities besides those identified overseas.
Meanwhile, ICT Gozo Malta is tapping existing initiatives in Gozo and the e-Skills Alliance – the multi-stakeholder partnership led by MITA which is tasked with ensuring the required skills set is available to the business community.
Additionally, ICT Gozo Malta is carrying out surveys of ICT connectivity and ICT student/graduate skills. The results will support the project’s claims that both islands boast the necessary talent pool, physical infrastructure, local industry stakeholders, and government support and participation – a crucial requirement for major international companies.
These factors will encourage international players to participate in the project and possibly sway their decision towards opening offices locally and recruiting here.
Mr Kelson pointed out that Synaptic Labs already had a network of international companies with a direct interest in participation in existing research and development security project bids submitted by his firm.
Some would initially be virtual due to their size or location, but given Synaptic Labs’ commitment to further develop the local ICT industry and maximise the local benefits from their international activities – besides owning the intellectual property involved – Synaptic Labs saw potential for these relationships to develop into third parties establishing a local physical presence in Gozo – or Smart City Malta in the case of larger firms.
“Engagement and close collaboration between the project team and key agencies, educational establishments and chambers will provide us with the direct means to arrange for international companies and investors to conduct their enquiries and research into the potential for active involvement in projects and into the proposed cluster, particularly into Malta Enterprise, the Malta Council for Science and Technology, the Malta Information Technology Agency, and the Malta Communications Authority,” Mr Kelson added.
Mr Kelson and Mr Pace said the scope of the projects covered a significant area of ICT: from security of communications for regular internet as well as Galileo, the European project, to protection of industrial control systems and smart grids. They believe that if any of the contract bids under preparation are successful, they will attract significant international interest from industry, governments, the military and large international programmes and collaborations.
The project will also actively promote the potential for local businesses and people to submit their own proposals which could feasibly be exported.
Mr Kelson and Mr Pace envisaged the project becoming a source of inspiration for new ideas for innovation: through its web presence alone, it has already directly attracted the potential for other industries to relocate to Gozo to carry out research and development activities, they said.
“Although the focus is on ICT, the potential is to build a multi-discipline environment for research and development, such as in renewable energy,” they emphasised.
The project has a low-cost approach as it centres on technology ideas and people, rather than real estate. Synaptic Laboratories boasts cutting edge designs with global potential which Mr Kelson and Mr Pace said are ready for development and commercialisation. Through these designs and the relevant contract bids with local participation, the ICT Gozo Malta project has a realistic quick start opportunity, they said.
Among the project’s wider aims is to form and develop a cluster of excellence, particularly in cyber security and future internet. Both, Mr Pace explained, are inherently interlinked as the future internet was not just a new concept for networking globally but aimed to overcome many current security weaknesses.
The cluster of excellence is the longer term objective, although Synaptic Laboratories already had a network of international ICT and specialist security companies with a direct interest in participation into their existing research and development projects.
It was hoped some could be encouraged to set up a presence in Gozo or Malta, creating roles that are currently scarce locally. The cluster would also contribute to the provision of expertise in new technologies and development of new educational streams and collaborations with overseas universities.
Mr Pace described the ICT industry in Gozo as still in its infancy, with small development houses and retail businesses, but it boasted a highly skilled pool of graduates and promising students. ICT Gozo Malta hoped to provide the impetus for the creation of new opportunities and expansion to offer roles candidates really aspired to.
Gozo, he added, offered a suitable environment for research and development as it maximised quality of life for key researchers and minimised the risk for confidential technical information to be shared inadvertently. Additionally, Mr Pace said, Gozo complemented business locations like Smart City Malta.
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