It is no secret that Malta’s economy has embarked on an unprecedented path towards growth over the past years. One of the most significant catalysts for this, has been the uptake of digital innovation in all aspects of life. The Malta Digital Innovation Authority (MDIA) is the national Authority tasked with directing and facilitating the secure and optimal uptake of digital innovation. caught up with Jean Marie Mifsud, Chief Innovative Technology Officer who is responsible for promoting such emerging digital innovations, through a series of initiatives.

“Our aim is to help businesses make the best of the great opportunities available out there, that can give them the cutting edge over their peers. This is attained via proportionate necessary regulation, as well as a series of funding opportunities available,” Dr Mifsud explains.

In fact, it is an exciting time for Dr Mifsud and her team at the MDIA, as they are now getting closer to launching the complete operation of Malta’s first digital innovation hub, which will gather a host of services and opportunities for businesses under one roof.

“In reality, we have been offering related services for a while now, so in many ways, the hub has been partially operational, however now we are getting close to launching the official premises of DiHubMT, Malta’s European Digital Innovation Hub through which we can better offer our services,” Dr Mifsud clarifies.

Jean Marie Mifsud

The EU and nationally Funded hub will offer facilities for businesses to dry run their digital innovation ideas in a safe environment, while being inspired and guided by the best minds in the field.

“At the MDIA, we are great advocates of testing before investing, and this has proven to be a solid piece of advice we give to our clients. It is always advisable to test the waters before jumping into the deep end and see if the idea will work in the long run. We are aware that research and development is not cheap, and that is why we are setting up DiHubMT, to assist in this process.”

European Digital Innovation Hubs are a Europe-wide network of one-stop shops, aimed at supporting companies and public sector organisations to respond to digital challenges. They support companies to improve their processes on the ground, using digital technologies in a safe test environment. At the hub, companies will also be able to avail themselves of training in areas which are not necessarily directly related to digital innovation but go very much hand in hand.

“As part of our service offering, we will be providing business planning advice. We believe that such skills, though not directly related to digital transformation are central to the success of commercial ventures, so we are eager to offer a 360 degree support-system to our fledgling start-ups.”

The importance of networking is underlined every step of the way at the hub. “The value of clashing ideas and learning from each other is paramount in this process. We want to nurture an environment of collaboration where participants help each other, as they understand that they have more to gain from sharing, than otherwise,” Dr Mifsud continues.

Moreover, the MDIA manages a number of funding initiatives aimed at students, postgraduates as well as the private sector.

“Pathfinder is a digital scholarship offered by the MDIA to postgraduate students who want to further their studies in Artificial Intelligence and other emerging technologies. Through this scholarship, the MDIA has already helped over 60 students read for a Masters  or PhD, hence ensuring that the country will have the necessary skill sets in the labour market in the future.”

“MDIA also offers MARG, an applied research grant focussed on a number of key research areas including AI, Digital Trust, Quantum Computing and technologies for sustainability and environmental, social and governance (ESG).  The overall objective of this grant is to support capacity-building efforts, specifically encouraging the adoption of such technologies by the public and private sectors, as well as collaboration between academia and commercial entities,” Dr Mifsud expounds.

The MDIA is also responsible for the oversight of the National AI Strategy. Published in 2019, the national strategy comprised 72 action points, of which 80 per cent have already been fully or partially implemented. The strategy aims to map a path for Malta to gain a competitive advantage in the field, becoming a leader in the sector.

Jean Marie Mifsud

“The strategy is built on three strategic pillars which focus on boosting investment, innovation, and adoption of the technology. Through horizontal enablers that cut across these pillars, the strategy ensures that it is inclusive and does not leave any segment of society behind. Through various initiatives, that we have already implemented, we are already seeing the strategy happening and taking place in front of our eyes. In fact, we are now at a re-evaluation stage to take stock of the encouraging results obtained and recalibrate our efforts towards more ambitious targets for the future,” Dr Mifsud explains.

She also sheds light on the work carried out by the MDIA with regards to the introduction of a European Digital Identity Wallet, which will bring the Digital Decade 2030 targets on the digitalisation of public services closer. The regulation was approved by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU earlier this year. In simple terms, all EU citizens will be offered the possibility to have an EU Digital Identity Wallet to access voluntarily public and private online services in full security and protection of personal data all over Europe.

“Ultimately, as an Authority we are tasked with cheering on development while safeguarding the rights of citizens and businesses alike. We all know how topics such as AI and digital transformation may bring with them a certain element of discussion which often is the result of lack of information. We take this very seriously and seek to ensure the necessary balance between enthusiasm and safeguarding citizens through sound regulation,” Dr Mifsud concludes.

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Dr Jean Marie Mifsud

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Written By

Edward Bonello

Edward Bonello is a content writer, PR consultant and generally chill fellow. When he’s not happily tapping away at his laptop, he enjoys collecting useless trivia, watching B-movies, and cooking the most decent carbonara this side of Trastevere.