What We Think
November 25, 2020
Digital to the core. A need for a digital society.
Over the past few years, Malta has continued making good advancements in technology and various efforts were launched in this regard. However, in a post-COVID world, the transition to a digital society needs to be more radical and holistic than previously imagined. This transition needs to be part of our economic recovery package with a stated priority of creating a digital society ;a truly smart island which moves away from just delivering public services online but to becoming an island that is digital to its core.
A truly smart Malta and not just as a slogan, is a Malta where people will be more empowered to live meaningful and fulfilled lives, enabled seamlessly by technology, offering exciting opportunities for all. It is where businesses can be more productive and seize new opportunities in the digital economy. It is a nation which collaborates with our international partners to deliver digital solutions and benefit people and businesses across the world. I believe that a smart Malta is integral to Malta’s next phase of nation building.
Technology disruption is a global force we must confront and harness to our advantage. Developments in digital technology present opportunities for Malta to enhance our strengths, overcome our national challenges and physical limits, and build new sources of comparative advantage. Digitalisation will be pervasive, and change life as we know it. To continue to prosper and stay relevant, Malta must embrace digitalisation and the benefits it brings. In a smart Malta, we need to move away from slogans to see proper transformation in key domains including– government services, health, transport, urban solutions, finance, and education. Malta requires a holistic, mutually reinforcing strategy to build a digital economy, a digital government and a digital society. We need to move-away form piece-meal efforts and focus on a national vision which encompasses all areas. This means every industry, business and government agency stepping up to accelerate its digitalisation efforts, to drive a whole-of-nation movement powered by a society of digitally ready citizens and communities.
Strong system foundations must be in place. Cybersecurity needs to be the bedrock to secure all our digital efforts, protect users and inspire trust in a technological future for our nation. We need a robust and flexible data management systems and processes to ensure secure data sharing for policymaking, service delivery and operations. Concurrently, we also need to level up our people and culture to best capture this opportunity. Talent has always been Malta’s competitive advantage. Individuals will need to foster a mind-set of lifelong learning to embrace change and strengthen our capabilities. Organisations will need to rethink their operating models to be more agile and bold. Government needs to remodel its processes and data warehousing. This needs to be supported by a portfolio of major national projects, such as building a robust and secure digital infrastructure, a digital identity system, a national payments architecture and a digitising process of all documents.
Going digital is a national imperative for a better future. Technology has the potential of acting as an important social leveller too. Part of the strategy needs to therefore look at digital access, digital literacy and digital participation. At its most basic, the new strategy needs to ensure that as a country we have ready access to affordable, inclusive and trustworthy infrastructure. Our population, from all strata and age groups, needs to have the motivation and skills to use digital technologies with confidence and also, we need to ensure that by using technology we will achieve a better quality of life.
Digitalisation is also about enabling new possibilities across the economy, with business growth and better jobs. Grasping these opportunities will allow Malta to develop new comparative advantages and remain a smart and thriving nation that continually attracts investments and talents to its shores. Such a strategy needs to also focus on accelerating the digital transformation of existing economic sectors, fostering new ecosystems enabled by digital technologies, and developing a next-generation digital industry in sectors such as cybersecurity as an engine of growth. For this to happen, the new strategy should be based on these four main pillars:
• Talent: To continually up-skill, re-skill and raise the digital capabilities of the workforce.
• Research and Innovation: For firms to innovate and leverage intellectual property for competitive advantage, harnessing the capabilities in our research and innovation community.
• Policy, Regulations and Standards: To ensure that our policy and regulatory environment, including the environment for data innovation, is globally competitive in a digital world.
• Physical and Digital Infrastructure: To ensure that connectivity, platforms, data and other infrastructure support the growth of the digital economy.
This journey that such a digital strategy should herald should endeavour to truly transform Malta through technology. Technology is only a means to an end, to enable significant improvements in how we live, work and play. We cannot simply apply the latest technologies on top of our existing processes and organisations. It will require a fundamental rethink of our long-held assumptions and how we operate. I do hope that over the coming years our priority is to harness technology to address national challenges and drive transformation in key domains: health, education, transport, urban solutions, and finance.
•Health. Our healthcare system needs to move beyond healthcare to health, as Maltese will be better equipped and empowered to take care of their own health. Healthcare services, where they are needed, will be delivered efficiently. Lots of Maltese are already using wearable devices or smartphones to monitor their health and activities, and this data can empower individuals and inform service delivery.
•Education. Digital technology unlocks a new realm of self-directed and collaborative learning. Relationships between students, teachers and parents, as well as capabilities of the physical infrastructure are augmented to create a holistic and conducive environment for effective learning. Routine and repetitive tasks are automated to help educators focus on the work that matters. In the long run, we will need to rethink our philosophies, content and modality of learning as technology evolves.
• Transport. Data analytics, smart systems and modal systems are key solutions for the future of transport planning and operations. Our roads and transport system will be optimised, making traffic smoother, public transport more comfortable and reliable, and the air cleaner with less need for private cars.
•Urban Solutions. Our homes and estates will be safer, more comfortable and more sustainable. The use of sensors and smart systems will improve the effectiveness of municipal services, save energy and ensure sustainable use of resources.
•Financial services. Malta needs to re-establish itself as a regional financial hub, powered by financial institutions that readily adopt fintech solutions for better customer service, greater efficiencies in trade finance, strengthened supervision and reduced compliance cost.
At its core, the digital strategy is about empowering our people. Understandably, there might be some fears and tensions about technology destabilising livelihoods, raising costs and increasing vulnerabilities. However, if we identify these challenges and tackle them head on, technology can result in better jobs and business opportunities, more security and improvement of livelihoods.
We urgently require a national digital strategy as part of our economic recovery and long-term vision for the island. One that sees Malta transform itself into a smart island whereby we truly re-align and re-focus on establishing a digital economy; a digital government that transitions into more than just online service delivery and transforms its culture and ethic and a digital society whereby everyone is connected seamlessly through technology. This should be the focus of the strategy and it must ensure that the foundations are built. Only then can we truly aspire to be a digital island.