The Malta Independent 3 December 2021, Friday

National ICT Strategy to be launched in January

Malta Independent Tuesday, 19 November 2013, 09:00 Last update: about 8 years ago

The main objectives of the National ICT Strategy are for citizens, businesses and government to use technology to improve the quality of life and to create value-adding jobs. The strategy, which covers the period 2014 – 2020, addresses Malta’s needs to harness the power of ICT to move into fifth gear and become an innovative economy.  Importantly, the strategy aligns itself with the Digital Agenda for Europe and the EU programming period 2014-2020.

The strategy builds upon several positive points within this sector.   ICT contributes to 5.2% of the national Gross Domestic Product which is among the highest in Europe. There is political consensus on ICT development and the strategy comes at a time when society is embracing technological changes and advancements.

Malta Information Technology Agency (MITA) Head of Strategy and Planning, Emanuel Darmanin explains that market data published by the Malta Communications Authority at the beginning of the month indicates that the island continues to experience competition growth in electronic communications markets.   Against a backdrop of declining prices, internet connectivity and mobile telephony markets grew significantly in terms of take-up and usage levels in the first half of 2013. The number of fixed broadband subscriptions reached well over 140,000, at the end of June, an increase of around 6% when compared to June 2012. Meanwhile, even the number of end-users actively using their mobile broadband subscription climbed from an average of 219,000 to 244,000.

“The availability of more innovative data plans and the continued proliferation of smart phones, tablets and other mobile data-enabled devices have been the major forces behind these increases.  Dropping prices and the bundling of services played an important role to boost take-up, especially for products supporting higher download and upload speeds and improved download allowances,” he says.

In drafting the strategy, a number of areas that require to be improved were also been identified. Among them is the need for better investment optimisation, and a below average take-up of e-government services in spite of the good supply. Consultations with the stakeholders revealed that the online services deployed to date are not easy to use.  Most people have highlighted that they find internet-banking services much simpler to use in spite of the onus of having to identify themselves electronically. The need to travel to Evans Building for an e-ID may deter people from using government online services.

Another limitation is that the local content available is very restricted and users are constrained to consult foreign websites or books even when searching for something which for instance, has to do with Maltese language.

Mr Darmanin continues: “The island also needs to bridge the gap between the work-force skills required and the training being provided at our schools and colleges.  This is the case in various aspects of the industry, in particular the digital gaming industry where companies setting up shop in Malta have to resort to foreigners because they are not finding the right people locally.”

Another challenge is that our online connectivity depends on other countries, which means that when a problem arises at source, we may be affected.

The fact that Malta is a small island presents challenges in terms of limited market size. But this also gives us the opportunity to implement more holistically, and the island is ideal to be used as a show-case and for implementing pilot projects.

He explains that the Digital Malta strategy is built upon principles which assume that the benefits emerging from the implementation of ICT should not be limited to a particular sector, but must be beneficial to all the population.  The strategy supports national targets, promotes active engagement of the private sector and emphasises on the need for collaboration between the different stakeholders.   There should be accountability and value optimisation and the principle of innovation (in technology and processes) should be underlying all that is done.

Digital Malta builds on three strategic pillars at its foundation which are: Digital Citizen, Digital Business and Digital Government.  There is also the need for three underlying critical enablers:  the proper legislative and regulatory framework, the right ICT infrastructure, and adequately trained human resources.

“The strategic pillars and enablers are linked because, in reality, you cannot have simplification of processes (a government commitment) if you don’t have the adequate ICT infrastructure and people with the right mindset and skills,” Mr Darmanin notes.

The strategy will, above all, focus on the challenges which we need to take up to address the gaps towards becoming a universally digitised society.

He said that from a Digital Citizen’s perspective this will mean translating digital capability into better and more accessible healthcare and social services, bridging the digital divide, connecting the elderly and socially excluded, improving education for all, and reducing barriers for vulnerable groups.  For instance, technology can be used to alert relatives when elderly are not feeling well. This will lead to quality of life improvements. 

“From a Digital Business standpoint, the strategy will help the local ICT industry become more competitive; will support young entrepreneurs and local businesses (particularly Small to Medium Enterprises) to be more innovative, grow, globalise and overcome our country’s limited physical boundaries; and to attract more foreign multi-nationals to come to Malta.  This way more wealth and quality jobs can be created,” he says.

From a Digital Government perspective, processes will be simplified and public administration will become more efficient and more responsive to citizen and business needs.  An open government mantra will be embraced which will make public administration more transparent and ready to involve citizens and businesses in government’s decision making.

Mr Darmanin explained that in this context it is important that the right legislative framework is in place to protect all internet users, facilitate data exchanges among companies and governments, and protect intellectual property and the rights of individuals to access and make use of the Internet as a tool for their empowerment.

“Since Next Generation and Broadband networks are the basis of all data traffic and communications on the Internet, investing in international connectivity and the data link between Malta and Gozo is crucial.  Equally important is the strengthening and protecting of government network and information systems backbone.”

The People Enabler addresses the need for building specialist skills, integrating critical skills across educational and formative experiences, strengthening the capabilities of our workforce, increasing female participation and developing Malta into a regional hub for quality e-Skills education, amongst others.

The strategy has been positioned as a policy framework and will therefore guide sectoral areas (such as education, healthcare, transportation and tourism) to make strong use of digital technology in delivering their mandate.  In addition to the strategy the team will also publish a separate document listing the projects that will be implemented each year towards the attainment of the strategy. 

Asked on the need for such a strategy, Mr Darmanin said: “It is always important to have a vision and a strategy.  If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up wasting your time.   A strategy is therefore a roadmap to guide you reach new heights.  We are living in such a fast paced world - with disruptive technologies and emerging needs becoming the norm - that any strategy now needs to be re-calibrated on an ongoing basis.  This is also the reason why the projects that will contribute towards the attainment of the strategy will be planned on a year-to-year basis.”

He said that in developing the strategy, the team right-away adopted an open approach.  Two stages of consultations were held.  During the first stage three workshops were organized revolving around the needs of the citizens, enterprises and government; a fourth workshop was then held for the general public.  The feedback received was compiled into a document.  The second stage of consultations involved focused bi-lateral meetings with key stakeholders who would eventually be involved in the implementation of relevant actions within the strategy.  “This open engaging approach will strengthen ownership and will continue during the life-time of the strategy so that we can capitalize on crowd-sourcing and at the same time keep the strategy current and relevant” Mr Darmanin states.  “Therefore, sectors which have not been involved so far (as well as those that have), may continue to give feedback even after the strategy is published,” he said.

Among the entities that to-date have provided feedback there have been citizens, NGOs, SMEs and business enterprises, multi-national firms, government ministries, the European Commission, training institutions, Chamber of Commerce, University, MCAST, Malta Enterprise and the Malta Council for Science and Technology.  Unions and employers were invited for the workshops and a number attended.

MITA has a key role to play in implementing the strategy.  One initiative that Mr Darmanin mentioned is the setting up during 2014 of a multi-stakeholder based innovation centre at Smart City.

Asked whether Malta will ever be a digital island by the end of the strategy, Mr Darmanin answered that the more the application of digital technology grows, the more there will be a demand for further use of ICT in daily activities.   “Whilst our objective is for Malta to become a forerunner in the digital economy, there is no end goal, there will always be yet another step that can be facilitated through technology,” Mr Darmanin argued in conclusion.

 

The Digital Malta social media channels on Facebook (/DigitalMalta), Twitter (@DigitalMalta) and YouTube (/DigitalMalta) will remain open.  More information on the strategy is available on the Digital Malta page on MITA’s website: www.mita.gov.mt/digitalmalta.

 

Profile:

Emanuel Darmanin, Head, Strategy and Planning at MITA and chairperson of the committee drafting the national strategy, joined MITA in 1994. Since then has occupied various senior management positions including that of Chief Information Officer. 

He graduated as an Electrical Engineer from the University of Malta in 1989.  In 2000, he gained an MBA from Henley Management College and in 2006 an MA in Creativity and Innovation from the University of Malta.

Over the years he was responsible for ICT Governance, Service Management, Information Security and Risk Management, Contracting and Supplier Management, and Project Management.  Prior to joining MITA he worked in the public sector and the private sector, enjoying work experiences both locally and abroad. 

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