Technology is one of four pillars, the others being transformation, transition and talent, that should serve as the foundation of a renewed and focused vision for Malta’s economy. Going digital is no longer simply part of how an economy functions – it is the economy.
The reality of COVID-19 has brought to the fore our reliance on technology. Remote working is now a reality for many; online education is the norm for students; web-based meetings have replaced the need for commuting and travelling; and webinars have replaced events. Despite all of this, there is still much more that needs to be done as a country to truly become an entrenched digital economy and society.
Over the past decades, Malta has invested heavily in technology and ICT and this was pivotal in attracting and growing key sectors to the island, including financial services, remote gaming and others. The government was a key driver for Malta to embrace digital transformation and, at a point in time, Malta was considered a pioneer in eGovernment services. Much has been done and achieved, yet there is still a lot that needs to be done.
The government needs to be a key promoter of the national digital transformation effort that needs to be under way and, in many cases, it has to be the first mover and prime buyer of such services. As a country, we need to do more to ensure that the public service becomes digital to the core and continues rolling out more services online.
However, more effort is needed to ensure that there is a complete digital infrastructure supporting all transactions including but not limited to a proper robust digital identity, the use of digital signatures and a complete digital health records system, including the use of electronic prescriptions.
Now is the time to ensure that the government also starts utilising blockchain as a platform for efficiency-gains across the government.
This emphasis has also been made by the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for digital economy who is pushing for a complete digital transformation. The public private partnership agency Tech.Mt and the MDIA are both focused on supporting this transition. MFSA’s digital transformation for a more transparent, clearer and efficient working method should also be replicated across other central Government bodies and agencies.
Digitalisation is vital to our businesses in terms of raising productivity, driving top-line growth, reaping value in adjacencies, harnessing new ecosystems and accessing new markets overseas. It takes more than just using the latest technologies – it involves transforming business models and rethinking operating approaches to take full advantage of the capabilities that digital offers.
The government needs to focus on a citizen-centric strategy which allows access, literacy and participation- JP Fabri
For this to happen, businesses and the digital ecosystem need a supportive ecosystem including cybersecurity resilience, digital infrastructure, the right talent pool, access to grants and a robust electronic payment and financial services infrastructure.
Going forward, digital transformation will open up opportunities for Malta on three fronts: new industries, new markets and new jobs.
The impact of technology goes far beyond industrial and economic applications. It will improve our everyday lives and we must ensure that everyone can benefit from it. We need to equip everyone with access to technology and, more importantly, the skills that are needed to use that technology – actively, meaningfully and safely.
Technology needs to be seen as a bridge towards inclusion and, therefore, the government needs to focus on a citizen-centric strategy which allows access, literacy and participation.
Measures need to be directed towards reducing the digital divide to truly empower our population to embrace the full benefits of technology.
As we start looking at the post COVID-19 world, we need to consider tech-enabled mechanisms for economic resilience. While disruptions to international supply chains exacerbated shortages in personal protective equipment, technologies such as 3D printing have helped with rapid prototyping and production of face shields.
Machine learning should be the basis of our health system’s ability to track, trace, monitor and manage COVID-positive cases and outbreaks. And numerous tech platforms today supply brick-and-mortar businesses with diverse options for delivery and fulfilment.
Examining the question of how tech can enable and build resilience could help us prepare for emergencies in the future and to build a future-proof economy. This should be a national vision and the appetite is there; the opposition has also highlighted the need of a digital society to become entrenched.
There is a great deal to unpack in each one of the above topics and they are by no means exhaustive. As a country, we need to come together and allow digitisation to act as a catalyst for building an agile and future-proof economy.
JP Fabri is a partner at Seed.
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