2020 I ISSUE 2
CROSSING THE POND Shane Hunter P36
STAY UP TO DATA Daniel Grech P48
DIGITALTO THECORE JP Fabri P56
DON’T RISK A BYTE Nick Parfitt P32
COVE R STORY
THE NEW KID ON THE BLOCK In this ‘new normal’ COVID-19 tech world, how has Tech.mt coped during the pandemic? P10
Thinking outside the box Gege Gatt P24
A SCREENSHOT OF THE
Joshua Ellul P16
In association with
COV E R
The new kid on the block.
In this ‘new normal’ COVID-19 tech world, read how Tech.mt coped during the pandemic page 10
It’s a hard drive… and a long ride It’s a hard drive and a long ride… but we’ll get
there. The pandemic has changed the way we work and increased the need for digital systems that cover the requirements for companies and their employees to embrace this change. Some companies are also seeking ways to make life easier for citizens to go about their lives as we continue to ride out the storm. Jordan Portelli looks at the fact that technology-oriented businesses have found methods to hold steady and even thrive in a COVID-19 world. And once COVID-19 is the talk of the town, we look at the positive side of it. We run a feature on the future outlook for the iGaming, technology, aviation and financial industries - which is even more optimistic. Tech.mt caught up with Julian Perigo to discuss Boston Link’s recent research into the 2020 recruitment market in Malta. While on the subject, patients have long required to connect with their healthcare practitioners online during the pandemic while seeking the digital health revolution, and Tabib.mt set out to achieve just that. Dayna Camilleri Clarke speaks to Dylan Attard, co-founder of Tabib.mt on this exciting new platform. However, it is made clear in the article that this platform is not here to replace physical consultations.
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Our stringer, Dayna, also catches up with Chris Borg, Steve Scerri and Nicole Borg, the brains behind the popular mobile application start-up, Vioside, as they pave the future with successful and user-friendly mobile software development. With regards to apps, discover the latest mobility service to hit our islands – Ryde and on digging deeper, find out who are the digital nomads and what they look for when choosing a destination and what their perception is of Malta in our feature entitled ‘Nomads Land’.
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Tech.mag is published by Be Communications Ltd. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part is strictly prohibited without written permission. Opinions expressed within Tech.mag are not necessarily those of the editor or publisher. All reasonable care is taken to ensure truth and accuracy, but the editor and publishers cannot be held responsible for errors or omissions in articles, advertising, photographs or illustrations.
DAYNA CLARKE is a senior speech therapist by day and feature-writer by night. When she’s not busy fixing words, she is travelling the world to add to her fridge magnet collection.
THEO DIX is a manager at EY providing strategy consultancy and transaction advisory services. He supported the Malta.AI Taskforce in its work to develop a National Strategy on Artificial Intelligence and formed part of the ‘Investment, Startups and Innovation AI Working Group’.
JP FABRI is a founding partner at Seed, a boutique advisory practice. An economist by profession, he is also a visiting assistant lecturer at the University of Malta.
DANIEL GRECH is an entrepreneur and technologist specialising in datadriven applications. As co-founder and CEO of Wyzer, he is currently responsible for the overall vision, technical development, and strategic management of the company.
JORDAN PORTELLI is an economist and a portfolio manager for a local asset management company.
GISELLE BORG OLIVIER is a freelance writer, proofreader and social media marketer who survives on Instagram and cappuccino.
RICKY BUGEJA is a social media manager at Keen - specialising in connecting businesses with their target audiences through digital advertising, social media management and brand strategy.
VERONICA STIVALA is a freelance writer and editor. She won the IGM Award for her work on Ethical and Positive Disability in 2016.
IN THIS ISSUE 02
ISSUE 10 16 20
>> C O V E R S T O R Y
The new kid on the block
In this ‘new normal’ COVID-19 tech world, how has Tech.mt coped during the pandemic? Dayna Camilleri Clarke finds out.
24 >> A I
Thinking outside the box >> A I
>> P A Y M E N T S
A screenshot of the MDIA
It pays to trust
MDIA chairman, Dr Joshua Ellul sat with Giselle Borg Olivier to delve into the function and need of such an Authority.
Dayna Camilleri Clarke interviews John Pace, chief business development officer at Trust Payments Malta.
Dayna Camilleri Clarke speaks to Dr Gege Gatt, chief executive officer of the London-based company; he is also a digital entrepreneur and IT-Law specialist.
30 32 36 40 >> A I
>> C Y B E R S E C U R I T Y
>> B I O - T E C H
>> T E C H F O R G O O D
Don’t risk a byte
Crossing the pond
Giselle Borg Olivier asks Claudio Cauchi, head of development at Ascent Software, about his views on the increasing use of AI in our lives.
Giselle Borg Olivier spoke to Nick Parfitt, head of market planning at Acuris Risk Intelligence to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes when it comes to weeding out the criminals.
Dayna Camilleri Clarke caught up with Shane Hunter, chief executive officer to find out the secrets to their resounding success at AquaBioTech Group.
Tech.mag met up with Dr May Agius, a highly specialised speech and language therapist within ACTU (Access to Communication and Technology Unit) and a senior visiting lecturer at the University of Malta.
44 48 50 52 >> A I
>> A U T O M A T I O N
>> S T A R T - U P
Is artificial intelligence biased?
Stay up to data
Let’s go for a Ryde
A doctor’s calling
Veronica Stivala speaks to artificial intelligence (AI) expert Dr Charlie Abela to find out whether AI can be prejudiced.
Daniel Grech, an entrepreneur and technologist, co-founder and CEO at Wyzer, analysis cognitive automation in the age of artificial intelligence.
Dayna Camilleri Clarke talks to Chris Mifsud about the latest mobility service to hit our islands.
Dayna Camilleri Clarke speaks to Dylan Attard, co-founder of Tabib.mt.
54 56 60 62 >> S T A R T - U P
>> S T R A T E G Y
>> B U S I N E S S
>> F I N T E C H
See you on the (Vio)side
Digital to the core
A silver lining
A digital future
Dayna Camilleri Clarke caught up with Chris Borg, Steve Scerri and Nicole Borg, the brains behind the popular mobile application start-up, Vioside.
>> B L O C K C H A I N
Storming out of the blocks
Did it ever occur to you that Blockchain could pay a vital role in tracing green gas house emissions? Find out more as JP Fabri explains how Blockchain technology fits the bill.
Do you feel that the COVID transition tied to a digital society is good enough? J.P. Fabri explains to Tech.mag that this transition needs to be part of our economic recovery.
>> N O M A D S
Malta could very well be the next stop for digital nomads. Daniel Goebel and Minou Schillings, digital entrepreneurs, speak to Tech.mag on this phenomenon and on some projects including CoCohub, a community of digital nomads also operating in Malta.
While selective sectors were facing an unprecedented scenario with a notable liquidity squeeze, technology-oriented businesses have found methods to hold steady and even thrive in a COVID-19 world. Jordan Portelli explains.
Theo Dix looks at the change the world is going through due to the pandemic that has changed the business landscape, some in a positive way, others not so much.
70 >> S O C I A L M E D I A
Ramping out your instagram
Ricky Bugeja offers some essential tips on how to optimise your presence on the platform.
72 >> GADGETS
Cutting-edge design, advanced technology and beautiful objects. Tech.mag helps you invest in creativity.
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FRI 25TH DEC CLOSED
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C U S T O M E R
PA R K I N G
Gorg Borg Olivier Street, St Julian’s t. 2137 8520
Spinola Park, St Julian’s t. 2138 1055
The new kid on the block T EC H
In this ‘new normal’ COVID-19 tech world, how has Tech.mt coped during the pandemic? Dayna Camilleri Clarke finds out. 10
n the wake of the pandemic, Tech.mt quickly realised the need to support companies and revised its strategy as an entity to help them transition to the digital world. If there were ever a strong need for the entity, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s precisely now. COVID-19 has undoubtedly put many entities in a difficult position, and it has strained many businesses in terms of consumer and investor demand. But it has also encouraged change, and, fortunately, Malta can boast of resilient infrastructure and solid management styles within the tech sector and beyond. Considering its wide array of responsibilities and the multiple projects it coordinates, Tech.mt has genuinely covered all facets of society. From stimulating businesses to go digital and pushing for more women in digital job-related employment to bridging the digital divide and ensuring children are safe online, Tech.mt has managed to stay fully abreast of the pandemic. This has enabled Tech.mt to embark on an aggressive campaign helping companies move online, with the guidance given on how to create online stores, as well as revamp operations to incorporate digital processes in deliveries, logistics and management systems.Â
IN THE WAKE OF THE PANDEMIC, TECH.MT REVISED ITS STRATEGY AS THE ENTITY QUICKLY REALISED THE NEED TO BE OF ASSISTANCE TO COMPANIES TO HELP THEM IN THE TRANSITION TO THE DIGITAL WORLD 12
WHAT EXACTLY HAS TECH.MT BEEN DOING?
• Tech.mt have successfully signposted several businesses in the right direction when it comes to grants and incentives to be able to take their business online / digitalise their processes. • They have assisted firms in optimising their outlook so that they can attract a wider variety of consumers, including those abroad. In this way, they have immediately embarked on putting Malta on the digital map for new technology. • Tech.mt have also proactively engaged in generating a new era of enhanced collaboration and shared agendas on both a local and international platform. • Tech.mt has firmly pledged its commitment to ensuring that those left behind continue to receive opportunities to be able to cope with the digital transformation COVID-19 has brought to bear. This can be seen through several initiatives which are in the pipeline, targeting various segments of society such as the elderly, vulnerable girls and young women, lower-income families, and local businesses. • Tech.mt also believes in limiting the divergence between tech-savvy companies and small businesses which struggle to cope with offering their services online. To this end, Tech. mt has proactively encouraged firms from all MONEY
sectors of the economy to adopt the process of digitisation by organising informative webinars and providing advice and support to all businesses. • While many conferences and large gatherings have been cancelled due to COVID-19, nurturing local growth and attracting FDI remained top of the list for Tech.mt through regular participation in online seminars, summits and webinars. This allowed local tech companies to showcase their work and provide them with a platform to celebrate their successes.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR TECH.MT?
Tech.mt is the official face of Malta’s digital efforts and the much-needed guide and mentor to help founders, innovators, technologists and investors land on solid ground within the Maltese ecosystem. They remain committed to ensuring that technology is used as a tool to empower digital innovation and establish Malta as a European model for the deployment and promotion of emerging technologies. Tech.mt pledge to drive technology transformations in the most resilient, inclusive, and effective manner possible, the entity strongly believes that through digital skill building, there is enormous potential in boosting the contribution digitally skilled workers can contribute to Malta’s economy. Another core pillar for Tech.mt is limiting the
divergence between tech-savvy businesses and small businesses which struggle to cope with offering their services online. Tech.mt will continue to assist companies from all sectors of the economy to adopt the process of digitisation. Looking at Malta’s key players behind its shift towards a digital economy, there is a clear opportunity for enhanced collaboration in which various elements may be addressed. Tech.mt strives to give significant impetus to convergence and cooperation. There’s no doubt Malta’s tech sector displayed strong resilience during 2020 both in infrastructure and in gross value-added terms. It is one of the three industries locally that has still experienced growth during this turbulent year, given that investment in innovation and R&D did not halt during the pandemic. Undoubtedly, there is hope and expectation that 2021 will be a rebound year. The shift to digital transformation will continue in earnest. Change in behaviours such as remote working herald the importance of having digitally connected societies that will stimulate the demand for tech-powered economies. Although the sector did not sit on its laurels, Malta has further untapped potential which can be attained through further collaboration with stakeholders and the push for diversification of our
other economic pillars. This, together with the launch of the National Digital Strategy and the various financial support measures rolled out, will allow Malta to rebound at an accelerated pace. COVID-19 has accelerated our transition into the future; the digital economy is going to be the most significant opportunity ahead of us. We need to strengthen our ecosystem whilst preparing for future technologies such as virtual reality. The future is here, and it is in our power to start welcoming it today. Tech.mt will be bringing together all the stakeholders to ensure that Malta can reach its full potential on the global virtual reality and augmented reality scene. Investment opportunities are shifting, and businesses can no longer rely on just the traditional banks to supply the liquidity necessary for change. At Tech.mt, we recognise that it is essential to broaden the range of financing instruments available to SMEs and entrepreneurs, to enable them to continue to play their role in investment, growth, innovation and employment. Tech.mt will strive to broaden the understanding of the full range of alternative funding instruments such as virtual asset listings and venture capital and to encourage discussion among stakeholders about new approaches and innovative policies for financing. MONEY
MALTA CAN BOAST OF A RESILIENT INFRASTRUCTURE WITHIN THE TECH SECTOR AND BEYOND. THIS HAS ENABLED TECH.MT TO EMBARK ON AN AGGRESSIVE CAMPAIGN HELPING COMPANIES TO MOVE ONLINE AS WELL AS REVAMP OPERATIONS TO INCORPORATE DIGITAL PROCESSES IN DELIVERIES, LOGISTICS AND MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS. 13
Locally developed Technology recognised at the 9th edition of the eBusiness Awards The eBusiness Awards showcase some of the best solutions that have been developed by locally-based ICT and Technology organizations which, amongst other attributes combine creativity, information technology, as well as business or social innovation. As such, the eBusiness Awards provide a platform for increased visibility to participants and an excellent means to credit the efforts and unique talents demonstrated by all those involved in the rollout of such innovative business initiatives.
This year’s edition was indeed a reflection of the strength of the technology and innovation sector in Malta and its direct impact on the Maltese digital economy. Such awards embody the spirit of technological innovation that will spearhead Malta’s economic future. With promotion being one of the key pillars onto which Tech.mt is established, we aspire to continue to give local tech companies the opportunity to showcase their work and provide them with a platform by which their accomplishments may be celebrated.
This year’s edition was hosted by Tech.mt in an online capacity to counter the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic, thus, further complementing the significant drive for businesses to go digital and encourage the widespread development of online platforms and tools.
Tech.mt is pleased to announce this year’s winners in each of the nine categories. Three finalists in each category and the winners were chosen by a Professional, Independent, Adjudication Committee, chaired by Dr Ian Gauci and including Mr Joseph F. Borg; Mr JP Fabri; Prof. Carl James Debono; Ms Lara Selvagi.
Tech.mt congratulates all winners, finalists and participants. Powered by
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Best Tech Start-Up
Best e-Commerce Site
The Concept Stadium myfood.mt
Best Social Media Campaign
Best eGovernment Initiative
Best Cloud-based Solution
Logix Creative & Growth Gurus
Hands on Systems
Best ICT Academic Dissertation
Best Use of Technology in Business Transformation
Excellence, Innovation and Leadership in Information Security
Redent Zammit - UOM
Data Visualisation Using
Moving away from Paper-
BI for Digital Health
Based patient records
Wave of Change
A screenshot of the MDIA AR TIFIC IA L I N TELLI GEN CE
Digital innovation can be viewed as a buzz word; however, Malta’s vision in this sector is strong and forward-looking with the setting up of a dedicated Authority focusing on this element. MDIA chairman, Dr Joshua Ellul sat with Giselle Borg Olivier to delve into the function and need of such an Authority.
r Joshua Ellul is not your stereotypical chairman – he’s young, charming, and is sporting trendy Bluetooth headphones around his neck when I meet him to discuss the work of the Malta Digital Innovation Authority (MDIA). The MDIA was set up in 2019 but has kept a relatively low profile, so I wanted to know what its purpose was. “A great way to explain the MDIA would be to use the analogy of what the Transport Authority is to the car industry in Malta. The MDIA approves system auditors, which are like VRT stations that make sure your car is roadworthy. So, the MDIA similarly makes sure that software is ready to be released to the industry”, explains Dr Ellul. The MDIA currently focuses on Blockchain, Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), and is opening to any safety-critical software, such as in power plants for example, or other 16
AI WILL MAKE A LARGER IMPACT THAN BLOCKCHAIN IN THE SHORT TERM places where there could be a critical loss if the software doesn’t work correctly.
authority declaring what is good and what is bad…
Dr Ellul explained that anyone could submit software to the MDIA-approved system auditors, who will then ensure that the software does what it’s meant to do. The system auditors are the verifiers that are approved by the MDIA. There are currently five system auditors in Malta which are sufficient for the size of the market according to Dr Ellul. He admitted that they expected a larger market size due to the crypto regime that was being pushed locally, but since that died down, five system auditors suffice.
Dr Ellul clarified: “You don’t have to come to the MDIA. You can create software and release it; it’s completely voluntary. If you want to build assurances with your consumers and your investors, then it would make sense for an independent, national Authority to be giving you that stamp of approval. It’s about building a reputation where you might not be able to build that on your own. Although it’s voluntary, it could be mandated in certain sectors, so, for example, the financial authority can mandate that they must undergo an audit and certification through the MFSA. In the future, it could be that the health authorities declare that any health-related software they use must undergo certain software auditing. The idea is that we promote innovation, and we want to support innovation by not requiring certification, but where authorities should require it, then they can do so.”
Dr Ellul told me that although the software has been submitted, none have been fully certified yet, although he expects that these will be certified within the next few months. “Software certification provides legal assurances. It’s an audit where the authority has overlooked the whole process. You also have a forensic node which stores all the information that must do with the software, so if something ever goes wrong in the future, this can be investigated. We also have a technical administrator through our certification who can intervene at any point in time. If all else fails and the software doesn’t work, and it states in a contract or other Englishdescription document that the software should do something else, it’s the English description that wins over the existing software. This is where we’re providing legal certainty with certification which doesn’t exist anywhere else yet,” he said. As he explains the process to me, I can’t help but think that it sounds a bit Big Brother-like with this overarching
What was the procedure before the MDIA was set up, I asked? “Many standard audit firms around the world do types of system audits following different standards concerning the audits that they implement and to different levels. What the MDIA has done is to create a nationally-recognised level of standard that should be applied. Because we’re vetting the auditors (currently anyone can do an IT audit), we’re giving a stamp of approval that these are credible auditors,” said Dr Ellul. Dr Ellul explained that the MDIA framework uses international standards, and since they’re the first in the world of their type, it’s a bit difficult for them to promote themselves outside MONEY
of Malta right now. “In certain sectors, we’re seeing that people are using any auditors, but that doesn’t provide any assurances to the end-user and can sometimes prove to be detrimental because if the software fails it could result in people not having faith in audits. We want to instil a level of guarantee that any audits in Malta within this sector will have a high reputation.” “The EU has just released the Digital Finance Package, which talks about how cryptocurrencies and securities should be regulated in Europe. How can we make sure that these systems cannot be penetrated? There’s a high aspect of resilience and security.” I wanted to know more about Malta’s National AI strategy. Dr Ellul explained that there are several pillars that the strategy wants to enforce including a decent, educational system that would help people specialise in AI – the university and MCAST already have programmes in place, in this regard. Secondly is the wish to attract companies who have expertise in AI; however, Malta is still lagging on this front. Although he has met with companies who have moved to Malta, he believes that there is room for improvement. When it comes to developing the cutting edge of research and AI, Dr Ellul says that Malta is unlikely to be a leader in that field having to compete with the likes of China and the US that have been working on AI for decades. However, he does see potential in Malta becoming a leader as a testbed for AI, which is an agenda that the MDIA is pushing. Because AI is still considered to be 17
A GREAT WAY TO EXPLAIN THE MDIA WOULD BE TO USE THE ANALOGY OF WHAT THE TRANSPORT AUTHORITY IS TO THE CAR INDUSTRY IN MALTA new and unknown, Dr Ellul said that it’s essential to differentiate between Artificial Narrow Intelligence – which is what is being worked on and Artificial General Intelligence – which is what is seen in films and doesn’t exist in the real world. Therefore, a marketing and educational campaign is the first step to informing people about how AI is currently being used. The challenging part then follows as it concerns privacy issues, and these would need to be discussed publicly and not as a top-down approach. As the subject veered onto blockchain and DLT, Dr Ellul remarked that Malta’s ethos as ‘the blockchain island’ was geared towards companies operating in cryptocurrencies promoting Malta as a jurisdiction offering a regulated space. However, because no licenses have yet been issued, several companies left the island. Dr Ellul clarifies that many of these companies were startups, most of which would have ended up folding, so it wasn’t detrimental to Malta that they left, because it’s not beneficial to have many companies start and then go bust. Currently, some cryptocurrencybased companies are waiting for financial licenses to be issued. Once that happens, he believes that Malta may see a smaller 18
influx of interest in the crypto space. In terms of blockchain, Dr Ellul clarified that the software is still in its infancy and is not going to change the way that we do business overnight. Although it does offer the potential to remove some central authorities, he doesn’t believe that it will lead to global decentralisation. In Malta, blockchain is being used for educational certifications and rental contracts, with other entities also considering its potential. Often the enduser won’t be aware that they’re on the blockchain, states Dr Ellul. “If my rental contract is on the blockchain and my landlord changes the terms and conditions, then I can check that without needing to trust the Planning Authority or the landlord. People will probably not care that it’s on the blockchain; technology becomes a success when we don’t talk about it, but we use it in the background.” Although centralised systems will likely remain the norm and prevalent in daily life, the rise of decentralised systems will give control to people who want to keep centralised systems in check. This isn’t
something that will happen overnight. For example, digital currencies are likely to become more commonplace within 3-5 years, and mass adoption will follow suit. AI has been around since the 1960s and has gone through two hypes and ‘winters’ (a lull period), and is now going through another hype. AI is a success because it’s already being used in various technologies without people realising that AI is present in their lives. Several projects are being developed in Malta now, and AI will likely be rolled out to manage features such as traffic lights shortly – “AI will make a larger impact than blockchain in the short term.” “We need to make sure that our AI is ethical and is human-centric. We’re saying that we should regulate all AI, but perhaps what we should be regulating is the sectors that AI is used in. For example, if AI is used in insurance to determine whether you should get an insurance policy or not, the regulation needs to
state that all policies issued must ensure there is no bias. We need to differentiate the sector from the technology because a lot of people are promoting AI regulation and I think it’s a terrible decision” commented, Dr Ellul. As the interview ends, I ask Dr Ellul about what’s in the pipeline for MDIA amidst this pandemic. He replied that Covid-19 didn’t affect the MDIA too much and they adopted a flexible working schedule, divulging that in a few weeks, the MDIA will be launching a new sandbox. “It’s very demanding for start-up companies in the blockchain space to undergo a full audit and get full certification especially from a financial point of view, so several companies will be working towards full certification, in the sandbox. During the first two years, they’ll just be undertaking audits on parts of their system, until they achieve MONEY
full certification. The idea is to make assurances more cost-friendly for startups which will give them the ability to onboard users and get more investment.” He also confirmed that the MDIA had added AI and critical systems into their remit; looking at government infrastructure, and anything where failure could cause significant damages, to start certifying what is considered safetycritical. “Once the assurance framework is sound, the next path is harmonisation. Europe is pushing their idea, so we need to make sure that the software assurances that we’re doing are relevant to Europe.” Dr Ellul concluded by reiterating the importance of educating people about the MDIA’s activity and explaining why it’s essential for people and industries.
PAY M E N T S
Dayna Camilleri Clarke interviews John Pace, chief business development officer at Trust Payments Malta.
rust Payments is a global payments group offering payment platform and merchant acquiring services. Their mission is to help business owners optimise their sales and customer experience through a great payments experience – whether online or in person. We have a technology platform which can process payments with over 50 global acquiring banks, including our institution, which you may know as acquiring.com.
Why did you set up a base in Malta? The company started 20 years ago as a payment gateway. We had built a robust technological platform used by thousands of European merchants - but they still needed a merchant account for them to be able to accept online payments. So, in 2012 we decided to set up a Maltese entity licensed by the MFSA. This enabled us to offer both the merchant account as well as payment gateway facilities without the need for our clients to have a relationship with two different parties to get the same service. Since then, the local company has grown exponentially. We have served the local market with e-commerce and online payments since we opened. A year ago, we added Point of Sale (POS) services which are proving to be very popular locally. Choosing Malta was a no-brainer. The regulatory environment, stable economy and the highly experienced financial services talent were vital deciding factors. Of course, it also helps that there is a beautiful surrounding, good climate, excellent transport connections and good infrastructure. What challenges have you found locally along the way? The challenges we had have been mostly cultural, as in, the Maltese traditionally are in the habit of carrying, trusting
and using cash rather than electronic forms of payment. A survey as recent as March 2020 by the Maltese Central Bank showed that cash is still the preferred payment method for the Maltese. The same survey reported that 30 per cent of the Maltese population do not use a debit card, and 50 per cent do not use a credit card. Things are certainly changing quickly, accelerated by the pandemic, which has prompted many businesses to modernise their payment methods to allow for touch-free payments. We are sure this will be a continued trend. What makes you stand out from your competitors? We are global, and yet we are local. Local merchants prefer dealing with locals. We try to meet up with all our merchants – even though this was a difficult task to perform during COVID restrictions. Personal contact with merchants does not end once they sign the contract. It goes beyond the application stage, where each client gets a dedicated Malta-based account manager. This is something we pride ourselves on, and we know local businesses appreciate. Our second standout is our omnichannel offering. Merchants love it since they can have a physical POS terminal in their shop as well as online payments. It takes the hassle out of it because they only need to speak to one provider, with one account manager and data all in one place. Our POS terminals and our
online payment platform both have in-built features which are not currently offered by local competitors. The terminals themselves offer various modes of connectivity, catering for all situations, even for merchants who are on the road – for example taking payment upon delivery, or in a food truck. Certain features can easily be programmed by the merchant through the terminal as well. A couple of examples would be that we have a facility to switch customer receipts on or off and as switch on the tips functionality for customers to express thanks to service staff. The terminals are also top of the range with colour touch screen displays (the first to be introduced in Malta) and very fast processing power. Many companies have shifted to your service, what has driven them to do so? Unlike most other local acquirers, we can offer both a merchant account as well as direct integration to our payment gateway. This is the leading technical USP that has been instrumental in us penetrating the local market. Secondly, integration is easy to follow and well documented, simplifying things for developers. We offer different modes of integration, ranging from a full API interface to a Hosted Payment Page and more than 40 shopping carts. Some of the integrations available can also be white-labelled and are backed up by 24/7 technical support. We can cater to every business need a merchant
might have so far as electronic payments are concerned. Our single sign-on system is also a popular feature with merchants since it facilitates access to transactions processed through their POS terminals as well as online. Full transaction data is available to download, providing the merchant with an invaluable business tool to facilitate reconciliations as well as carry out detailed payments analysi. s. What are the current technical challenges faced by your service? The payments industry is very dynamic and moves at lightning speed. We must always be on top of the latest features and keep up with what our customers require. Automation of processes is one key area that keeps our tech team very busy. We have automated many processes already
such as background checks, credit scoring and know your customer (KYC) verifications. This has increased the load on our tech resources but ultimately made us more customer-friendly and efficient.
tech – and importantly, an extraordinary network which we could tap into. Today, many of our managers who had initially joined in junior roles, have advanced into more leadership positions thanks to their achievements and dedication.
As financial services providers, we are, of course, highly regulated. The changes introduced by regulators and card schemes keep us on our toes and is a continuing technical challenge—all in all, its what keeps us excited and motivated to achieve the best for our customer. s. Are you able to find the right talent to drive the business forward?
As for our tech employees, we don’t have many engineers or developers in our Malta office. But since the pandemic, we have allowed them to work from any office regardless of the role. Surprisingly, some employees, who perhaps would not have considered it before, have used this opportunity to reallocate to Malta.
Today we have 80 employees based in Malta, and we are continually looking for new talent to join our team. Malta has supplied us with a good base of financial services, underwriting, and sales and account management professionals with a solid understanding of payments
How has your service been received? Clients like the fact that our technology is straightforward and robust; in fact, we have 99.9 per cent up-time. We are transparent; we do not have any hidden fees and, unlike many other providers globally, we do not hold the merchants’ money as collateral or in an e-wallet. We
The world of payments is always changing, and we aim to make the Trust Payments technology platform the one-stop-shop for merchants release all proceeds directly to any bank account of their choice at no cost. Our technical support team is efficient, while our team of dedicated account managers ensure personal contact is always retained with merchants – something which the latter have come to appreciate over and above whatever is offered at a system level. How do you see the future of acquiring.com evolving in the coming years? The world of payments is always changing, and we aim to make the Trust Payments technology platform the onestop-shop for merchants. Locally, we will soon be adding a couple of new features. Dynamic Currency Conversion; this is where a customer can select what currency they wish to pay in at the point of sale; and American Express, which is currently not all that widely accepted in Malta. Aside from the local point of sale innovations, we also recently acquired a UK based customer loyalty company called Mobilize. This addition to our family will allow customers to offer their loyalty programmes tied into payments, to enhance their overall customer experience and keep bringing customers back to their store or online shop. We can imagine this will be very helpful in the future in Malta. Another development is we are introducing a new machine learning risk and fraud assessment tool to strengthen our offering further and to help protect our customers against fraudulent activity. We will continue to be flexible and adapt to the changing world, identifying and delivering the essential services to make us the one provider to choose. MONEY
A R T I F I C I AL I N T E L L IG E NC E
Thinking outside the box EBO.AI is an artificial intelligence enterprise which enables the automation and personalisation of engagement. Dayna Camilleri Clarke speaks to Dr Gege Gatt, chief executive officer of the London-based company; he is also a digital entrepreneur and IT-Law specialist.
Dr Gatt, could you kindly tell us more about EBO? EBO is a leader in customer engagement automation. We help enterprises build the right communication experiences through AIpowered Virtual Agents. Our Virtual Agents allow businesses to offer genuine human-like interaction across multiple languages and messaging channels. Through this, we are transforming the customer experience in the Healthcare, Financial Services and iGaming industries. That sounds very forwardthinking! Why did you set up a base in Malta? EBO’s team is spread over four territories: the UK, US, Armenia and Malta however we call Malta our home. We have found a strong pool of skills here and an excellent work ethic. Nevertheless, we believe in diversity and so have built a multi-ethnic team which reflects the diversity and aspirations of our client base. What challenges have you found locally along the way? The venture capital community in Malta is not as developed as in Northern Europe or the US. So, the faster maturation and more significant innovation of early-stage firms is limited. Subsequently, the vibrant tech ecosystem which is palpable in East London (known as the Silicon Roundabout) or the US (Silicon Valley) is mostly absent here. This creates a lacuna of mentors, innovators, researchers and entrepreneurs. MONEY
WE HAVE FOUND A STRONG POOL OF SKILLS IN MALTA AND AN EXCELLENT WORK ETHIC Many companies have shifted to EBO, why do you think this is? I like to tell my team to focus on things which are ‘an inch wide yet a mile deep’. This strategy is all about finding your niche; that one focus area that is going to yield the best results. The fastest growing and most profitable businesses tend to position themselves as niche specialists. EBO is exceptionally disciplined in selecting the business pain points it should solve. Our data science skills are advanced but more important than technical prowess, we deeply care about the solutions we sell, and this motivates our customers to partner with us. 25
SUCCESS IS ELUSIVE – IT’S A SERIES OF UNFOLDING OPPORTUNITIES THROUGH WHICH WE DISCOVER OURSELVES AS TECHNOLOGY & CHANGE ENABLERS How have you adapted to COVID-19? The twin public-health and economic crises are driving changes in consumer behaviour that could have long-lasting effects in our society. We recognised this and adapted to the evolving needs of the market. Firstly, we created a dedicated AI toolset for the National Health Service in the UK to help address the growing public dialogue about COVID - this is now a Microsoft AI showcase product. Next, we changed our business model to allow for a more distributed and low-risk payment process to offer more favourable terms to our customers. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, we focused on empathy: understanding the concerns of the markets we serve and addressing these with renewed commitment and dedication. What are the current technical challenges faced by EBO? Technical challenges are generally surmountable. The real challenge is changing. Well actually change is not the problem; resistance to change is. EBO doesn’t merely sell AI technology; it provides a promise around change or profound organisational transformation. Therefore, the current challenge is understanding the most common reasons companies object to change and thus resist the adoption of our technology. Once we create a culture of trust and understanding, the challenges fade away. Are you able to find the right skilled employees to drive the business forward? As the adage goes, the smartest people always work for someone else. Thus, we 26
are continually investing in attracting the right talent for us. However, people don’t work for a company; they work for a leader. This puts renewed focus on the importance of sound leadership principles. Having a positive mentality supported by boundless energy, and excellent communication skills are generally precursors to good leadership at any level. With that in place, finding the right team members is more effortless. However, we also believe in broad collaboration, so we have set up an excellent layer of associates from New York to New Delhi, which provides the right skills at the right time. Gone are the days of employment. We live in the age of smart collaboration and continuous professional development. The market is steadily picking up pace locally with others cropping up, what makes you stand out from your competitors? How do you keep up with advances in technology? Many start-ups focus on the wrong things before finding the coveted ‘productmarket fit’. They waste time talking about the company they want to build and endless PowerPoint decks representing that. Instead, the focus should be on making the product that will gain loyalty and sell quickly. Once you have that, you build a sustainable path around the concept. EBO stands out because it has had a deep focus on its product and an intimate understanding of the markets it serves. It keeps at the front of its game by working closely with technology partners that provide the necessary structure for rapid innovation. MONEY
What feedback have you been getting for your service? EBO’s solution is interoperable – it integrates well with existing platforms in the industry, making the roll-out painless. Most IT projects are still too complicated for today’s fast-moving world. CTOs rarely can deliver all the projects necessary for the business, so receiving feedback about the simplicity to adopt EBO is always a welcome success metric. The second reaction we often get is that EBO solves real problems for real companies. Companies buy EBO to automate tasks in customer engagement when alternative options are either too complicated, too costly or just too analogue. This approach allows us to align our own company’s development with real-world needs strategically. We call this excellent product leadership. What plans do you have for the future for EBO? EBO’s value proposition is continuously evolving. Our most exciting plan is to see the product changing to meet the market needs over time, in turn allowing us to capture new and more sophisticated markets. As long as we measure success carefully and maintain discipline in execution, we’ll keep increasing our enterprise value significantly. However, success is elusive – it is not a mere liquidity event or an exit point. It’s a series of unfolding opportunities through which we discover ourselves as technology and change enablers. It’s about building a company that has dignity and meaning to the people that work in it or buy from it. It’s about mentoring others along the path. EBO plans to become an ever more resilient organisation to face the challenges that the market presents whilst wielding the power of AI as a social good.
INDOOR & OUTDOOR
We live in a world of technological magic. As consumers of information, we are more selective than ever. We want what we want, when we want it and we want it in a visually stunning format. Companies are spending millions on information technologies to communicate with their audiences to give them what they want, but most of those technologies do not engage; they require effort to pull the information. A customer signing up to receive an email or downloading an app. An employee browsing through a dashboard or having to go through an intranet. What if your customers just have to look around and the information they need appeared before them, on stunning digital displays. Relevant, visually engaging and effortless. We maximise the power of digital signage, transforming public spaces, retail centres and workplaces digitally. We display the future.
NOVO LIMITED . PHONE: (+356)99452279 . E-MAIL: INFO@NOVO.COM.MT . WEB: WWW.NOVO.COM.MT
BOUNCING BACK Malta primed to ‘bounce back’, says Boston Link managing director Julian Perigo.
ike most countries around the world, Malta’s economy will be significantly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, causing the island’s record-low unemployment rate of just 3.5% in 2019 to rise to around 6% this year. However, the report (European Economic Forecast.) - published in spring - also predicts that the unemployment rate will fall back to about 4.5% in 2021, as GDP growth rebounds by some 6%. Julian Perigo believes the outlook for the sectors and skillsets he and his team specialise in including iGaming, technology, aviation and financial services - is even more optimistic. We caught up with him to discuss Boston Link’s recent research into the 2020 jobs market in Malta.
also been heavily impacted by Covid-19 calling a temporary halt to most business travel. What sectors are offering the most job opportunities in Malta in 2020? Overall, the good news is that the numbers of job mandates coming through to us are already back up at pre-Covid-19 levels. It is partly due to the high numbers of job vacancies coming up in iGaming, where there are lots of opportunities for people with technology skills. Demand for talent is also proving resilient in the financial services sector, especially for qualified professionals such as accountants and lawyers. Has iGaming in Malta peaked, or is it continuing to grow? A new Ipsos survey*, conducted on behalf of the World Economic Forum, shows that 54% of working adults fear for their jobs in the next 12 months. How is the jobs market in Malta bearing up under the strain of the Covid-19 pandemic? The jobs market and the economy were both in great shape in Malta before Covid-19, so I expect them to bounce back very quickly once the pandemic is under control.
The Maltese iGaming sector has seen incredible growth over the last decade, so while I believe there is still more growth to come, I doubt it will continue to grow at the same pace. The job opportunities we see in iGaming are changing; as the sector becomes more data-driven, we see demand for new skill sets, and as it becomes more regulated there is also a greater focus on compliance roles.
IGaming, for example, which accounts for 15% of Malta’s GDP, is on the most part unaffected by the pandemic. I think this is one reason confidence levels in Malta seem to be considerably higher than in other locations. The main challenge for that sector has been going from attracting and retaining talent by creating cool offices with yoga spaces and sushi bars to developing remote working strategies that keep people just as motivated. But as tech companies, they are well placed to adapt very quickly to changes such as this.
At the executive level, we see higher salaries for certain positions, particularly in finance and compliance, while online gaming becoming liberalised in the US is driving M&A activity in the sector. With the shift towards more remote working, we may also see more flexible opportunities within iGaming. It will help with talent acquisition, which has been one of the most significant constraints on growth in the sector in Malta to date. More than eight in ten employers are planning to accelerate digitisation and offer more remote working opportunities, is this the case, and if so, how is this affecting the skill sets employers want?
There is more uncertainty in other sectors such as financial services, which is a more traditional sector that is less geared up for digitisation - or has been until now. Despite the significant differences between business and commercial aviation, the aviation sector in Malta has
It’s too early to say what the long-term impact will be, in my opinion. However, in the short term, there’s more flexibility about where you’re based. We are receiving mandates for jobs where people can be based anywhere, or anywhere within the same time zone, as well as MONEY
those targeting applicants who are within reach of one of the company’s offices. As the focus on Covid-19 lessens, I anticipate there will be an increase in demand for business development skills within financial services as companies look to attract new clients. Client relationship management skills will be important too in 2021, as will strong leadership skills, which are always needed but are now more crucial than ever whatever sector a business is in. There’s lots of speculation about the impact of Covid-19 on the aviation industry. How do you expect this to pan out in the future? The strength of the economy has a significant impact on business aviation. However, while the pandemic has undoubtedly created challenges for the aviation industry, it has also provided new opportunities. These include that travelling by private jet is undoubtedly the most socially distanced way to travel by air. Longerterm, we might see fewer people flying for events such as training sessions, but there are things you can get from a face-to-face meeting that you can’t get from a Zoom call - and many executives will miss the travel element of their jobs. What impact, if any, do you expect Brexit to have on the jobs market in Malta over the next 12 months? If anything, the Brexit vote has attracted more employers to Malta, with many insurance companies setting up their EU bases here. So, I can’t see Brexit harming the jobs market in Malta. With more UK companies needing EU bases, there could even be some upwards pressure on both salaries and job opportunities in Malta. * www.ipsos.com/en/workers-concerns-about-job-lossand-access-new-skills-27-countries
For more information visit www.boston-link.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org
TECH.MAG A RT IF I C I AL I N T E L L I GENC E
AI Matters Automation is a convenience that we wouldn’t know how to live without. Now, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is also becoming the norm in our lives. Giselle Borg Olivier asks Claudio Cauchi, head of development at Ascent Software, about his views on the increasing use of AI in our lives. Automation has become commonplace in various sectors, such as manufacturing and technology. How important is automation in our lives? Are we losing skill sets in people? Automation is a natural step in human evolution. If we look back at how we used to perform simple tasks, washing clothes, for example, just 50 years ago, it was much more manual, timeconsuming and inefficient. One could argue that washing clothes by hand is a skill most have lost, and that is true. Still, there is also the argument that that skill is not as crucial nowadays as it was 50 years ago due to the introduction of affordable washing machines in people’s households. People have acquired new, mostly digital, skills; my 4-yearold can load and set the washing machine to wash clothes. Meanwhile, we are seeing movement, fuelled mainly by social media, where the younger generations are re-discovering skills 30
from the past that somehow bring benefit to today’s way of life. In most cases, the scope changes – where knitting was a necessity to produce warm clothing to cope with the winter months, it has evolved into a hobby that results in unique and artisanal pieces of clothing. I think that we’re experiencing a natural shift in skills fuelled by what brings value to people. This sometimes comes as a shock to the generations that experience the innovation; however, for the younger generations, it is just the norm, and they will not experience the loss. It is our responsibility to ensure that any skills which will still be useful for future generations are preserved and adapted accordingly. How much more will automation develop to affect our lifestyles? That’s a tricky question. When Hollywood movies in the 1980s and 1990s projected what, they believed today would look like, they applied a layer of automation to what they thought MONEY
“There is still a lack of standardisation in the industry which is not allowing the implementation to progress as fast as we would expect” This has sparked interest from many businesses to apply AI to problems that can improve their business, such as, the use of image classification to categorise stock returns from a photo, and the use of machine learning to allow an algorithm to learn the consumption patterns of internet shopping that would facilitate a recommendation system that assists the user by promoting items they are likely to buy. When AI is mentioned, people conjure up the image of robots replacing humans. It’s something that many don’t fully understand and are wary of - do they have reason to fear AI? required automation. Looking back, we see that they missed most of the most impactful inventions of the last two decades. The way smartphones and apps revolutionised automation in the past ten years is just the start. Hardware providers have moved much slower than software providers, and we’ve only recently started seeing the cool stuff being applied to white goods, cars and home automation in general. There is still a lack of standardisation in the industry which is not allowing the implementation to progress as fast as we would expect. So, yes, we expect more automation in the future, and this will continue to affect our lifestyles. AI has been around for a while but has been in the spotlight recently as the technology develops. How much is AI used in Malta? Where is it being used? Yes, recently, we have seen an enormous push, especially from the main cloud providers, towards the use of AI. Services like Azure Cognitive Services have brought complex AI algorithms, that were once reserved for mathematicians and computer scientists, to a far more reachable and affordable offering.
Robots partially replacing humans in most manual work is something that has already happened. If you look at an automotive factory today, you see huge machines operated by a few dozen people. This hit the employment sector negatively; however, it was not AI that was to blame, but mostly automation. What AI is doing is different. We first need to understand the basis of AI and how it relates to human intelligence. Most of the AI algorithms that we have today are based on data. You present the algorithm with massive amounts of data and, because we have fast computers that can process this in a short amount of time, we get the impression of a program that is learning, and is therefore intelligent. This is something humans do as well, albeit slower. It takes a baby three years to learn a language by listening to a few hundred words each day. An algorithm can process millions of words per second and ‘learn’ faster. However, we don’t yet understand the complexities of the human brain, and we’re still far away from achieving the level of intelligence required to replace a human being. AI will be assisting humans and augmenting their cognitive abilities but not replacing them in the foreseeable future. Therefore, there is no reason to fear AI; it’s more a matter of being excited about the new potentialities that it will enable while being cautious in ensuring that these possibilities are put to fair use. MONEY
Don’t risk a
CYBERS ECURI T Y
BYTE Financial crime is a major concern for the business community, with numbers seemingly on the rise. Giselle Borg Olivier spoke to Nick Parfitt, head of market planning at Acuris Risk Intelligence to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes when it comes to weeding out the criminals.
You’re in the business of managing risk for clients. How important is it to have proper due diligence? In our opinion, it’s not only a fundamental process and cultural mind-set but also because the cost of non-compliance can result in an array of negativity challenges, which we are all very aware of, for example, costly fines, reputation damage, and loss of market access where licences are removed. Moreover, there is the possibility that as a Compliance Officer, and this is most frightening,
“ ...the Maltese Regulatory authorities are showing they have real teeth now and are backing up these audit findings with significant fines ”
inancial crime is a major concern for the business community, with numbers seemingly on the rise. Giselle Borg Olivier spoke to Nick Parfitt, head of market planning at Acuris Risk Intelligence to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes when it comes to weeding out the criminals.
you could be held personally responsible for compliance failures. We have seen the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority issue significant personal fines and ban individuals from working in the sector for significant periods. We are also observing a lot of activity in Malta with the FIAU conducting increasing numbers of audits on MGA and MFSA licences, driven by the need to meet and exceed requirements in line with the Moneyval audit report due. The action that is coming out of this is that the Maltese Regulatory authorities are showing they have real teeth now and are backing up these audit findings with significant fines; €568,373 in administrative penalties for firms who failed to return risk assessment questionnaires, as well as the single largest ever fine of €733,160 by the FIAU for a gaming company that was identified to have “violated ten different provisions of the law” according to a Times of Malta article from September 2020. KYC is a significant component for the reputation of companies, especially in sectors like financial services; do you find that companies slack on these duties? It isn’t easy to generalise as the operations, scope and complexity of a Tier 1 Financial Institution is vastly different from a domestic
retail bank, Casino operator, pay-day lender or the Art World. So is the maturity of their Financial Crime Compliance functions and implications for Reputational Risk and the impact that can have on an organisation. The challenge for any organisation is maintaining compliance without breaking the business financially, as the cost of compliance can be extremely steep, so there is a natural tendency to do enough to be compliant but not to a point where the business cannot operate. Therefore, the organisation’s culture is key to acceptable practices, because if everyone is thinking about the business, how it operates and who and where it does business with, then in effect, this constant vigilance is an inexpensive way to enforce acceptable practices and mitigate potential Reputational Risk issues.
Money laundering has been around for a long time; however, in recent years, we’ve seen it crop up more and more in the news. Is this because more people are involved, or because technology has become better at sniffing them out? There are certainly lots of factors at play here including new AML directives that have included more and more business sectors over the years – the legal profession, estate agents, the art world, as an example – as well as new types of investigative powers such as ‘unexplained wealth orders’ (UWOs) in the UK. Many of these sectors were not ready for the fundamental changes that their businesses required to ensure compliance. So, a result of the ‘net has been cast wider’?
It’s undoubtedly true that the new technology and years, even decades, of experience and progress in implementing AML functions, policies and controls, should equate to catching more ‘bad actors’; but it’s also fair to say the problem is global in nature and endemic, and too profitable. As explained by Linda A. Lacewell, Superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services, “…so money laundering becomes a source of profits and bank fines become a cost of doing business. When the profits exceed the fines, the business choice is easily corrupted”. And you only must look at the latest report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) – the ‘FinCEN Files’ that analysed approximately ‘only’ 2,100 Suspicious Activity Reports submitted to FinCEN – to see the potential size and scale of the problem, and this was over 15 years. The UK’s SAR filing numbers for 2018 - 2019 were 478,437, by comparison (data from the UK Financial Intelligence Unit Suspicious Activity Reports Annual Report 2019). We must stress though these are suspicions only and do not prove any wrongdoing. Your Cyber Check and Fraud data solution can detect known money launderers – what is the value of such technology?
Where we differ in this area, is that the information we curate is due to ‘hard, human-driven intelligence’ as we can monitor criminal gangs involved in fraud while the crimes are being plotted and committed. Therefore, we can see the bank accounts or money-service businesses used by the criminals to pay for goods and services, or through which are used to execute the fraud. The data we collect during our investigation and monitoring processes also contains rich intelligence on actual, known criminal email addresses, victims who are compromised, potential victims that criminals are targeting, and businessrelated frauds such as ‘phishing’ attacks. There is a lot of speculation about the malicious intentions of people who are applying for Maltese passports and licenses. Have results from checks proven such allegations? Whilst we cannot comment on any specific findings, what I would like to highlight is that the Maltese regulators have taken their responsibilities very seriously over the past three to four years and have taken significant strides to strengthen their defences against financial crime in general and money laundering specifically. As mentioned earlier, the increase in fines this year by the FIAU and increased auditing, including the MGA, of companies operating in Malta are positive and welcome activities.
DISPLAY THE FUTURE WITH NOVO
Specialising in Digital Signage Solutions NOVO design and produce multimedia kiosks, digital totems and interactive touch tables which are both attractive and minimalistic in style. The base of the design process is an evaluation of the surroundings, which includes the architectural, environmental, colour and textures of the area where the Novo displays will be installed further complementing the interior design of the establishment. The company also provides custom solutions for events, exhibitions, festivals, and promotional campaigns. Kiosks and totems can be equipped with touch screens, barcode readers, printers, cameras, speakers, mobile and EV charging ports. They can also perform various other functions such as providing information, navigation, advertising and gamification. Depending on the specific requirements of the event, we can develop the appropriate software applications, provide technical assistance, and personalise kiosks as per the client’s brand requirements. ‘The importance of digital signage in today’s world is growing rapidly. LED screen displays, multimedia kiosks and digital totems are some of the main elements found in new commercial and public areas and constitute an integral part of the design of the entire space, be it indoors or outdoors. Designing these types of devices from scratch while respecting the project’s brief and target audience is our main objective’, says Andrea Selvaggi, managing director at NOVO Limited. LED screens and video wall displays are the new alternatives to traditional communication platforms, enabling content to remain fresh and dynamic. The perception and reputation of a client’s brand image are imperative, and this technology will allow them to raise awareness and engage their audience in an eye-catching manner.
>> For more information, contact Novo Limited on (+356) 9945 2279, or by email email@example.com or visit www.novo.com.mt
B IOTEC H
CROSSING THE POND AquaBioTech Group is a leading international aquaculture, fisheries and marine consulting, engineering and development company located in Malta, operating globally with clients and projects in over 55 countries. Established in 1996, the company has hundreds of international projects in their portfolio and has developed a strong brand and reputation globally. Dayna Camilleri Clarke caught up with Shane Hunter, chief executive officer to find out the secrets to their resounding success. 36
AquaBioTech Group facilities in Malta
Rearing tanks in RAS Salmon hatchery, Norway
hen trying to comprehend the scope of the work AquaBioTech Group undertake, it’s immediately apparent they support their clients throughout the project lifecycle, from market research and intelligence, through to project feasibility assessments, project management, technology sourcing and technical support and training. The team at AquaBioTech Group are specialists in their fields and include a large team of researchers who are charged with building our IP pipeline. Shane is British born and educated; he studied aquaculture and fisheries biology before relocating to Malta. He set-up the business with his wife and a few close friends. Over the years they have built up the local operations to include over 85 personnel recruited from more than twenty-five countries. The team have diverse backgrounds, bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience to any assignment undertaken. Shane states “I enjoy living and working in Malta, and I have found it a great place to develop a business like ours. At the start, many people in government didn’t
Nursery tanks in RAS multi species salt water hatchery, Umm Al Quwain in UAE
understand what we were trying to achieve and what our long-term strategy was, but as the business plan developed and matured, things became much easier.” From inception, did AquaBioTech Group ever imagine they would be reaching out to so many countries? “We chose to be an international company from day one,” states Shane, adding that “we knew that Malta was never going to provide the market we would need to sustain the type of business we wanted to build. We wanted to take our technology and services to the global market. There is a local element to our work, such as marine surveys and environmental assessment work. Still, overall, local business does not even account for one per cent of our global turnover. Shane is quick to divulge which global challenges the company are trying to solve and its importance. “Fishing is widely accepted as being at the limit of its sustainable yield, so aquaculture must expand to keep pace with growing global demands. We realised that there was a technology gap forming in the sector which galvanised the rationale for us building MONEY
"We realised that there was a technology gap forming in the sector which galvanised the rationale for us building our own aquatic research, development and innovation centre here" 37
Laboratories and offices at the Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Centre for Marine Research, Umm Al Quwain in UAE
our own aquatic research, development and innovation centre here. Over the years, with the quality of work that we have undertaken, our facility has become a highly respected research entity, attracting major corporations to use it for the development of their research requirements.” One may wonder how technology is linked to sustainability, but for Shane and his team, it’s a natural combination. “For us, these two areas are completely interlinked in every part of our business. As a protein source, fish has one of the lowest environmental impacts of all farmed animals, but there is still much more that we can do to reduce that impact and build more sustainability into the industry”. He continues “Developing our own intellectual property (IP) in the field of land based fish farming was a ten-year project that cost millions of euros, and is still ongoing, but we were able to commercialise our offering, and our Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS) technology is in high demand on the global market”.
With recent trends turning towards the handling of big data and stepping into the world of AI, AquaBioTech Group hasn’t left this stone unturned, Shane explains. “We have always focused on monitoring and control systems in our RAS technology packages as the data we receive enables us to learn about the way our packages work in different environments. As that volume of data increases, the ability to be able to mine that data, interpret the information and then act upon it becomes crucial. Artificial intelligence is still relatively new in our industry; however, we have recently won an EU funded research project, iFishIENCi, that we are coordinating in this field. Last week, we completed the installation of various underwater cameras used to monitor fish behaviour in our research tanks.” Their work is pioneering, something which has been recognised by many external entities who are quick to commend Shane and his team. He explains what he feels resound as the secrets to their success. “I think that you have to look at the fantastic team of people I work with every MONEY
Rearing tanks in RAS Salmon hatchery, Norway
day to see why we are doing well in our industry, from export awards to innovation. These are people that have left their native country and came to live and work in Malta to be part of the vision we have as a company. Aside from the strength in our team, our products and services are heavily in demand in our industry which we developed at a competitive price point. What can we expect from AquaBioTech Group in the future? Shane concludes, “We have some inspiring projects in the pipeline for 2021, including a significant expansion that will see us add another 600m2 of offices, laboratories, and workshops to
our facilities in Malta as well as us opening a new office overseas. We are also looking to strengthen our collaboration with partners across the world and attract more young professionals as we see this as a future challenge for our industry. Overall, our focus remains the same, but there is much more that we can achieve and as the global demand for seafood increases. We seek to do our part to ensure the sustainability of its production whilst improving our technology beyond the current state-of-the-art.”
Research systems, designed for trials involving pathogens, North Norway
Rearing tanks in RAS Salmon hatchery, Norway
TECH FOR GOOD
BREAKING BARRIERS Tech.mag met up with Dr May Agius, a highly specialised speech and language therapist within ACTU (Access to Communication and Technology Unit) and a senior visiting lecturer at the University of Malta. Dr Agius has worked in the field of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) for over 20 years. Her key area of interest is how we can support children with autism who are minimally verbal to communicate. 40
The Access to Communication and Technology Unit (ACTU) is a team which is one of the services offered by AÄĄenzija Sapport. It consists of a team of professionals including Speech and Language Therapists, Occupational Therapists and support staff. Together they work as a team to provide solutions which will address the communication and/or curricular needs of children with disabilities.
What services does ACTU offer? Who do you help? ACTU offers two primary services. The first one is a service which is designed for children who do not speak or speak, but others do not understand them. For these individuals, our goal is to find ways that we can support them to express themselves using Augmentative & Alternative Communication (AAC). AAC includes a range of strategies and devices which can range from low tech to high tech. Our second service targets children who require alternative methods of accessing the curriculum and this might include specialised keyboards and mice.
Why is this service a lifeline for many? The underlying ACTU ethos is that the ability to communicate is a fundamental human right. Every child has the right to be able to communicate their basic needs and desires, make choices, express their opinions and to tell us what they do not like or do not want to do. Using AAC, we can support children to develop these communicative skills even if they are unable to speak or do not speak enough for day-to-day use. AAC systems for some children will also support them to develop language, which is a necessity for learning at school. Some of the children who use our service may need to use technology to help their writing and access to the curriculum. Ultimately providing solutions for these children will enable them to be able to live as independently as possible as they grow into adulthood. Can you tell us the link between communication and technology? As mentioned above, AAC involves the use of technology which can be low, mid or high tech. We consider a broad spectrum MONEY
of technological solutions for supporting communication. A low-tech solution could involve the use of picture symbols on a paper which a child points to communicate. On a high-tech level, AAC can include a mainstream solution such as a tablet with a specially designed AAC app or a dedicated AAC device which has been explicitly designed for communicative purposes. Such devices offer the AAC user possibilities that go beyond face-to-face communication such as access to social media, sending SMSs, environmental control as well as access to typical Windows functions such as Microsoft Office and the internet. How do you decide what technology would be best for someone with communication difficulties? The area of how decisions are made within the field of AAC is currently of enormous interest within the field. At ACTU, we take a transdisciplinary approach. This means that both a Speech and Language Therapist and an Occupational Therapist is involved in the process. We gather information about the childâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s strengths and needs and past experiences of using AAC to support the 41
child to communicate. We want to understand what the child can do, what they want to be able to do, and what the potential of that child is. Our assessment goes beyond the child. We also take into consideration the environment, including the family and school situation. Once we have all this information, we begin to try out potential solutions with the child to see what the best fit is. On some occasions, the Unit loans out equipment so that both the child and family can see what it is like in the home situation. Finally, we review the information we have gathered to come to a final solution as a full team which includes the child, the family and other professionals who might be involved. How much tech is out there to cater for this area? If you consider that AAC includes solutions ranging from low tech to high tech, then I would say there is a vast range. We still recommend some paper-based solutions, e.g. communication books. The recent uptake of mainstream tablets as potential AAC solutions has opened the use of AAC to many more people than was previously possible and has even been referred to as a revolution within the field. Currently, there are several hundred apps designed specifically for AAC purposes which can be uploaded onto a tablet, although each one of these needs to be matched to 42
the child per their strengths and needs. Despite all of this, we still recommend dedicated AAC devices as they provide some advantages over mainstream tablets, for example, extended battery life, access to Windows applications, and access using alternative methods such as eye gaze and head mice. This is an area which has grown in the last ten years! How do you stay up to date with the latest knowledge in such as fast-paced industry? Through technology, of course! I use the traditional methods of reading journal articles online so that I can make sure that my recommendations are based on research evidence, like all therapists with interest in AAC, the ACTU team networks with other therapists and with suppliers in different countries. We sign up for newsletters and journals which provide information within the field of AAC. I am also a member of ISAAC (the International Society of Augmentative and Alternative Communication) which organises conferences which I have both attended and presented at. The ACTU team members also participated in the Accessible Europe conference that the Agency hosted in Malta in December 2019, which got together over 40 keynote speakers on accessible and assistive technology for persons with disability.
“AAC systems for some children will also support them to develop language, which is a necessity for learning at school” >> ABOUT Aġenzija Sapport is an active service provider and recognises the importance and need of this field to be able to offer a more holistic service to its service users. For more information visit Aġenzija Sapport, www.sapport.gov.mt
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Is Artificial Intelligence biased?
While machines are technically without bias, time and time again, we see cases of racism and sexism, to name a few. Veronica Stivala speaks to artificial intelligence (AI) expert Dr Charlie Abela to find out whether AI can be prejudiced. 44
Such problems do not necessarily have a binary solution of the type, yes or no, but involve an element of uncertainty that cannot be addressed using traditional deterministic algorithms.
ntrepreneur Tony Arcieri recently tried out a “horrible experiment”. When he posted a picture that included an image of US Senator Mitch McConnell and Barack Obama on Twitter, he discovered that the image would be consistently cropped to hide the former president. This led to the unearthing of an algorithm that was automatically focusing on white faces over black ones. While Twitter has since apologised for this “racist” image cropping algorithm, this is just an example of a series of biases Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been exhibiting, often to the surprise of the programmers themselves. How so? Let’s go back a bit. Machine learning is a subfield of Artificial Intelligence and is the science of getting applications to learn and improve without being explicitly programmed to do so. A machine learning algorithm is a program that is trained by feeding it massive amounts of data for it to find or recognise patterns in unseen data. These algorithms are suitable when dealing with uncertainty in different contexts. For instance, they can be used to classify images according to human subjects, or to translate historical manuscripts or to identify whether two drugs can result in an adverse reaction or not if taken together.
Dr Charlie Abela, a lecturer in AI within the Department of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Malta, explains this to me as we discuss how and why machines can be or might be biased. This latter phrase sounds contradictory. How can a machine be biased? Indeed, Dr Abela states that “a machine learning algorithm is theoretically neutral and without prejudice”. Nevertheless, he goes on, and there have been situations where an algorithm unintendedly produced results that were consistently in favour or against an individual, a group, or specific characteristics that are considered to be unfair, such as age, gender, race, disability or ethnicity. For instance, in a study published in Science in 2019, researchers found that the algorithm used in a US health facility to identify and support patients with complex needs was racially biased. The researchers discovered that the data used to train the algorithm was incomplete and that the algorithm was predicting healthcare costs rather than illness. This penalised black patients since, in general, less money is spent on care for these patients due to unequal access to care facilities. Bias has also been found in algorithms that drive Amazon’s recruiting system that consistently favoured men over women and Facebook’s advertisement algorithm, which was found to discriminate on which users see which ads. In all these cases, it boils down to the fact that, in Dr Abela’s words, “algorithms are as smart as the data that they are trained on and the values held by the individuals that create and use them”. MONEY
Now, while we talk about AI in general, there are different classifications of AI – so are some more prone to being biased than others? The short answer is yes. One of the most common classifications is the technology-oriented approach that classifies AI under narrow (or weak), general and superintelligence. The narrow AI is the type we presently have. It is goal-oriented and designed to undertake one specialised task, for instance, speech and language recognition (used in Apple’s Siri), diagnosing cancer or driving a car. Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), also referred to as strong AI, and Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI) are still far from being realised. Still, it is these types that will be able to understand human intelligence and have cognitive abilities that exceed those of humans. “That narrow AI is liable to prejudice is known,” asserts Dr Abela, who goes on to explain how “this predominantly depends on the criteria humans apply in the development of the algorithms and their training process”. Yet, while the realisation of AGI may remain in the domain of speculation for years to come Dr Abela points out that “the extensive and important work being done to address the challenges underlying the fundamental behaviours and limits of today’s AI, including prejudice, can provide insights that can eventually shape the AI of the future”. Let’s look further into how AI learns. One of the issues that is driving this prejudice is that AI can only work with what it has. So, if for instance, it is learning from more images of women than men in the kitchen, then it will go on to assume that it is mainly women who are to be found in the kitchen. Dr Abela explains further: studies have shown that banks of research image collections, including some supported by important companies, included gender bias in their representation of activities associated with cooking and sports. Women featured more in images related to shopping and washing, while men were depicted more in images related to coaching and shooting. Such popular image collections are used by many researchers testing or validating their research approach, and thus potentially bias is introduced in their results by proxy. The data that is collected and pre-processed must reflect as much as possible the particular domain, while at the same time is weeded from discriminative features. How to solve it? Scientists are investigating ways to cure automated systems of hidden biases and prejudice. The approaches are varied, yet what the majority do is to try to minimise the unethical effect of attributes such as race, colour, sex, disability and age, to name a few. Dr Abela cites a recent research study related to autonomous cars where the focus was on minimising identification errors related to pedestrians with darker skin. In this case, the goal was to maximise the importance of some of these protected attributes. “It is therefore important, that when developing or training a machine learning algorithm, one is aware of the possible bias and how this can influence the model in a particular context, as this can result in a serious flaw or a potential benefit,” he says. Machine learning algorithms require data to learn. And it is data, rather than the algorithm itself, that is the leading cause of bias. So, in Dr Abela’s words, “training algorithms using biased data will, of course, affect the model”. While large corporations 46
have made available large-scale datasets that are annotated to facilitate the training of deep learning-based models, the annotated datasets have still been found to be biased. This is an inescapable part of human nature that is influenced by the individual’s environment and experiences. “The training data may contain human subjectivity, or it may reflect secondary effects emanating from historical or societal inequities”. He goes on to add how the language used in news articles may, for instance, include word embeddings that exhibit gender stereotypes present in society. In 2018 Reuters reported that Amazon’s recruiting tool was penalising applicants’ resumes that included the word ‘women’. The company realised that the machine learning algorithm was trained using a dataset of resumes collected over a 10-year period that was predominately coming from male applicants. Thus, female applicants were underrepresented in the dataset, and this intrinsically resulted in the algorithm preferring male candidates. The million-dollar question remains: can AI be taught to overcome prejudice? If at some point researchers manage to achieve AGI (or ASI), will this AI be fair, just and removed from prejudice? “I don’t have an answer for this, and I would be speculating if I said that this would be the case,” confides Dr Abela. He notes how AI today is already playing a role in shaping our lives: our health, our safety, our education and opportunities. “It is crucial that we can monitor and assess whether or not these systems treat people differently. The advent of deep learning brought with it a growing need to understand what is happening under the hood and how the algorithm arrived at the result. This, in turn, increased the need to build models worthy of human trust using techniques through which the reasoning behind these models is explained.” To improve and evolve AI into one that is critical and fair, then “explainability complimented with an ethical framework are key to enhance transparency and to provide insights”. MONEY
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STAY UP TO DATA Daniel Grech, an entrepreneur and technologist, co-founder and CEO at Wyzer, analysis cognitive automation in the age of artificial intelligence.
ndoubtedly, technology lives around us. With the anticipation and yet the fear of a dystopian future, many people raise concern that machinery or robots will take over their jobs eventually. This concern can date back to the Industrial Revolution. Many generations later and technology has advanced and is only predicted to grow even further in the coming decades. Instead of asking “Will Artificial Intelligence (or robots) take over and automate all our jobs?” a better question to ask is “How can automation help grow my business?”
In today’s fierce and competitive market, businesses continuously must keep up with current trends and satisfy the everchanging market environment to remain competitive and ensure that they are at the top of their game. Technology has become relevant to every existing industry, and businesses must invest in implementing the right technology to increase efficiency and gain a competitive advantage. The fear of automation can be subdued by accepting change and looking at the benefits it can bring to the business. Moreover, a common misconception
among SMEs is that the implementation of Artificial Intelligence or subsets of AI such as Cognitive Automation are far too advanced technologies to be implemented or would be too big of an investment that would be deemed to be futile. However, technological advancements have come a long way to help people with basic tasks and make their life easier. CA allows employees to have more time for innovative thinking and to take care of more complex tasks whilst it can take care of the tedious, repetitive tasks and can generate a list of suggestions to better help with decisionmaking. Not only that, but CA has now allowed for more tasks to be digitised. In the age of digitisation, the internet population around the world is increasing each day significantly. Thus, the amount of data that is being produced daily on a global scale is shocking and ever-growing. There are 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created each day at our current pace, and that pace is only accelerating. The integration of subsets of AI, specifically CA in business, can significantly help with making sense of unstructured data for analysis purposes and to help with forecasting and decision-making for managers based on the exceedingly large data that
is being collected by the business. The use of Cognitive Automation gives the advantage of using algorithms and other technologies such as Natural Language Processing, Speech Recognition, Text recognition, Data Mining and Machine Learning to better aid the consumer according to their needs. In today’s tech-driven world, businesses must strive to stand out in a sea of competitors. Therefore, a business must research thoroughly to be able to implement the correct technology. As mentioned previously, some SMEs would not see that they can benefit from implementing AI without burning a big hole in their pocket. Some may look at Amazon, Google and Microsoft and would believe such ‘complex’ technologies would only serve big companies since they have had in-built automation at an early stage. Technology has vastly upgraded to cater to different needs. In this digital age, we have now reached a point where every company is either a digital company or a struggling company. SMEs need to decide which side of the fence they want to be and adapt their way of doing business to the digital world that their customers expect to interact with them
in. Thus, every company needs to become a digital-first company. A digital transformation of how traditional business processes work is due. To keep up with the fast-paced environment, we are currently living in and the everincreasing data that must be stored and maintained, we need to use the right tools to increase efficiency and have business processes run smoother and quicker. As a technologist, my vision is to change the way that people work by enabling organisations to digitalise their business processes and automate mundane tasks seamlessly. This will allow them to operate more efficiently and offer better customer experiences using technology. State of the art technology that powers organisations like Google, Microsoft and Amazon should be made available to the average small to mediumsized business. This would allow such businesses to improve the customer experience that they offer by embracing technology. A business can be described by the collection of internal and client-facing business processes that it performs. Our goal is to help customers optimise, digitise and automate critical aspects of such processes. This will, in turn, make the business more organised, efficient and scalable. There is no reason for innovative technology only to benefit large, multinational companies, but there are, in fact, many opportunities for small businesses to reap benefits from such technology. I am passionate about helping small businesses understand how to reap such benefits the tools for businesses to implement this technology
without needing any specific technical skills to exist. The most challenging aspect of a business can be changed. Specifically, those who dismiss it and would believe “Why fix something that isn’t broken?”. A good question to ask oneself is “How many physical forms have you filled out in the past week?” Probably many. Collecting data in paper format is very time-consuming, especially when considering the evergrowing Data Protection requirements. The way to go is paperless and digital. The first step to becoming a digital-first company is to collect data in a digital format. This dramatically increases efficiency and allows such data to be processed in an automated and deterministic manner. What happens to that data is then driven by the particular business process that it belongs to. The structure of such business processes is determined beforehand and, while technology must always allow for exceptions to the rules, such technology allows businesses to build processes that scale. When it comes to the Maltese Islands, small to mediumsized businesses, as well as larger organisations, need to embark on this journey of process transformation. An international movement of low-code or no-code products and tools is increasing in effectiveness and popularity. Such tools allow businesses to implement software visually – without needing any specific technical knowledge. I believe that this could be a gamechanger for many local SMEs by empowering them to take control of their systems and adapt them as the business environment changes.
I have recently been part of a project that transformed a regulated local client’s way of doing business from paperbased and manual processes to entirely digitised and semi-automated processes – without needing to write one single line of code. All their business processes mainly revolved around capturing data on physical forms with physical signatures. They then manually performed internal tasks on that data by keying it into different systems and taking decisions based on the results shown in such systems. Through no-code technology, this client could collect all such data digitally and automatically feed the data collected into the relevant systems. This allowed the analysis of things like background and sanction checks, identity verification checks, anti-money laundering checks and source of funds verifications to be performed in an automated manner with employees only needing to verify and approve the outcome determined by the machine. On approval, the generation of an engagement contract is also handled in an automated manner and sent out for the client to digitally sign. Adopting such an approach reduced their onboarding time from approximately ten days to less than two hours – freeing up time for employees to focus on the edge cases that require further investigation and providing a much better customer experience to the end customer. All of this was implemented visually - by dragging and dropping from elements to determine what data needs to be collected and by dragging and dropping flowchart elements to map out the business process. The future is bright and exciting. Filling out and collecting data on paper forms MONEY
should be a thing of the past. The blueprint for all SMEs should be to: Document their processes. Digitise their processes. Figure out which elements of their processes can be automated and to identify those elements which will reap most value for the company. It is crucial to follow this blueprint and iterate consistently. Ultimately, over the next couple of years, we will witness a transformation where every company must become primarily or secondarily a technology company. Those who do not adapt will not survive, and those who survive will need to adapt continually. Luckily enough, the tools to adapt existing, are globally accessible and relatively affordable. We are lucky to live in a world where technology is readily available – it’s now time to optimise the way we use it to create a business environment that works for everyone.
“A good question to ask oneself is How many physical forms have you filled out in the past week?” 49
BREAKING INTO THE MARKET, CONSIDERING THE EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCES THAT COVID-19 HAS PUT THE WORLD IN THIS YEAR HAS REMAINED OUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE
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LETS GO FOR A RYDE Dayna Camilleri Clarke talks to Chris Mifsud about the latest mobility service to hit our islands.
yde is a service which provides ride-hailing in Malta. They offer an enhanced service and first-class terms to both riders and drivers using global technology and a state-of-the-art, exclusive fleet. Ryde is designed to maximise time for mobility most comfortably and practically. Ryde built its business around state-of-the-art global tech that has enormous value and impressive capability. They believe the importance of this tech without great humans in the team is zero; it’s the humans who create the magic. When it comes to why they selected to set up base in Malta, Chris is quick to reply “Ryde is a local start-up, and we wanted to be successful within our own home before exploring and venturing into different markets 50
and territories. We feel the Maltese market has huge potential given a small size, the traffic and the fact that more people are looking at alternative, sustainable transport methods for their daily commutes.” Starting up such a service hasn’t been without challenges, adds Chris. “Breaking into the market, considering the extraordinary circumstances that Covid-19 has put the world in this year has remained our biggest challenge. However, even in such difficulties, we have made it through, and Ryde is now fully functional and fully operating, 24/7, in the local market with more and more vehicles being added to our platform every day.” Chris feels Ryde offers a unique service to a growing mobility market, particularly when it comes to an environmental conscience. “We offer
something different from the rest. You can see all these in-app features by downloading our app. However, the most critical difference is that Ryde was born from the objective of creating a company that pioneers the well-being of the economy. We feel very strongly about this. We want Ryde to contribute to economic (not necessarily financial) well-being via its operations and not by cutting cheques. This is best evidenced via our LEVC vehicle fleet that guarantees unequalled accessibility to wheelchairs users or parents who might be travelling singlehandedly with a child. Also, by the fact that the fleet is fully electric and finally but the commitment, Ryde has made to plant one tree for every 100 Rydes taken, where or not the passenger chooses”. As a tech-led company, Ryde adapted quickly to remote-working, and remote meetings while
putting protocols and policies in place for the safety of their employees, drivers and passengers following the Government’s Covid-19 guidelines. Chris is keen to push the service forward and continue to grow sustainably, “How can we make our application the best there is? That is the first question on the list every day. We aim at providing the best possible service – to do that; you need to offer the best technical service possible. Our main challenge is getting there to be the best. We don’t want to settle; This is achieved through ongoing meticulous research and unflinching commitment to marrying super tech with superhumans.” He continues “Our state-of-the-art LEVC electric cab fleet gives a whole new sense to accessibility. Wheelchairs, pushchairs, can ride our LEVC cabs with zero difficulties. But not just that, the added level of comfortability offered by the LEVC makes it a truly enjoyable Ryde. This makes us stand out from the rest. – our electric LEVC fleet is a fully electric London Cab that offers the easiest and smoothest accessibility to mobility aids such as wheelchairs or prams. Other features such as Silent Driver, Lost Bag, Pre-booking, and a super team of drivers has helped put us firmly on the map. We’re active and listening. We’re always looking out for our competition, whilst also gathering feedback on what can improve, and what innovation is required. We think ahead. We pro-actively think of what’s needed in the market, or what’s missing – before it’s requested to us.”
With talk of such superhumans, are Ryde able to find the right skilled employees to drive the business forward, what makes a Ryde superhuman? “Well, we tend to do a bit of both when it comes to inhouse training and seeking talent externally. Technical capacity is important as experiences, but what we look for is the right chemistry and attitude in bright, hard-working people that we know will get on with us. We tend to end up onboarding people that share the brand’s ethos, of essentially being understated, approachable but excellent at their work.” Locally the service has been exceptionally well received. “Everyone who has used our service has been impressed by the fluidity and smoothness of all operations – and the link between tech and passengers and drivers. We take all feedback on board and keep working on how we can keep improving and make the Ryde experience even more enjoyable. Many people have told us (we’re not sure if this is good or bad!) they were sure that we are a foreign brand that has been franchised in Malta!”What does the future hold for Ryde? “We will keep growing and continue improving our technical service. We have a whole roadmap of features and modules which will revolutionise ride-hailing in Malta, both for individuals and for the corporate segment. “We intend to attain a good percetage of the market share in Malta – and once we’re running at 100% in Malta, start mobilising other countries for expansion of the Ryde brand. We’re also considering other ventures in the well-being economy.” MONEY
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A Doctor’s Calling It’s never been easier to connect to a GP or healthcare professional thanks to an exciting new platform called Tabib.mt. Dayna Camilleri Clarke speaks to Dylan Attard, co-founder of Tabib.mt.
atients have long required to connect with their healthcare practitioners online, and Tabib.mt set out to achieve just that. People have been seeking the digital health revolution in Malta for quite some time, and COVID-19 acted as a catalyst to bring about this change. It’s clear the aim at Tabib. mt is to deliver an efficient, seamless, and simple healthcare experience for the patients and their healthcare practitioners. From buying groceries online to managing one bank’s account, people have welcomed the transition to digital and for the most part, have quickly adapted to change. So, they asked why couldn’t the same be done in the healthcare sector? This combined with a background of a global shift to online consultations with research showing that in some instances, they are equally effective. Working in the public sector for the past couple of years and speaking with hundreds of patients, Dylan Attard recognised that patients were longing for 52
digital health solutions to help them take control of their health. Telemedicine is just one form, and Tabib.mt is just the start. Dylan stresses: “We’re not here to replace the physical consultations but rather to supplement the existing healthcare pathways already in place in Malta. Since we launched back in April, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand from both patients and healthcare practitioners has been increasing, and we’re excited for what the local digital health industry has in store.” Malta presented as an obvious choice to set up a base for the tele-medicinal company. “Given we all currently reside or work in Malta, it was the only natural thing to do. Our initial aim was to help with the fight in the COVID-19 pandemic by connecting patients to healthcare practitioners safely. During the initial weeks, no one was equipped to deal with this pandemic. Living in Malta detached us physically from the rest of Europe, most
thought this pandemic would never reach us until it did. The numbers continued to grow exponentially, and like most establishments, physical health clinics were closed. This was done to protect both the healthcare practitioners as well as patients themselves.” Meanwhile, Malta was forced into lockdown. Outpatients departments were working on reduced lists, and patients were postponing their appointments to avoid going in high-risk clinics and hospitals. Home visits were MONEY
also being declined. “There was only one way left to connect patients with their healthcare practitioners, and it was through telemedicine, which was non-existent in Malta. The great initial response fuelled us to continue Tabib.mt and aim to develop it into a fully-fledged telemedicine service further. We aim to synergise with major stakeholders in the healthcare industry as we seek to continue revolutionising the local digital health industry,” adds Dylan.
We’re not here to replace the physical consultations but rather to supplement the existing healthcare pathways already in place in Malta Being one of the first telemedicine service providers on the island hasn’t been a walk in the park for the team. Being the first within itself provides the biggest challenge. “We found whilst the uptake by patients and healthcare practitioners was astonishing, more work needs to be done to ensure that Tabib. mt continues to offer the best telemedicine service sustainably, especially because of Malta’s small population.” Another challenge is that tabib.mt is attempting to change a traditional means of medical consultation culturally. After all, what use would the best technology, the best Health Care Practitioners, the fanciest website, the most efficient customer service all have if the general public does not want to change their mentality and open themselves to a world of new opportunities? Dylan and the Tabib team firmly believe that education may be pivotal in helping us overcome such barriers. The biggest ongoing
technical challenges were the requirement to scale up quickly, which requires both time and funding. “We are working on both facets, and hope that our vision of what Tabib.mt should evolve into within a year is realised,” Dylan adds. Having just been in operation for less than a year, Tabib. mt’s aim is simple, connecting patients with their healthcare practitioners online through recognised and safe means. More and more companies realise that a happy and healthy workforce yields better results for the company and are thus seeking to sign up with Tabib.mt for their corporate health packages. Given the current situation, Tabib.mt is also offering packages aimed at a workforce’s mental well-being, enabling employees to consult with psychologists and get the help that they need. COVID-19 has undoubtedly been exerting increased pressure on everyone, especially those working from home and away from the rest of their colleagues. When it comes to operation, Dylan is quick to explain:
“All our current technology has been built in-house, by fellow Maltese tech gurus and we’re proud of this. We want Tabib.mt to represent Malta’s emerging digital health industry and shall continue to do this as long as our business model sustains it. I do not doubt our capability to match foreign counterparts. We look forward to being in a position to hire more people to join our team and look to even more significant achievements.” One might ask if the market is becoming flooded with such online services ready to commence, and how exactly is Tabib. mt prepared to take on such a challenge. “Our team and ambitions will help us fight off competition. We have a great mix of people coming from different backgrounds, from seasoned entrepreneurs to marketing specialists and medical advisors. We also have a nice age gap, allowing us to enjoy input from some energised fresh minds to experienced and wise ones. Having said this, we’re pretty much excited for competition as this can only serve as a power innovator within the local digital health industry, MONEY
fuelling everyone to work harder to stand out in a small market.” It’s clear when it comes to patient satisfaction; Dylan and his team take feedback very close to heart and encourage both patients and healthcare practitioners to share with their views and thoughts on the service. “Our system is simple, easy to use and user friendly. There have been certain minor tech hiccups, especially when initially launching - just until everything was finalised and tested, but I’m very proud to say that our team has responded very well to this and applied any changes or upgrades where necessary.” Deploying telemedicine through Tabib.mt is only the beginning. There’s a vast range of digital health tools which we can eventually continue to invest. Tabib aims to supplement Malta’s existing healthcare system. Dylan remarks: “We’re not going to give away much about our plans, but all require some fascinating application of new emerging technologies, including Artificial Intelligence.”
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See you on the (Vio)side Dayna Camilleri Clarke caught up with Chris Borg, Steve Scerri and Nicole Borg, the brains behind the popular mobile application start-up, Vioside, as they pave the future with successful and user-friendly mobile software development. How did Vioside begin? Right after completing our final college project in software development in 2010, Nicole Borg, Steve Scerri and myself, Chris Borg, we kicked off our own software development company, Vioside. Having completed the training, we took
together as programmers, we moved into our respective job roles to learn more through experience. With our deep admiration for handheld devices, we started specialising in mobile app development. Vioside is now a small company in Malta which focuses on the development of easy-to-use Native Mobile Apps and the software solutions that support them. Helping businesses in Malta go online using mobile apps. We currently have several clients who are digitising or updating their business to include e-commerce/ loyalty systems. However, our greatest satisfaction comes from seeing a client’s idea take off into a functioning and usable platform. To this day, 10 years later, we are a team of three founders: CHRIS BORG: Coming from
fifteen years of experience in software development
and eight years of mobile app development, Chris is the nerd when it comes to programming the heart of the apps and backend services. NICOLE BORG: Being the expert
when it comes to moving app development forward, Nicole has been dedicated to the operations of the company and its customers for eight years, assuring that the products delivered are of the required quality. STEVE SCERRI: With a
passionate focus towards design and eight years of experience, Steve is the artistic mind behind the design and development of the look and feel of all the apps and platforms developed at Vioside. Why did you set up a base in Malta? Since the three of us were raised and studied in Malta,
we decided to take advantage and start our small business here as a test base. When we started, mobile apps and smartphones were still being slowly introduced in Malta, so there was a vast sea which was still left to be explored. Today, we are aiming to increase our foreign client base, and hopefully open a branch in Europe. What challenges have you found locally along the way? Since we were the first company in Malta to start working on mobile apps back in 2011, most people and businesses were still not aware of the many influences mobile apps can have to simplify one’s life which can be hectic during these busy times. Now we can see how mobile apps have taken the world by storm. However, it can sometimes still be challenging for the local
market to appreciate the value in hiring mobile app developers to digitise their business.
“Mobile app development is not a skill that has been widely adopted in Malta yet, so finding developers who are both skilled and available might be a bit challenging at times”
Many companies have shifted to your service, why do you think this is? Our strategy was always to deliver the best service possible, which, in our eyes, means that we listen, deliver quality and on time. We do not use techniques that could give quick and inferior results for more profit, but we use techniques that are safe, tested and future-proof while delivering a great experience to the user. We also listen to what our clients need and work closely while trying to be as flexible as possible. What are the current technical challenges faced by your service? In the mobile app industry, there is currently a major stir on the user’s privacy. With the latest operating system update provided by Apple, we need to go a step further where users will be getting a more visual representation of what data is being collected and how it is being used while allowing users to block trackers. We have always encouraged the best privacy practices and taken this topic very seriously, and we always
took the approach of security and privacy by design while planning our apps. However, certain clients use certain third parties for analytics or services that make use of certain tracking. Therefore, there is the challenge of informing clients and going through all the apps and re-vetting all third parties used and update policies accordingly. Are you able to find skilled employees to drive the business forward? Mobile app development is not a skill that has been widely adopted in Malta yet, so finding developers who are both skilled and available might be a bit challenging at times. We find it easier to find developers that are keen to learn, and we guide them on how to use our practices and standards. The mobile app development market is steadily picking up pace locally with many others cropping up, what makes you stand out from your competitors? While other software companies may find a cheaper solution to deliver mobile apps, for example by using MONEY
cross-platform technologies or generators, we focus on developing native apps that provide a high-quality experience to users and a future-proof architecture to the client. What feedback have you been getting for your service? By using native technologies when it comes to mobile app development, we are using components and technologies that are provided directly by the manufacturers. This means directly by Apple for iOS and Google for Android. Hence, our apps always provide a user experience that is seamless and familiar with what they are used to. Besides, apps also perform the best they could with fluid animations, native gestures and great loading times. What does the future hold for Vioside? Our passion is to bring simplicity and automation to users’ lives through the power of software that is easily accessible through mobile devices. The best solution to this was mobile phones; this is quickly changing with the use of Internet of Things devices and wearables such as a smart watch. We plan to expand our services by developing software through automation on IoT and wearable devices. 55
TECH.MAG ST RAT EGY
DIGITAL TO THE CORE Do you feel that the COVID transition tied to a digital society is good enough? J.P. Fabri explains to Tech.mag that this transition needs to be part of our economic recovery. 56
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 nationbuilding. 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 a proper transformation in critical 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 moveaway from 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-ofnation 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. The 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 MONEY
ver the past few years, Malta has continued making promising advancements in technology, and various efforts were launched in this regard. However, in a current 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.
“At its core, the digital strategy is about empowering our people.” essential 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, 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: 57
“Technology disruption is a global force we must confront and harness to our advantage.” • 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 transform Malta through technology truly. Technology is only a means to an end, to enable significant improvements in how we live, work and play. We cannot only 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 critical 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 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 58
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 robust 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, rising 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 genuinely aspire to be a digital island. MONEY
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DECEMBER 2020 Follow us on
he COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the world into uncharted waters with many anomalies still to be resolved. It has forced governments across the globe to introduce aggressive and severe emergency measures and restrictions to contain the virus spread. Undoubtedly, such measures emerged as significant threats to industries, while others were confronted with a niche opportunity to expand further. A remarkable negative impact was felt mostly in tourism, leisure and aviation industries, to name a few. Â Realistically speaking, this virus has changed the way societies interact, and as such, it is reshaping the way business is done. Indeed, the remote working proposition has now become the norm for many companies, rather than a necessity. To this extent, this pandemic has deepened the reliance on the services offered by predominately tech giants. As consumers become more hesitant to carry and handle cash, and more specifically reluctant to carry the necessary errands physically, consumers are turning to e-commerce giants such as Amazon, for a wider variety of goods, like groceries and overthe-counter drugs.Â
Artwork by Samuel Rodriguez
B USINE SS
A SILVER LINING While selective sectors were facing an unprecedented scenario with a notable liquidity squeeze, technology-oriented businesses have found methods to hold steady and even thrive in a COVID-19 world.Â Jordan Portelli explains. 60
Ironically, for instance, although throughout the first quarter of 2020 we have seen millions of people filing for unemployment benefits in the United States (US), Amazon and other large supermarket companies were leading the call to recruit new staff, to cope with the increased demand for essential goods. Such companies have been overwhelmed by the wave of panic-buying as shoppers rushed to stock up amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Furthermore, streaming services such as Netflix over the past years have managed to grab a significant market share from the traditional box office cinema sales. Against all odds, Covid-19 emerged as possibly a temporary niche to increase traffic further. Indeed, following this year’s lockdown restrictions across the globe, whereby the leisure industry was amongst those most severely conditioned, media service providers and video sharing platforms, like Netflix and YouTube have gained new audiences. Likewise, communication tools like Zoom have become an essential tool for corporate interaction. Video conferencing through WhatsApp messaging service, for instance, became a vehicle for social interaction, with traffic volumes increasing notably over the first and second quarter of the year. Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently stated that Facebook’s Messenger application had seen similar growth throughout the pandemic. It is also worth highlighting that Apple, which had to close hundreds of stores due to imposed restrictions, also explored other niche segments to reduce their store reliance. They shifted their focus on service-oriented revenue sales, which included app sales and subscriptions to its music and TV services. Microsoft also noted a surge in usage for its software, with online collaboration pointing to a 40% increase at one point through the pandemic. Moreover, other areas within the technology sector experienced a benevolent unbudgeted revenue stream. The stockpiling of household goods, regular
grocery shopping, and other necessities, predominantly driven by the coronavirus outbreak, have inevitably also been a catalyst of change in the payments industry. From elbow bumps to video conferencing, to food delivery, the COVID-19 pandemic has sped up the shift in payments, as many companies moved their offering online to mitigate the impact of nonphysical store movement. Despite over the years, many have invested heavily in the online revenue stream; the pandemic has pushed others to speed up their efforts for survival purposes. Interestingly enough, many domestic companies were also positively impacted by the pandemic, while others had to adapt their business models instantly in line with the steep decline inactivity. RS2 Software plc, a locally listed company, engaged in the provision of acquiring and processing services to a wide range of customers, including large financial institutions and merchants across the globe, uniquely positioned within the technology and payments industry to assist companies in making the necessary changes to survive this pandemic. In this regard, through their recent announcements, RS2 confirmed that this crisis has resulted in additional business which was not previously expected for 2020. RS2 noted the increase in contactless payment requirements which are now becoming the norm in such a torrid environment. Indeed, companies are looking at processing partners who can serve the merchants’ changing needs, even across industries that are currently being decimated, such as travel, hospitality and restaurants. Another locally listed company
which is engaged within the technology and e-commerce solutions industries across a spread of geographical regions is Harvest Technology plc. To reiterate the argument that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the dependence on the services offered by these companies, Harvest has to date exceeded its IPO projections, which growth was predominantly driven by an upsurge in activity within the Group’s payment gateway services division. Similarly, BMIT Technologies plc, being another locally listed company and engaged in the provision of data centre and hosting services, cloud services and managed IT services, also reported improved financial results for the period ending June 2020. The main contributors for this growth were cloud services and connectivity serveries, which are also currently believed to be sought after tech-related services.
DESPITE OVER THE YEARS, MANY HAVE INVESTED HEAVILY IN THE ONLINE REVENUE STREAM; THE PANDEMIC HAS PUSHED OTHERS TO SPEED UP THEIR EFFORTS FOR SURVIVAL PURPOSES
Inevitably, this pandemic has hindered several sectors which traditionally have thrived. In contrast, it allowed others to expand and reap the benefits, egoistically speaking, from a pandemic which pushed the globe to its knees. That said, from a more optimistic viewpoint, it has also triggered habitual changes which have been on the back burner for a while, and which were more aligned to our mental wellbeing. The idea of introducing remoteworking as the norm is one of the factors that should be seen as positive. Once again, technology was crucial in making it happen. More habitual changes will continue to rely on the support of technology, and to this end from now on, we should continue to see exponential growth in tech companies. MONEY
FI N TECH
A DIGITAL FUTURE We may be in the same storm but not in the same boat. Theo Dix looks at the change the world is going through due to the pandemic that has changed the business landscape, some in a positive way, others not so much.
IF COMPANIES ARE NOW WILLING TO LET TEAMS WORK REMOTELY FROM DIFFERENT LOCATIONS, THE POTENTIAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR MALTESE WORKERS WITH THE RIGHT SKILLSETS COULD SUDDENLY BECOME BOUNDLESS
he world has never faced so much change in such a short period. How we work, how we live and how we shop are all being fundamentally altered. While the pandemic will pass, many changes we see today, whether intensified from existing trends or altogether new, will remain with us as we move forward. For many businesses, the pandemic accelerated the pace of change. Amid so many challenges and so much uncertainty, they are learning that adapting and evolving isn’t as tricky as they may have thought. The switch to remote working has challenged people’s conventional views about the workplace. How much time did we spend on traffic and meeting in-person? How could that time have been spent more usefully? Tech companies, famed for their lavish offices, are telling employees that remote work will continue until 2021 — with some global tech players recently announcing that they let employees work from home permanently. And with these changes may also come new opportunities for Malta. In a pre-COVID-19 world, the starting point for seeking out a job was the location — what jobs are available in the city or country I live in and am I prepared to move for the right opportunity? If companies are now willing to let teams work remotely from different locations, the potential opportunities for Maltese workers with the right skillsets could suddenly become boundless. On the flipside, local workers also need to consider that their Malta-based employers might do the same and resource parts of their workforce from overseas. In the short term, such work is likely to be freelanced or gigbased due to the potential tax implications that remote working from another country may create for the company concerned. But this may change as companies explore new structures and governments consider changes to tax legislation as they get to grips with the rapidly changing environment we are in today. Falco Weidemeyer, EY-Parthenon Leader for EMEIA recently stated that “When it comes to COVID-19, we are all in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat.” All sectors are affected, but the impact varies considerably by industry — and optimal strategies vary per the sector and the company’s
position within the industry. While companies in more robust sectors are investing in expanding, those in the weakest sectors are transforming their operations as they fight to survive. On both sides of the divide, the pandemic has turned a “should do” wish list into an urgent “must do” agenda for company transformation, with much of this built around digital. But creating a digital company is far more radical than merely augmenting physical operations with digital equivalents. It involves re-imagining the business from its foundation, driving innovation to differentiate against competitors, re-focussing on customer needs, and understanding the foundational technological layers that will underpin it. Leaders also need to think hard about what talent they need for the new challenges ahead. They need to ensure every member of the workforce is equipped to understand and implement rapid digitalisation. As challenging as it may be, business and policy leaders need to think not only about the now but also what comes next and beyond. We are on the cusp of what has been coined the next industrial revolution, powered by a range of human augmentation technologies - AI, autonomous vehicles, robots, augmented and virtual reality - that will allow us to do more than what was ever imagined. Significant investments in new infrastructure will be required, and new regulations will need to be developed, as technologies such as 5G, edge computing, precision sensors and next-generation batteries enable many advancements to be brought into the mainstream. Malta’s potential as a pilot site for innovation should not be overlooked. Its size, EU membership, English language attributes and telecommunications infrastructure, coupled with supportive regulatory frameworks and policies towards emerging technologies, make it a great place to test new ideas and showcase them to the world. Challenging scenarios are often an excellent time for disruptors to enter the fray. Operating on a different set of value drivers, they seek out where others fail, identifying pain-points and needs that incumbents often overlook. This is an opportunity to reset, re-imagine and reinvent. The stakes and the rewards are high for those who win the battle for the beyond. MONEY
BLOCKCHA I N
STORMING OUT OF THE BLOCKS Did it ever occur to you that Blockchain could pay a vital role in tracing green gas house emissions? Find out more as JP Fabri explains how Blockchain technology fits the bill.
e are all well-aware of global climate and environmental issues. Issues such as climate change, unsafe levels of air pollution, depletion of forestry, fishing and freshwater stocks, toxins in rivers and soils, overflowing levels of waste on land and in oceans, and loss of biodiversity and habitats are all examples of the unintended consequences of industrialisation on our global environmental commons.
physical and biological realms. Emerging technologies; including the blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT), virtual reality and artificial intelligence (AI), are enabling remarkable transformations across societies. There is a unique opportunity to harness the Fourth Industrial Revolution to help address environmental issues and transform how we manage our shared global environment. And I believe that Malta is uniquely placed for this.
Technological change and innovation have a lot to offer in this regard, especially in terms of solutions to improve our relationship with nature and how to protect our global environmental commons. The so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution is being driven by technology that is becoming increasingly connected. In essence, this Industrial Revolution is about seeing a convergence of the digital,
Blockchain is a powerful tool that can serve to significantly improve the transparency, accountability and traceability of green gas house emissions. It supports companies to provide more accurate, reliable, standardised, and readily available data on carbon emissions.
Given that blockchain works as a MONEY
decentralised network of independent nodes that provide instant authentication, the verification of real-time data, immutable data records and efficiency and timeliness. It can be catalysed through smart contracts to calculate better, track and report on the reduction of carbon footprint across the entire value chain. Notably, blockchain technologies can transform the individual efforts of companies into a concerted networked effort, while pinpointing the contributions that individual actors make toward the societal goal of reducing the carbon footprint. It is a propitious convergence, whereby the spirit of competition and carbon market-based incentives dovetail into a win-win situation for all. There are three areas which I believe blockchain can genuinely lend itself to climate change.
I believe that the current stance taken by the [local] authorities to focus on applications of blockchain is much more promising and potentially can attract development companies to Malta… CARBON MARKETS To date, national GHG emissions data in most developing countries is derived from few and often unreliable sources and thus only rough national estimates exist. The Paris Agreement requires all signatories to provide accurate and robust data of their GHG emissions, to validate assumptions regarding current baseline emission scenarios, to increase ambitions over time, and to track progress made towards national climate commitments. Cooperative approaches, established in Article 6 of the PA, enable cost-effective global emissions reductions through the exchange of mitigation outcomes across diverse jurisdictions. The international transfer of these mitigation outcomes requires robust accounting to ensure environmental integrity and transparency. Here blockchain can support this element by not only providing an immutable ledger of emissions but can also create opportunities for trading and open space for blockchain-based trading of digital carbon assets. The main advantages of blockchain can be listed as an immutable audit trail of the creation and transfer of mitigation outcomes; facilitated trading with various granularity levels and units; lower transaction and management costs and increased transaction speed; and traceability of emissions reductions and certificates trades across countries. This can be seen as a possible diversification within Malta’s existing financial services sector and the use of blockchain to allow a regional or global carbon market trading system will be something that Malta can pioneer.
GREEN FINANCE Achieving the PA goals will require sizeable investments; the International Energy Agency (IEA) for example, estimates an annual investment average of $3.5 trillion in the energy sector globally until 2050. As part of the Paris
Agreement, developed countries have already committed to mobilising $100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020 to assist developing countries. Despite these contributions, there remains a considerable finance gap where private investment is considered a key contributor. One option is to leverage private finance by providing appropriate incentive structures (e.g. carbon markets) for businesses and industries to transition into low- carbon technologies. Another option is to facilitate investments into profitable low-carbon interventions (e.g. through green bonds or crowdfunding), which are currently inhibited by high friction costs and poorly developed accountability mechanisms. Blockchain-based green bonds or green finance can support this transition and address current gaps. Specifically, blockchain can facilitate and enable of climate-smart investments through traceability of financial flows. The main advantages are enhanced accountability through traceability of capital flows; facilitation of earmarked and resultsbased financing; enabling of automated micro-payments to reduce micropayments for loan repayment, and reduced management and transaction costs. With the government announcing a green bond framework for Malta, this can be yet a fascinating case-study for the application of blockchain technology.
CLEAN ENERGY To achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, a rapid shift to clean energy technologies is needed. Fossil fuel-based energy generation accounted for roughly 70% of GHG emissions globally in 2010. However, renewables accounted for an estimated 70% of net additions to global power generation capacity. According to Bloomberg, “wind and solar are set to surge to almost 50% of world generation by 2050”. The World Bank IFC estimates nearly $23 trillion in opportunities for climate-smart investments in emerging markets between now and 2030. MONEY
A broader deployment of clean energy technologies, particularly wind and solar, lend themselves to decentralisation and intermittency. This trend precipitates the need for new market structures and regulations to be introduced so that energy markets can function effectively. Blockchain can enable the so-called prosumer business models for decentralised energy systems, whereby the consumer is also the producer. Some advantages of blockchain in this regard; the enabling of peer-to-peer energy transactions; better energy prices for both consumer and producer; traceability and certification of renewable energy production; and facilitated the addition of energy generation incentives (e.g. tokens). Even here, with governments’ plan to make Malta carbon-neutral; the roll-out of IoT; 5G and smart meters make Malta well-placed for such innovations. Malta has over the past year and months been trying to establish itself as a technology hub with an emphasis on blockchain. Whereas the initial focus was on cryptocurrencies, I believe that the current stance taken by the authorities to focus on applications of blockchain is a much more promising and has the potential to attract development companies to Malta. Tech.mt and the Malta Digital and Innovation Authority have a crucial role in promoting Malta as a hub. Malta needs to brand and position itself as a regional hub for the testing of such technology-based solutions. This can be a new economic niche for the country, and as the European Union has launched its Green Deal with billions of funding; we need to ensure that our sectoral ecosystems are functioning. One hopes that the Digital Think-Tank is actively looking at such opportunities as it focuses on developing Malta’s National Digital Strategy. The green economy is a reality and is an addon to existing sectors such as technology and financial services. This is a unique opportunity for us to truly explore and champion the benefits and application of blockchain. 65
icture this. An idyllic landscape, comprising a palm-fringed beach, sun and crystal clear water. A hammock with a young woman or man hanging on it, with a laptop on her/his legs. Although reality may be a far cry from this picture, this kind of scenario is becoming more and more common.
Malta could very well be the next stop for digital nomads. Daniel Goebel and Minou Schillings, digital entrepreneurs, speak to Tech.mt on this phenomenon and on some projects including CoCohub, a community of digital nomads also operating in Malta.
We are talking about the phenomenon of the digital nomads. This generic term includes a variety of professionals of any age, nationality and background with one thing in common: having a job that lets them work from anywhere with a laptop, as long as there’s a good internet connection.
seriously. But with the increasing opportunities created by the digital ecosystem, being a digital nomad is becoming increasingly more attractive and realistic and at the same time considered as a real alternative to the ‘nine to five’ job.
Some are entrepreneurs who do business in the digital environment, and some are freelancers specialised in fields like web development or design, and others are employed by companies with a ‘remote working’ culture (such as the Maltese Hotjar). Just a few years ago especially in Europe - this kind of lifestyle was by far considered a sort of ‘bohemian dream’ and not taken that
Due to the outbreak of the Covid19, even the most traditional companies have been forced to give the “smart working” a chance, and many of them realised that in most cases it’s not only doable but even better than the usual way of working. With a convenient tax scheme that supports entrepreneurs and attracts businesses, together with a variety of initiatives to promote Malta as a centre for innovative technologies, the country seems to have what it takes to become the next digital nomads’ hotspot in Europe. But who are digital nomads, and what do they look for when choosing a destination? What is the perception they have of the island?
Daniel - I’m from Germany and have been living in Malta on and off for nearly 13 years. Over the past four years - with CoCoHub - we have promoted Malta as a great country to live and work for digital nomads / remote workers and welcomed hundreds of remote workers. Minou - I moved from the Netherlands to Malta in 2018 to study for Master Creativity and Innovation at the University of Malta. The topic of my thesis was focused on the topic of nomadic entrepreneurship and the influence of nomadism on the business opportunity recognition process. I have been working with Daniel on the CoCoHub project for the past two years. What is CoCoHub? CoCoHub is the first decentralised global co-living and co-working community for digital nomads. We enable individuals to kick-start local communities of location independent professionals within their cities. We strongly believe in natural human interactions over real estate investments by creating digital nomad neighbourhoods all around the world, where everyone can join in. Let’s talk about digital nomads. What do they look for when choosing a destination? What is the average length of stay? The main things they look for are a fast and stable internet connection, a community of like-minded people, living in central areas and opportunities for self and business development. The average length of stay always depends on the location itself and the cost of living: it can MONEY
DANIEL & MINOU
be longer (like two months) or less, like one month in places where the cost of living is higher. In Malta, it is around one month, in general. What we’ve noticed back then, is that if somebody falls in love with the location, they will be keen to come back again in the future. Digital nomads are also in general conscious about their health: that’s why they love locations where it is possible to practice activities like outdoor sports, and there is a choice of good food and restaurants. As many of them are also into personal growth and development, so they appreciate places that offer spiritual, meditation and yoga courses. We’ve welcomed digital nomads in Malta mainly from Germany, Poland, UK and USA. How easy is it to find a short-medium let and above all - how much? Can it be expensive for a nomad in Malta? In general, it all depends on the season: during summertime, it’s virtually impossible to find accommodation for one, two or three months as all properties are used for shortterm rentals to tourists, who are in the position of paying up to 80 or 90 euros per day. This is an issue because most digital nomads are most likely to spend the summer months on the island, while during the winter months they choose destinations outside of Europe, where it is summer. In general - the way of renting in Malta is very far from the real needs of a digital nomad, as they are looking for a more flexible and less traditional way, including also not having hassles with landlords. What they are looking for is a community, which means ‘co67
living’ a shared space to live and work when meeting other digital nomads to network with. It is the same concept found in many language schools; most of them have a campus with accommodation and facilities for their students. This is what digital nomads are looking for when it comes to accommodation. Luckily, a new one has just opened in San Ġwann, so let’s see how it will go. When it comes to costs, digital nomads are ready to pay - when staying in Europe - between €800 and €1000 per month, all included, and above all, they need a high-speed internet connection. What are the pros and cons in Malta for a digital nomad? Let’s start with the pros: Malta has the charm of being an island, but at the same time it is not isolated at all, it is well connected with the rest of Europe and beyond. Also, it is possible to live the “city life” but at the same time living next to the sea. For those looking for some peace and nature, in a few minutes’ drive you can be on a beautiful trail hike near the cliffs. Let’s say that the small size of Malta is undoubtedly a pro. Moreover, it’s a safe and relaxed environment to live in, and the English language makes everything easier. Meeting new people is also easy, and the international environment helps connections and networking. Some digital nomads I met fell in love with the island and are considering relocating here, besides the convenient taxation schemes helps. In the last couple of years, Malta has developed quite fast from many points of view, which are attractive for the nomadic lifestyle. The number of co-working 68
spaces is growing, food delivery is getting more and more popular, there are yoga classes everywhere, and mobility is changing, giving some excellent alternatives to private cars. In fact, in the last couple of years, we have seen carpooling, and car/ scooter sharing companies grow. All these things didn’t exist a few years ago. Malta also made a significant move in 2017, promoting itself as the “cryptocurrency island” which attracted many new digital nomads.
“Malta has developed quite fast from many points of view, which are attractive for the nomadic lifestyle”
When it comes to the cons, as explained earlier, the real estate market is not really “digital nomad friendly”, as property owners tend to consider these people more like tourists or residents. Also, most digital nomads are susceptible to topics like environment, sustainability and politics and Malta has a great deal of work to be done in this sense. What is missing also are coliving and co-working spaces more central than what they are now. I imagine large and comfortable spaces to work and live overlooking the sea, in a central area or close to it. But I’m optimistic, and I’m sure they will come. Maybe it will take a couple of years, but they are coming. Do you see Malta as an ideal destination for digital nomads? What are the areas of improvement? I see Malta having a significant role in the remote work and digital nomad movement shortly. Introducing a “digital nomad visa”, as other countries did, i.e. Estonia and Barbados - would be a great way to attract new nomads like the ones from the USA, who are numerous. Malta has all the potential to
be a big player in the digital nomad / remote work revolution. After all, if you think about the history of the island, Malta has always been famous for its hospitality. Speaking in general about digital nomads, we can consider them the new “Knights”, fighting for freedom: the freedom of choosing and building a future for themselves different from the ‘nine to five’ lifestyle, a source of inspiration for other people, fighting for a better, fair and environmental-friendly planet. MONEY
FACE TO FACE WITH A DIGITAL NOMAD IN MALTA Alberto Guidotti is an Italian digital entrepreneur who chose Malta as his “nomadic house” for the time being. Alberto, what is your line of business? I own two companies operating in the e-commerce industry and collaborate with 50 professionals who work remotely from everywhere in the world: from Thailand to the United States. We find and launch new trends - mostly in the US - and create new products to sell. Why do you describe yourself as a digital nomad? I feel a digital nomad because I love living around the world and work from wherever I want. All I need is my laptop and a good internet connection. I dislike the office lifestyle and the traditional corporate culture where everybody is obliged to work in the same place. Why did you choose Malta? For how long have you been here and how long are you planning to stay? I chose Malta mainly for the climate and the use of the English language and the taxation scheme of this beautiful country. I live here for less than a year, and I think I will be staying for a while before moving to the US. When choosing a destination, what are the main features you take into consideration? In order of importance: taxation, climate, language and entertainment. MONEY
Have you found good business opportunities here in Malta and a good network of entrepreneurs and other digital nomads? I met many digital entrepreneurs and digital nomads here, which is something nearly impossible in the place I come from Bergamo, [a small town in Northern Italy]. Networking in Malta is excellent, and the taxation and bureaucracy make business development much more agile and lean compared to Italy. In what way, can Malta improve to be the ideal destination for digital nomad and entrepreneurs in Europe? I think there should be some organised events like fairs, summits and exhibitions dedicated to this ecosystem so that the island would be able to attract more people. 69
SOCI A L MEDI A
RAMPING UP YOUR
Instagram has well and truly established itself within the international social media landscape. As businesses, brands and causes continue to move into the digital realm with an accelerated pace unlike ever before; making sure that you have an optimised presence on the platform, should most definitely be on your list of priorities. Ricky Bugeja offers some essential tips on how it’s done.
SWITCH TO A BUSINESS PROFILE
MAXIMISE YOUR PROFILE
If you’re still using a personal Instagram account, then you should switch over to a business account. It’s very straight forward and costs you nothing. Once that’s done, you get access to the all-important insights sections where you can get into the nitty-gritty analytics of how your posts are performing. Moreover, you can list an email, phone number and address - all of which can link to your profile and aid overall searchability. Once you have a business account, you can also run paid advertising on your profile, link your account with your Facebook page, and post directly to Instagram through content schedulers and third-party apps. So, if you haven’t already, switch to a business account today!
Instagram is quite a minimalist platform, meaning that you must be wise about first impressions.
Starting with your profile picture, this should depict what your business or brand is all about. In the case of a company, it makes sense to have your logo or a variation of it as your profile image whilst if you are a personal brand, then a headshot of you doing what you do is a great option. For instance, if you’re an accountancy firm, then a logo would suffice, but if you’re a model, actor, dancer, or another kind of personality, then it makes sense to feature yourself here.
Just under your profile picture, comes your name and category always be careful to list your business under the correct category for maximum relevance. Under your profile picture comes your Instagram “bio” - here you have a few short lines to explain who you are and what you do. A good tip here is to include a call to action, further information and whenever necessary, your own branded hashtag.
your defined target audience - using content pillars and content calendars to plan your posts. Make use of user-generated content whenever necessary to fill in post gaps; be sure to ask permission and give credit to the creator when doing such things.
There’s also the issue of the single link allowance on Instagram. As you may have experienced already, Instagram only allows you to embed one available link in your bio. Whenever possible, it makes sense to use this link to send traffic to an “owned” platform - such as your website. It can even be a landing page on your website which has links to all your other social profiles. If you don’t have a website, using something like Linktree or url.bio is a great, free way to extend the list of links available to your audience.
SMASH THOSE STORIES Stories generally produce better organic reach than simple posts, and their interactive, full-screen nature means for a moment, you’ve captured your audience’s full attention. As a business on Instagram, you’re lucky enough to be able to create “Story” highlights - which are a collection of stories sorted into different categories. Not only do highlights occupy a prime piece of real estate at the very top of your profile, but they are also a way for viewers to be able to see your stories long after the 24hour story expiration time has elapsed. These highlights could be a collection of different places that you’ve travelled, or in the case of a business, range of services or products that you offer.
PRODUCE CAPTIVATING CAPTIONS
CONTENT IS STILL KING
Always keep in mind that people are on social media to relax and unwind - so sounding like a 1950’s infomercial will surely not help you sell your products.
Though things have become much more complicated since the initial launch of social media, thanks to a plethora of new features, competing platforms, algorithm updates and so on, there’s one consistent concept which has remained throughout - good content gets views. Yes, it is more challenging than ever to get people to engage with and share your content, but that problem triples in nature if the content on your grid is not up to snuff.
Feel free to showcase your brand’s personality. If humour is your thing, then be funny in your captions - but always be aware that you are on a global platform, so the rules of political correctness apply more than ever. Use captions to add depth and backstory to your images as well as to inspire, engage, entertain or captivate or educate your audience. No need for essays either, just some well thought out words that align with your brand.
This doesn’t mean that all your posts must be worthy of a national geographic front cover, but having a cohesive brand image helps you out as a business. Whether customers interact with you on your website, in person or on Instagram, certain aspects of your branding should always reign through. Depending on what it is your business does, try to mix your posts as much as possible in terms of valuable content towards
When it comes to creating captions, including a CTA (call to action) is an easy way to get a little more mileage. Emoji’s are another thing that relates to your brand’s tone of voice and as such, if it makes sense to your business, could add a fun little eye-catcher and emotion to your caption. Mentions, geotagging and hashtags all have their relative applicability - and whilst you should always aim to use all the tools at your disposal, be wary of your posts looking a little “overbaked”. MONEY
GROVEMADE WALNUT LAPTOP STAND This gorgeous laptop holder features allnatural materials, the most notable of which is its beautiful base that has been crafted from American Black Walnut. €150 grovemade.com
BAMBOO SOUL SEAT It might seem like the back and arms on your work chair are helpful, but they inhibit movement. This comfy work chair lets you sit in a variety of positions, helping you focus all day long. €1325 mysoulseat.com
BELKIN BOOST CHARGER This 3-in-1 charging stand gives your iPhone the fastest wireless charge possible: up to 15W, and with its MagSafe technology, using it is easy. €149 belkin.com
DJI OSMO MOBILE 4 FOLDABLE PHONE GIMBAL With gesture control, you can start and stop your videos and take photos without asking for help or using a remote. And the ActiveTrack 3.0 feature follows subjects smoothly. €149
SUDIO ETT Slip into an audio world where you’re in control. Sudio Ett’s Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) is pure listening, uninterrupted, while comfort fitted detachable ear tips ensure perfect sound seal for any ear. €149 intercomp.com.mt
RAZER KISHI IOS GAMING CONTROLLER This mobile device features clickable analogue thumb sticks that steady your aim and deliver tactile feedback. €109 razer.com
HUAWEI WATCH FIT The incredibly thin and light Huawei Watch Fit packs upgraded battery performance into just 21 grams, making it a perfect all-day companion. With power-saving algorithms, this watch can last for up to 10 days and can support you a whole day with a 5-minute charge. €149 intercomp.com.mt
SONY PS5 NEXT-GEN CONSOLE The console is powered by an eight-core AMD Zen 2 CPU and a custom AMD RDNA 2-based GPU. The proprietary SSD will provide 825GB of storage and 5.5 GBps of performance. €tbc forestals.com
HOW AML TRANSACTION MONITORING SOFTWARE WORKS
AML transaction monitoring software looks at everything from deposits and withdrawals to international wire transfers, currency exchanges, credit extensions, or any payments in or out of accounts. By identifying patterns over time, the system learns to predict your customer’s actions, detect any unusual (potentially suspicious) behaviour, and send out immediate alerts to your compliance team for further investigation. Companies big and small use this technology to fight against all kinds of fraud and money laundering including structuring, double invoicing, and round-tripping – but that’s not all it does. A sophisticated transaction monitoring solution also plays a central role in sniffing out terrorism financing and any customers who might be trying to avoid international sanctions. The main benefits of AML transaction monitoring software include - comply with global regulations, protects your reputation, instils a positive customer experience, minimises risk exposure and avoids potential fines. ComplyRadar utilises a robust risk-based approach to eliminate disruption to genuine customers, detect potential criminal behaviour, and demonstrate full ongoing compliance. It sends you notifications on the transactions that matter and enables you to automatically apply a full-pattern analysis to see suspicious transactions in real-time instantly. You can then manage flagged transactions through a comprehensive investigation process leading to the filing of a SAR when required. For more information on how ComplyRadar can help you avoid reputational risk and potential fines, visit www.comply-radar.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. 74
TECHNOGYM BIKE: THE BEST TRAINING EXPERIENCE INDOORS Technogym Bike is the latest and innovative Technogym’s product, the indoor bike that allows you to experience at home live or on-demand cycling classes, run by the most soughtafter trainers from fitness studios around the world. From the console, you can choose your favourite channel – based on trainer, music, and duration – and join live classes or select the ones available from the on-demand library in different languages: from London with 1Rebel to Milan with Revolution by Virgin Active. Other fitness studios in Europe, USA and Asia, will be available soon. The Technogym Bike is fully integrated into the Technogym Ecosystem. It has been developed starting from the “Wellness on the go” strategy that led to the development of a seamless solution made of smart equipment, mywellness cloud and apps. Vivendo is the exclusive local distributor of Technogym in Malta. For more info, call now on +356 2223 1000 or at email@example.com. MONEY
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THE FINANCE EDITION DECEMBER 2020