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An analysis of Malta’s strategy for a digital economy and future


Catching up with the island’s top tech and digital entrepreneurs






Exploring the potential of AI in business

Is Malta ready for 5G? The experts weigh in


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Smart island: creating Malta’s digital future

eSkills Malta Foundation: A journey towards improving Malta’s digital skills

Following Malta’s strong performance in the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) 2020, Rebecca Anastasi catches up with three stakeholders to discover the ins and outs of a digital economy for the island.

Carmel Cachia, Chief Administrator at eSkills Malta Foundation, discusses with Sarah Micallef the work being undertaken to continue improving the island’s performance in the digital sphere.





The sky’s the limit – Meet Malta’s tech and digital game changers

Modernising business registration for Malta

From Artificial Intelligence to data experts, Martina Said meets the island’s creative leaders and thinkers working to design technologically-advanced solutions for business and society at large.

Kenneth Brincat, the Malta Business Registry’s Chief Operations Officer, explains to Ray Bugeja the central role blockchain technology is playing in the registry’s digital transformation.





Heralding Malta’s digital transformation

Harnessing the power of Artificial Intelligence

Rebecca Anastasi chats with Chief Executive Officer at, Dana Farrugia, about the entity’s plans for helping businesses in the tech sphere achieve their goals beyond the island’s borders.

Rebecca Anastasi speaks to four of the island’s major thinkers and practitioners in the field to ask how businesses can truly mobilise the potential of this technology.







A global financial and cryptocurrency services group to serve world clients

Evolving Malta’s car rental industry

Irina Mudreac and Oliver Marco La Rosa, the main driving force behind Globiance – a merger between a bank and cryptocurrency exchange – explain to Ray Bugeja how it works.

Martina Said meets Gordon Farrugia, Director at First Car Rental, to find out how he transformed his young business to meet current needs and expectations in the car rental industry.





5G: Is Malta ready for the most critical building block of a ‘digital society’?

On European expansion and taking the MDIA to new heights

5G is a hot topic within the communications sector and beyond. Sarah Micallef discusses Malta’s readiness for 5G and the resulting digital transformation with the island’s key players.

Chief Executive Officer at the MDIA, Stephen McCarthy, tells Ray Bugeja what the Regulator responsible for innovative technologies certification has in the pipeline.





Setting standards for the office of tomorrow

On the App: How mobile apps are turning Malta into a digital island

With the first tenants scheduled to move in by summer 2021, Digital Island catches up with the marketing team behind The Quad Business Towers to discuss the latest developments.

Sarah Micallef catches up with a local app developer and two companies that offer personalised services through their apps to find out how mobile apps are shaping the local landscape.



A snapshot of Malta’s digital landscape PUBLISHER Content House Group Mallia Building, 3, Level 2, Triq in-Negozju, Zone 3 Central Business District Birkirkara, CBD 3010 EDITOR Martina Said

For a few years now, the local authorities have been working to establish Malta as a centre for excellence in the technology and digital spheres, beginning with a suite of legislation that regulates several related industries, and of course promoting Malta for foreign investment. While it is agreed that there’s still a way to go for this to


fully materialise, efforts across the board are being directed


the achievements and shortcomings of Government’s Digital


for the sector to flourish. On page 76, the island’s key players

towards this goal. In the cover story on page 16, we dive into Economy plans, and what needs to be done to set the stage in communication explain the work being done, and the roadmap ahead, to prepare the country for 5G. And at the heart of all the preparation are business leaders

We care about the environment

Because we care about the environment, Digital Island 2021 is printed on FSC-certified paper, a certification which provides assurance that the paper is from sustainable and well-managed sources, thereby minimising its environment impacts. Content House Ltd would like to thank all the protagonists, contributors, advertisers and the project team who have made this publication a success. Articles appearing in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of Content House Ltd. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission of the publisher is strictly prohibited. Digital Island is distributed to all leading companies involved in the digital world, including ICT and technology related companies, AI companies, software development companies, iGaming companies operating in Malta, companies involved in the FinTech industry and digital marketing agencies, as well as to leading CEOs, government agencies and public entities, ministries, leading law firms, communications companies and operators, creative industry leaders, banks, leading accounting firms and financial institutions, embassies and consulates. Beyond the free distribution network, Digital Island is sold at all leading newsagents around Malta.

and thinkers in this space driving change and creating their own solutions for the advancement of business and society at large. From pioneers in Artificial Intelligence to experts in data-driven solutions for businesses, you can find out all about their work and achievements on page 26, coupled with their thoughts on the developments they foresee for Malta, as well as where it’s lacking, to truly become a Digital Island. With all this and much more, we hope you enjoy this issue.




CREATING MALTA’S DIGITAL FUTURE Malta’s recent policies have underscored the pivotal role played by increasing digitisation in ensuring the country’s competitiveness. Indeed, the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) 2020, shows how the island has outperformed the EU average in the field, and, with the Government currently working on its upcoming National Digital Strategy, 2021-2024, more is set to be done. Rebecca Anastasi speaks to three business stakeholders to discover how the strategy should mould Malta’s digital imperatives.



Earlier this year, the European Commission’s Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) 2020 was released, revealing the digital progress made by each member state, based on data available in 2019. Grounded in information gathered before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the continent to adopt technological solutions to keep industries and societies afloat, Malta was revealed to outperform the European average on all five of the Index’s pillars: connectivity; human capital; use of internet services; the integration of digital technology; and digital public services. Instrumental to this progress, the National Digital Strategy 2014-2020, the island’s general framework determining policies in the technology sphere, aims to drive digital transformation in order to further attract and develop new industries, thus bolstering the economy. This framework is, however, shortly up for renewal, and the Government is currently striving to lay down the groundwork for a new vision covering 2021 to 2024. But what should the priorities be to ensure the country moves from strength to strength in this regard?



“This Government is, currently, spearheading the vision of a digital Malta through which our country will introduce new strategies that are aimed to create a digital society, thus guaranteeing an economy that is more resilient to asymmetric shocks,” says Parliamentary Secretary for Financial Services and the Digital Economy, Clayton Bartolo. Providing the background for this impetus, Mr Bartolo says that “Malta has consistently worked hard to be ahead of the curve where technology and innovation are concerned. In recent years, we have established ourselves as the main hub for the iGaming industry. As a result, the island’s digital ecosystem is healthy and flourishing, and companies from various sectors have been attracted by Malta’s investment in digital technology.” The upcoming vision of Malta’s digital future is currently being discussed in the context of a Think Tank, set up by the authorities to determine the imperatives for the island’s Digital Strategy 2021-2024. “Through the framework, we are aiming to consolidate and strengthen current sectors and also look into attracting new niches. And, the ultimate aim of the Think Tank is to provide us with the guidelines on the future of Malta within the digital economic sector. The recommendations set out by the set of participants – all professionals in the field – will be taken on board,” he continues. The new strategy will cover a shorter period than the previous framework – three years instead of six – in order to ensure the island’s adaptability to changing circumstances, Mr Bartolo explains, who reveals that the authorities are planning to re-evaluate the situation every six months, to adapt the vision to changing circumstances. “In a globalised world where change has become an everyday norm, we need to take into account that constant innovation of technologies is a process that will happen forever.” And this new framework will incorporate much of what has been learnt as a result of the global pandemic, the Parliamentary Secretary continues, adding that “the COVID-19 pandemic was an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to start integrating eCommerce within their business model,” and referring to Government initiatives which have aimed to drive progress in this regard. “Through the eBiznify initiative we are assisting business owners and individuals seeking to exploit digital commerce, empowering them to compete effectively in today’s global marketplace and enabling participants to learn and develop their digital skills when taking their business online,” he explains. Moreover, the upcoming framework will outline action on the implementation of digital public services. “The Government is even in the process of implementing the Mapping Tomorrow programme, through which we want to provide high-quality public services to all who need them, designed and delivered to any citizen or business at any moment in time. We must acknowledge that information 20


Malta has consistently worked hard to be ahead of the curve where technology and innovation are concerned. Clayton Bartolo, Parliamentary Secretary, Financial Services and the Digital Economy

technology is no longer just a tool to sustain back office functions and improve public sector efficiency; it has assumed a transformative role in public service design and delivery,” the Parliamentary Secretary asserts. And, while the new strategy will continue to invest in these areas, it will also drive change within the educational sphere, Mr Bartolo attests. “It is important that we start nurturing a disciplinary approach from top to bottom within our educational system. Significantly, the Government is committed to pursuing a strategy based on the upskilling and reskilling of digital skills to provide the necessary training that enhances our local workforce, allowing them to grow in their current role and bring added value to the tech industry,” he says. Malta’s social partners are also driven to ensure the new strategy cements the island’s reputation as a leader in the digital sphere, though, as Perit David Xuereb, President of the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry, says, a cohesive plan is fundamental. “The Chamber believes that, while great achievements have been registered in this field in the past, the country needs to move away from the fragmented approach that has characterised the sector so far,” he says. “In fact, as a Chamber, we advocate a shift towards a holistic digital vision, which necessitates the development of the appropriate business environment, its resources and ecosystems for digitalisation to be truly embraced locally,” he explains, adding that digitisation cuts across all sectors – whether public or private – and

requires the adoption of digital tools and processes “to enable tasks to become more efficient, resilient, nimble and agile.” Digitalisation and automation, he continues, “should be complemented with effective funding, bringing the best minds together to usher in a new era of innovation.” Moreover, the provision of investment incentives, such as support in strengthening eCommerce capabilities, can aid business transformation. “Incentives for investment in technological solutions and cleaner fleets to improve quality and competitiveness with international counterparts are also a must,” he says, by way of example. Referring to the current framework, Perit Xuereb underscores the need to retain the focus on Artificial Intelligence, eSkills and the digitisation of the public administration, integrating these pillars into one holistic vision for the future. “The more holistic a strategy is, the faster businesses will adopt and strive to meet the required direction. Moreover, it is important to ensure that the implementation of the strategy takes place in a timely manner, thus pre-empting and supporting the economy, not adapting because of it,” he says. Incentivising the shift to a digital economy would also create a market shift to online services, the Chamber President says. “This shift was mainly experienced during the earlier days of the COVID-19 pandemic in Malta as people were staying home and connecting virtually,” he asserts, going on to say that the deeper shift to eCommerce was also noticed in the retail sector as it migrated towards online shopping and



The more holistic a strategy is, the faster businesses will adopt and strive to meet the required direction. Perit David Xuereb, President, The Malta Chamber

home delivery, all of which also contributed to getting more cars off the road, and encouraging an awareness of more sustainable ways of living. “All this change generated the opportunity to make us more respectful of the environment we live in and hence more sustainable as an island. Moreover, by moving towards a customer-reality that prefers contactless solutions to everyday processes, the use of the internet has risen and positively contributed towards boosting businesses and the economy as a whole. We must capitalise from the lessons we have learnt in the past months through the COVID partial lockdown and build on them further,” he says. Looking ahead, Perit Xuereb says that the new strategy 2021-2024 “is expected to boost digital integration in businesses if it is implemented in a timely manner.” And “the shift to online services, meetings, teleworking, automation and contactless activities makes it clear that its implementation is required urgently,” he explains. Indeed, by the end of 2024, the Malta Chamber President says he hopes “Malta would have implemented its Digital Strategy holistically, thus giving a clear signal to business leaders to pioneer digitalisation across all sectors.” JP Fabri, Economist and Partner at Seed Consultancy also believes the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored “the importance of having a digital society, economy

and government”. He insists that “going digital is a national imperative for a better future. Digitalisation is 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.” Thus, the upcoming strategy “needs to 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,” he says. To this end, it should, he explains, be based on four main pillars: talent; research and innovation; policy, regulations and standards; as well as physical and digital infrastructure. These pillars will ensure Malta becomes “a truly smart island which moves away from just delivering public services online but to becoming an island that is digital to its core,” which he describes as “a Malta where people will be more empowered to live meaningful and fulfilled lives, enabled seamlessly by technology, offering exciting opportunities for all.” A “truly smart island” is also the place where “businesses can be more productive and seize new 23


opportunities in the digital economy,” he continues. “It is a nation which collaborates with our international partners to deliver digital solutions and benefit people and businesses across the world.” Indeed, so crucial is this transformation that, for Mr Fabri, “a smart Malta is integral to Malta’s next phase of nation building.” Elaborating, he says that “in a smart Malta, we need to move away from slogans to see proper transformation in key domains including government services, health, transport, urban solutions, finance, and education. Malta requires a holistic, mutually-reinforcing strategy to build a digital economy, a digital government and a digital society.”

And, reflecting much of what Perit Xuereb says, the economist underlines the need to “move away from piecemeal efforts but 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.” In his view, to effect these changes, “strong system foundations must be in place.” These include cybersecurity, which “needs to be the bedrock to secure all our digital efforts, protect users and inspire trust in a technological future for our nation; robust and flexible data management systems and processes; as well as effective training and educational initiatives in the digital sphere.”

A smart Malta is integral to Malta’s next phase of nation building. JP Fabri, Economist

Moreover, Mr Fabri adds that individuals will need to foster a mindset of lifelong learning to embrace change and strengthen their capabilities. “Organisations will need to rethink their operating models to be more agile and bold. Government needs to remodel its processes and data warehousing. Concurrently, this needs to be supported by a portfolio of major national projects, such as building digital infrastructure, a digital identity system, a national payments architecture and a digitising process of all documents,” he explains. And, by 2024, Mr Fabri hopes that adequate priority would be given to harnessing the power of technology to address national challenges in the key areas of health, education, transport, urban solutions, and finance. “At its core, the digital strategy is about empowering our people. Understandably, there might be some fears and tensions about technology destabilising livelihoods, raising costs and increasing vulnerabilities. However, if we identify these challenges and tackle them head on, technology can result in better jobs and business opportunities, more security and improvement of livelihoods.” 24



MEET MALTA’S TECH AND DIGITAL GAME CHANGERS While the foundations for making Malta a digital hub at the centre of the Med continue to be laid through public and private investment, there’s no local shortage of creative leaders and thinkers striving to design technologically-advanced solutions for business and the overall advancement of society. Martina Said catches up with the island’s foremost tech and digital entrepreneurs to understand what they do, and what the future holds. PHOTOS BY BERNARD POLIDANO SHOT ON LOCATION AT ESPLORA INTERACTIVE SCIENCE CENTRE PHOTOGRAPHED AT THE CELLULAR INSTRUMENTS INSTALLATION, ESPLORA





KRISTIAN ZARB ADAMI About yourself, your company and your greatest professional accomplishment to date… I have traditionally been an academic with an interest in problems of a more abstract nature, going on to study physics at the University of Cambridge and specialising in data analysis to understand the expansion of the universe. Over the past 20 years, I have spent my time shuttling between the University of Oxford and MIT – Massachusetts Institute of Technology, while holding a post at the University of Malta, and eventually setting up ISSA – the Institute for Space, Sciences and Astronomy. Having garnered an expertise in developing mobile imaging autofocus systems for mobile cameras, and a specialisation in data processing software, while working with the international teams to build the world’s largest telescope, I decided to apply my skills to more real-world problems – and IO-Labs was born. What are the latest developments in your sector? The main goal of IO-Labs is to marry the requirements of real-time imaging systems and other sensor types – such as radar, thermal and optical systems – with the strength of AI and Machine Learning algorithms. This provides our clients and end-users vital seconds to make real-time decisions with all the available information and inferences. For example, one of the products going through the development process in partnership with Methode Electronics and a top luxury sports car manufacturer, combines the power of cameras, thermal images and radar systems to alert drivers of obstacles in poor weather and lighting conditions. Our future roadmap involves developing modules that can be used for the early diagnosis of respiratory diseases, such as COVID-19, as well as cardiovascular conditions. I believe the best use of science is to prolong people’s quality of life, while transforming healthcare to homecare; and much of IO-Labs’ R&D division looks at exactly that.




What developments do you foresee for Malta to become a digital island? It’s exciting to see the AI sector growing steadily. Malta has been an early adopter of ICT technologies and our university is very strong in producing bright, young graduates capable of developing future technologies. Couple this with a strong communication infrastructure, a mild climate and an English-speaking population, and Malta is an ideal destination for digital investment. What I find lacking, compared to places like Silicon Valley, is the entrepreneurship and venture capital/ angel investment infrastructure that technology startups depend on so much at the start of their journey. The University of Malta foresaw this a few years ago and set up the Knowledge Transfer Office, but there are several opportunities the Government can tap to drive this, such as tax breaks for early investor programmes, incentives for digital start-ups and reskilling the workforce to foster the growth of such start-ups. Having said this, I think the Government has recognised the importance of the digital economy and is moving towards the creation of an infrastructure where start-ups can flourish. Hopefully, Malta will see its first unicorn company over the next decade.




CO-FOUNDER, THOUGHT3D LTD About yourself, your company and your greatest professional accomplishment to date… Thought3D is an R&D company, with a passionate team, based in Malta. In 2014, myself, who studied engineering and Dr Keith M. Azzopardi, PhD in Metamaterials, set up Thought3D when we came up with a novel smart adhesive, Magigoo®, to address one of the biggest problems affecting 3D printing. The founding team was further strengthened with the addition of Andrei Andy Linnas and his business acumen and experience. Today, Thought3D is focusing on its R&D activities. By combining knowledge of 3D printing, materials, chemistry, and engineering, the company develops new materials and technologies to solve problems in additive manufacturing. The Magigoo® adhesive brand has become the go-to solution for many large companies and corporations in the 3D printing industry. What are the latest developments in your sector? 3D printing is finding quick adoption locally, but even more so internationally. The COVID-19 crisis resulted in the shutdown of entire industries and

countries, and caused disruption to supply chains, giving new focus to the boosting of local manufacturing and advanced manufacturing, such as 3D printing, which can help supplement and strengthen this. At Thought3D, we are focusing on helping businesses achieve even more with their current 3D printing technologies by making the process easier and more reliable. We are also developing technologies to post-process 3D printed parts and make them stronger. What developments do you foresee for Malta to become a digital island? I look forward to seeing further schemes and developments targeted at encouraging local and foreign individuals to invest in local start-ups and companies. Re-thinking the taxation of retained and reinvested profits would help boost the appeal of investing in Malta. Also, a shift to having more governmental (and other) services online would be welcome. 29




INVESTOR, PRESIDENT OF SILICON VALLETTA About yourself, your company and your greatest professional accomplishment to date… I’ve been involved in building businesses and products for the last 15 years. By bringing together technology and business, my focus is on understanding the customer and driving growth. I also work very closely with early stage businesses to help them get traction and hit their first milestones. I am President of Silicon Valletta, an association that supports the tech entrepreneur community in Malta. Silicon Valletta has over 70 founders and CEOs as members, and employs over 1,500 people and over €65million revenue across the membership base. Having been involved in the tech, particularly the start-up sector, it is now fantastic to see so many great companies and people located on the island, and such a healthy community of individuals supporting each other. Only 15 years ago, start-up communities did not exist locally and today, we have a thriving sector. I am also the Head of Product for Onboarding at Betsson Group, an advisory board member of SXSW in Austin, Texas and a shareholder of several tech businesses and SMEs around Europe and Asia. 30

What are the latest developments in your sector? The biggest opportunities today in my opinion lie in the fast-changing behaviours happening locally and across the world, but also an increasing appetite or openness for behaviours to change. COVID is a major influencer of this change, but we are also seeing new levels of awareness for health and the environment. Evidence of this is how we are all now doing more things online, from shopping to education to entertainment, as well as the type of products we choose. Another interesting factor is time. Only a few months ago, most people were time-starved, living packed lives, and today we are seeing people have more time, but also being more selective with their choices. This has created lots of new opportunities for businesses to not only rethink how they deliver their service/ product but also what new business models can be applied. What developments do you foresee for Malta to become a digital island? Tech hubs around the world have recognised that there are two perspectives that need to be kept in mind. On one hand, we are seeing existing tech companies that need to make changes to how they do business, which may mean changing their product and business model, in order to adapt to the new reality that COVID has brought. These tech companies have likely not planned for such a massive change and therefore need support to navigate through it. On the other hand, we are also seeing new opportunities for products and businesses that require support to set up and take advantage of this reality. It is important that we offer support to both scenarios to ensure that Malta retains what it has already invested in, but also continue to grow in this space.



About yourself, your company and your greatest professional accomplishment to date… is a technology company working in Artificial Intelligence. Our team is spread over five countries and we focus on AI in healthcare, financial services and iGaming. I serve as EBO’s CEO. The CEO of a technology start-up needs to be seemingly everywhere at the same time: fundraising, recruiting, selling, team building, coaching, managing investors, customers and vendors. Rather than frantically chasing success through these processes, I realised that success comes mostly when you least expect it but also through an optimist’s outlook coupled with sheer perseverance and vision in knowing what your goals are and how to reach them. I feel that my greatest accomplishment is therefore in understanding that in leading an organisation, you must serve it by giving it meaning and adding value through intelligent optimism.


What are the latest developments in your sector? We operate in sectors that undergo constant transformation. Customers expect better service whilst enterprises need to reduce costs and constantly re-position their market offering. serves this development by utilising the latest automation tools to essentially re-frame the notion of ‘work’. Through AI, we automate processes which are repetitive (such as making an appointment, managing ‘on-boarding’ and so on) and subsequently allow humans to focus on what really matters: work which thrives on emotional and human intelligence.

What developments do you foresee for Malta to become a digital island? The problem of living in the midst of this technology revolution is that it is rather hard to take a long-term view of what is happening. Technology is not an instrument but a way of ‘seeing’ the world. We therefore see three key themes emerging. We see that the future of jobs will be different. With automation becoming an important vector of change, employability will be less about what you already know and more about your capacity to learn and adapt over time. Companies will need to focus more on data. Data allows you to create a profile to better understand your customer and predict needs based on known patterns. However, what is even more critical than capturing data is making it actionable. Lastly, as Malta grows in its ambition to become a digital playground, we need to make sure that we open a wider debate on privacy and ethical AI. Innovations ushered in with haste may have unfortunate (even if unintended) consequences and may subsequently erode societal trust in technology. Therefore, the success of Malta’s digital evolution has a direct correlation to the social acceptance of technology, the management of pro-privacy requirements and the wider necessity of improving our educational framework to one which promotes creativity in tech and innovation.




CyberSift is a specialist Managed Security Service Provider (MSSP) which uses its own tools and technology to help its customers maintain a secure operating environment. The company operates in various sectors but predominantly financial services. We help organisations visualise and understand their own systems, enabling them to further strengthen their information technology defences, ensuring that data remains intact, confidential and available. There is a big difference between reselling IT products manufactured by other, normally well-funded foreign suppliers and building your own solutions which are able to compete and hold their own on an international level. The cyber security field is a very specialised and competitive one; winning on an international level against much larger players makes me very proud. What are the latest developments in your sector? Of course, venturing into a new area is never easy and any organisation does initially need to find its feet and adapt quickly to market demand. Luckily, the IT security challenges faced by organisations have some level of commonality, meaning that our solutions once built for one client are quickly taken up by others. In our space, targeted phishing campaigns are a prevalent issue most are trying to guard against, and a solution for which will soon be offered by CyberSift.


What developments do you foresee for Malta to become a digital island? Definitely a more formal and structured investor ecosystem is required. Currently, it can best be described as fragmented with little avenues for start-ups to attract top venture capital from overseas. Many of the schemes available locally are intensive on the documentation front and offer little in the way of financing. What I would like to see is more akin to what other EU countries and even Israel are doing to help their start-ups flourish. The Government should chip in by way of investor incentives but not be the one providing the investment. Finally, for the local IT companies that have already ventured on the international scene, this should unlock further assistance to help them grow even further. I do hope to see a local business become a unicorn during my lifetime. PHOTOGRAPHED AT THE ILLUSIONS GALLERY, ESPLORA

About yourself, your company and your greatest professional accomplishment to date‌ I have been in the ICT industry for almost 30 years and have been witness to the immense change the sector has brought. From humble beginnings of computer use to the hyper connected world we currently live in, I feel honoured to have been present to see this firsthand. This evolution has made our society very dependent on technology and by consequence digital security in general. Although the notion of cyber security is not a new one, the recent wellpublicised cyber-attacks on myriad institutions have made it a recurring and current theme.




FOUNDER & CEO, SMART STUDIOS About yourself, your company and your greatest professional accomplishment to date… Throughout my various roles over the last 20 years my passion was constant – that of helping business leaders get the results they want through the optimal use of technology. And this is what I still do today. With my team at Smart Studios we projectmanage and execute complex digital projects for top brands and emerging start-ups. We help empower our clients to use emerging technologies like AI, IOT, RPA and blockchain in their products/services, and work with CEOs who want to instil an innovationdriven approach in their organisation. “Versatile” is how most of my friends describe me. They see me as someone who can rapidly change the hats of business, technology and innovation – linking them together. I always push to instil this versatility into the company culture of Smart Studios. Apart from leading Smart Studios, I’m also the founder and chair of Malta Innovation Summit, founder and administrator at Business Angels Malta, founder and president of Malta Innovation Forum and a board member at Silicon Valletta. On other fronts I’m an advocate for start-up ecosystems, STEM education, environmental sustainability, and diversity. The greatest professional accomplishment to date is growing a new Maltese start-up, NetRefer, in 2005, from zero into a company that employs more than 80 people and is internationally number one in its market. What are the latest developments in your sector? Malta launched its AI strategy in 2019. This comes at a time when at a global level AI has a thriving marketplace, with tools that enable you to apply AI models to any product or service more easily than ever before. AI has become a plug-and-play commodity, so I believe there are exciting times ahead in this field considering where we started.

When I was still at University over 20 years ago, we had started developing applications that use AI for face recognition. In those days, however, working with AI models was crude and lengthy. Nowadays, platforms exist through which you can set up and train an AI model with relative ease. At Smart Studios, we are very active in this regard. We’re enabling our clients to onboard AI initiatives and collaborating with them on a set of extremely interesting AI projects that solve realworld problems. What developments do you foresee for Malta to become a digital island? To make Malta an innovation hub within the Mediterranean region and within the EU, Malta needs a thriving start-up ecosystem. We have the potential to become the epicentre of new ideas and new ventures – however, certain pieces of the ecosystem are still too young or missing. From the activity I see around organisations I’m involved in, like Business Angels Malta, Malta Innovation Forum and Silicon Valletta, the activity around start-ups is constantly growing – even during the COVID-19 pandemic. One key element that is missing is the launch of a start-up visa. This would attract to the islands not only the right start-up founders but also the right investors. Apart from this, the rest of the missing pieces revolve around bringing the community (founders, investors, authorities) together to share ideas and learn from each other. 33



About yourself, your company and your greatest professional accomplishment to date‌ For almost 20 years I have championed business intelligence services to customers. Data is my life’s passion and I have made it my mission to assist customers and organisations become data driven. It gives me great satisfaction to help customers monitor their objectives and constantly re-engineer their processes to transform their businesses. Eunoia was born out of that concept. Already fulfilling and supporting organisations in a number of verticals, we created a focused data analytics company which provides industryfocused business intelligence solutions. As a cloud-first company, we build solutions that deliver scale and speed, ensuring optimal ROI through highly engineered orchestration, paying only for the value consumed. Today, many of the platforms we use are commoditised as platforms which are consumed as a service. The partnerships with Microsoft, Databricks and Panorama Software give us the flexibility to deliver these solutions, putting us in a position to deliver insights at the right time, to the right people, thereby helping our customers take decisions faster and supported by facts and figures. The journey has led us to build business intelligence products, specifically CFOUR which has been released as a software as a service, and is available on the Microsoft marketplace. CFOUR is a financial consolidation tool targeting multi-group organisations, enabling them to generate their management accounts and financial consolidation reporting, whilst monitoring their financial performance. Moreover, our operational business intelligence product shares a common data model which is used by hundreds of users daily, providing right on time and highly visual insights and placing our users in a better position to manage and improve business performance. Bringing this value to CFOUR enables new potential combining financial and operational reporting, exposing insights that would otherwise be hidden to the business. Our objective is to actively empower our users to look for potential risks and opportunities, and increase the automation and correctness of these processes. The discussion on the use of machine learning and predictive analytics has long started, but it all boils down to how good the ground data is. Therefore, 34


we apply rigorous cleansing methodologies to ensure the veracity of the base data to deliver on the promise of predicting outcomes. What are the latest developments in your sector? I believe that the drive towards cloud and the further need for data and analytics solutions have been more enhanced in the latest months and it is evident that, we as businesses, need to continuously monitor and measure to be able to react more efficiently to adverse situations, as we have seen with COVID-19. The ability to access enterprise grade platforms for the fraction of use required, has created an exciting opportunity for the size of the local ecosystem which can further deliver value and exciting new realities and insights to what was affordable in terms of ROI until recently. Using these platforms to combine our operational business intelligence with CFOUR will create a 360 view from a financial to an operational level. We are extremely excited about this new development which will continue to bring value to our customers. What developments do you foresee for Malta to become a digital island? Entrepreneurs in the digital and tech sphere have made incredible strides to build new ventures which make Malta more attractive, innately creating new high-value job opportunities. I hope that further funding structures and ecosystems are created, both through European aid for innovation, as well as venture and seed funding opportunities. These will be the catalyst of the future of the local tech industry and will enable a faster offshore growth.


GENERAL PARTNER, 111 HOLDINGS About yourself, your company and your greatest professional accomplishment to date… I am a serial entrepreneur and AI expert, and have been involved in various successful companies and exits, including making over 40 business angel investments. In the last 20 years I have had various experiences in executive positions in technology, entertainment and FinTech companies. I have had this long track record recognised twice in 2014 and 2019, when I was awarded Malta’s Top Entrepreneur of the Year award. My passion is to create scalable, repeatable technology businesses that lead by innovation. 111 Holdings is an entrepreneur driven group that brings together passionate start-up founders, angel investors, creative people, scientific innovators and engineering gurus to create a constant flow of new and exciting projects.



What are the latest developments in your sector? As a member of the European Business Angel Network (EBAN) and senator representative of the World Business Angel Forum (WBAF), I am happy to be a founding member of the newly set up Business Angels Malta (BAM) network. BAM aims to create a better ecosystem in Malta for start-up entrepreneurs and founders, as well as business angels, fostering a competitive mentality and celebrating grassroots innovation while actually providing the funds, mentoring and support necessary to make it happen. I am also heavily involved in my latest AI company, Umnai, which is creating new ground-breaking AI technology that can explain and optimise itself and its decisions, while helping to assist people rather than replacing them, with an emphasis on achieving a positive social impact. What developments do you foresee for Malta to become a digital island? I hope that BAM grows steadily and is supported locally to start the beginnings of what could be a new significant contributor to the country’s GDP. I also hope to see public-private partnerships, such as a co-investment fund, finally created in Malta and also have more incentives that support local entrepreneurs to compete effectively and enable them to take advantage of Malta’s corporate benefits, like foreigners already enjoy. The National AI Strategy, where I had led the investment workgroup, together with the upcoming National Digital Strategy for Malta promise to be a positive step in the right direction to catalyse Malta’s momentum in this area. 35



Since its inception 18 months ago,, a public-private partnership between the Government and the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry, has endeavoured to be a supportive partner for businesses in the tech sphere, encouraging them to look beyond the country’s borders. Rebecca Anastasi meets the entity’s Chief Executive Officer, Dana Farrugia, to discover how it is helping put Malta on the international map.



After years of groundwork, on 25th March 2019, the Government of Malta entered into a partnership with the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry, to create, with the aim of driving results in the technological sector by helping local companies export their services, products and intellectual capital abroad, as well as to encourage investment into the island. And, over the past 18 months, the entity has worked to champion Maltese talent by participating in international fora – despite the challenges presented by COVID-19 – thus raising the profile of Maltese technology companies. It has also encouraged upskilling and academic research in the field, and provided guidance to firms seeking to expand beyond Malta’s shores. Indeed, these endeavours have assumed even greater importance in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which has also pushed the organisation to assist private sector firms – across a gamut of sectors, even those not traditionally associated with tech – in transforming their digital capabilities to meet the challenges posed by the pandemic.



“We’ve only been in operation for little over a year now, and we’ve not only had to go through the ‘grand birth’, but we’ve had to revisit our strategy as a result of COVID, though we quickly realised the need to be of assistance to companies to help them transition to the digital world,” says Dana Farrugia, the Chief Executive Officer of “COVID has put us all 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 a resilient infrastructure and solid management styles within the tech sector and beyond.” This has enabled to “embark on an aggressive campaign” helping companies move online, with guidance given on how to create online stores, as


well as revamp operations to incorporate digital processes in deliveries, logistics and management systems. “We’ve aimed to help firms optimise their outlook, so they can, even, attract a wider variety of consumers, including those abroad. In this way, we have immediately embarked on putting Malta on the digital map for new technology,” she explains. Even prior to meeting these challenges, was recognised by the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) as a “strategic establishment for the tech sector in Malta,” Ms Farrugia says. Indeed, Malta’s country report for 2020 highlights the entity’s remit, within the context of the island’s National Digital Strategy – which is up for renewal next year – and underscores the collaborative perspective being adopted by the entity.


“Although we have come onto the scene a bit late in the day, since the technological sector has grown from strength to strength over the past decades, we have hit the ground running and we’ve established ourselves as a pillar for those who want to see more investment and business in tech, but also for those firms, in other industries, which want to modernise,” Ms Farrugia continues. This modernisation, she continues, allows companies to formulate innovative solutions to the storage of data, allowing them to monitor consumer behaviour. “You can then determine what’s working well for your company and what isn’t, and this information is critical to determining where you should spend your time and energy,” she says. Malta offers fertile ground for this modernisation to take hold, the CEO attests. This is corroborated by the DESI report which found that 85 per cent of the local population uses the internet at least once a week, ranking sixth when compared to other European Union member states. Moreover, the percentages of ICT graduates and specialists supersede the EU average, and 38 per cent of residents have above basic ICT skills. Yet, there’s still more work which should be done. For, DESI also finds that the country is slightly below

the EU average for basic digital and software skills: 56 per cent of people have at least basic digital skills (compared to the EU average of 58 per cent), and 58 per cent have at least basic software skills (with the EU average being 61 per cent). “Teaching digital skills at primary level is essential, if we’re to meet the demands of highly evolved industries,” Ms Farrugia asserts. “We need to introduce digitisation in our culture from the ground up, and, to this end the private sector – together with the Government – is intent on finding solutions for continuous training for local communities. A digital perspective must be firmly integrated and become embedded in our core values,” she says.

We need to introduce digitisation in our culture from the ground up, and, to this end the private sector – together with the Government – is intent on finding solutions for continuous training for local communities.



A small investment today will help the business in the future.

Honing in on the tech sector, more specifically, Ms Farrugia says that expanding digital skills to meet demand will further propel investment in the field. This outlook indicates a cyclical process whereby the tech industry – as well as other highly-digitised sectors – acquires the consumers and staff it needs to keep driving progress. However, she warns, investment opportunities are shifting, and businesses can no longer rely on the traditional banks to supply the liquidity necessary for change. “We cannot keep relying just on our banking sector,” she insists. “We have major banks, but we’re not exactly spoilt for choice, so we need to find alternatives, from a financial point of view.” Yet, this investment is integral to development in the tech sector, she continues. “Here at, we are very proud to be responsible for growth in the technological industry, and we do encourage a broad range of opportunities, helping to connect businesses. We would also advocate the creation of an environment in which mergers and takeovers can be encouraged. This would be fruitful since it keeps the wheel turning: struggling businesses can actually provide opportunities for growth for other firms,” she explains. Moving on, and speaking more broadly, within the context of the ‘new normal’, Ms Farrugia re-asserts the call for firms – whatever the size, and from whichever industry – to use their investments and the revenue accrued to upskill their staff, and to adopt a digital mindset. “A small investment today will help the business in the future,” she insists, adding, however, that the challenge is to get business leaders to change. 43


There is one thing we can be certain of: going digital is a must.

“In times of stress, some tend to go for, shall we say, a more traditional style of leadership, focused on monitoring numbers, cost crunching, and shifting employee roles. Let’s be honest, everyone seems to have been affected by a small degree of panic. Yet, while we have no precedent to base decisions upon, there is one thing we can be certain of: going digital is a must,” she asserts. However, Ms Farrugia is not naïve to the financial difficulties being faced by business owners, and says she understands that, today, companies may have other priorities. Despite this, she points to the funding schemes and support services being offered by Malta Enterprise – including their Business First facility – as one way how firms can finance the upskilling of their workforce and the shift to a digital set-up. “Government provides incentives to help business leaders affect change. I


understand that organisations, particularly SMEs, are stretched at the moment. However, I would advise seeking a balance between cost-cutting and spending wisely, to innovate for the long term,” she says. Indeed, looking ahead, encouraging innovation will be central to the strategy adopted by “We’ve already been making strides in this respect through the connections we’re developing internationally,” she explains, pointing to’s participation in the World Summit AI, 2019, in Amsterdam as an instance during which Malta boosted its profile. “We’re trying to establish connections globally, so that we can propel local businesses to the forefront,” she says. “Our major objective is to take Malta to international destinations, thus creating an environment which encourages mobility and innovation.” For, in her view, this is the future of business, whether in technology or beyond.



MALTA’S DIGITAL SKILLS Working hand in hand with its stakeholders and founding members, eSkills Malta Foundation has a distinct mission: continuing to improve on the island’s already positive performance in the digital sphere. Chief Administrator Carmel Cachia discusses the hard work being undertaken with Sarah Micallef. 46



The Foundation’s mandates aim at implementing short and long-term solutions for the current eSkills problems.

Launched by Government in 2014 with the aim of driving progress in digital skills development, eSkills Malta Foundation builds on the previous work done by the eSkills Alliance, along with its stakeholders and founding members: the Malta Information Technology Agency (MITA); the Ministry for Education and Employment; Malta Enterprise; the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA); the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry; and the Malta Communications Authority (MCA). In its set-up, the Foundation was given a number of mandates, explains Chief Administrator Carmel Cachia, who outlines its role in advising Government and stakeholders on matters related to eSkills policy, instigating further reform in ICT educational offerings, and contributing to capacity-building within the ICT education industry in Malta. Other important mandates of the Foundation include the recognition and further development of the ICT profession, Mr Cachia affirms, as well as championing several local and international campaigns created by different entities related to digital skills. In carrying out these mandates, there is a great deal of international networking: “it is important for us to see what’s going on in other countries so we can share and bring in best practices.”

These mandates filter into specific goals for the Foundation and its stakeholders, among which, Mr Cachia highlights, is the formulation of a coherent national strategy which acts as a focal point for policies and which stakeholders can use to strategise. “The Foundation’s mandates aim to implement short and long-term solutions for the current challenges we face in digital skills,” he continues, referencing Malta’s National eSkills Strategy, which was published last year, in which several key recommendations were put forward. Integral to the strategy, Mr Cachia expounds, is ensuring recognition for professionals in the ICT sector, maintaining that a majority of individuals in the field agree that there should be a formal national recognition in Malta for their profession. Likening this to the situation in other countries with government-recognised institutions, such as the UK’s British Computer Society, Mr Cachia explains that implementing a framework in which professionals are nationally accredited will increase transparency and accountability. The Foundation is currently working with Government and industry to move this forward. He further expands, “the European e-Competence Framework can be used as a cornerstone for national recognition”.



Meanwhile, he continues, “energising the education ecosystem is one of the most important targets of the Foundation,” which includes identifying areas or curricula that need changing and building upon, the bridging of industry experts to classrooms, and complemented by organising school visits to industry. Apart from the National eSkills Strategy, the Foundation has undertaken several studies, Mr Cachia continues, highlighting an ICT Skills Audit in 2017, through which eSkills Malta analysed the ICT industry requirements and identified the gap which exists between the needs of the industry, education and policy. Another important study the Chief Administrator references focused on how to increase and retain women in ICT. “For every five males in ICT, there is only one female,” he affirms, adding that the study revealed a number of important findings which can be utilised by stakeholders to develop policies and practices to attract and facilitate female involvement in the sector. Asked about the current landscape when it comes to digital skills, Mr Cachia quotes Malta’s ranking within the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) for 2020 compiled by the European Commission. The index, which tracks performance across a range of digital categories including, amongst others, competitiveness, human capital, the use of the internet, the integration of digital technology and the provision of digital public services, ranked Malta in fifth place out of the 28 member states in the European Union. Among the island’s higher than average digital competencies, Mr Cachia highlights that 38 per cent of people in Malta were found to have above basic digital skills, outperforming the EU average of 33 per cent, while the percentage of ICT specialists and graduates currently stands at 4.8 per cent of the total employment and 7.9 per cent of all graduates respectively (compared to the continent’s average of 3.9 per cent and 3.6 per cent). Still, while Malta scores highly across a number of European indicators, there is much that can be improved. Within the same index, Malta was found to be slightly below the EU average for basic digital and software

skills, with 56 per cent of people having entry-level competencies, while 58 per cent have basic software abilities (compared to the EU averages of 58 per cent and 61 per cent respectively). “These measures give us an indication of where we need to improve in our efforts for the well-being of society and competitiveness in the various industry sectors,” Mr Cachia says, adding that “in general, we compare well within Europe, but this doesn’t mean we should rest on our laurels.” Shifting focus to emerging technologies – namely Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, high-performance computing and robotics – Mr Cachia believes the situation on the island to be somewhat of a mixed bag. “Malta is home to a number of large organisations that make use of robotics and other emerging technologies; however, it is not easy to achieve within smaller businesses,” he affirms, noting that as a country, we are also leaders in some facets: “for instance, when it comes to blockchain regulation, Malta was the first country in Europe to implement regulation for companies operating in the sector.” Noting the importance of people becoming skilled in emerging technologies, Mr Cachia adds that awareness is also crucial, pointing to the Foundation’s work in this respect, among which is an elementary course in Artificial Intelligence which was launched on 8th October. The online course, he explains, was developed by the University of Helsinki in collaboration with Reaktor, and is an Introduction to AI with no complicated maths or programming required, irrespective of age, profession or country. The course is being made available in Malta through an agreement with the eSkills Malta Foundation and the University of Malta. This course was developed as a gift marking the end of Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union and aims to educate one per cent of Europeans. “We also collaborate with technology giants to bring several high-value courses to Malta, made available to locals through the Foundation,” he continues, referring to courses developed by Amazon Services, a leader in Cloud Services. These courses will be made available to some 90 individuals locally through the involvement of

We can only achieve so much alone – we need to work with Europe and share ways in which we can help each other. 48


eSkills Malta Foundation together with funding by the Melita Foundation. Other similar initiatives will follow, he says, citing also that the Foundation’s website already offers several free courses offered globally by the likes of Microsoft, Google and Cisco amongst others. Meanwhile, Mr Cachia reveals that the Foundation collaborates and engages with several other entities and stakeholders both locally and abroad, networking with organisations with a similar scope in different countries and forming part of the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition within the European Commission, as well as a European Technical Committee to advance standards relating to competences for ICT professionals. Speaking in favour of further collaboration, Mr Cachia states, “we can only achieve so much alone – we need to work with Europe and share ways in which we can help each other.” Making reference to the situation with COVID-19, which has caused major shifts in the sector, Mr Cachia maintains that “COVID has disrupted everything, however, it also revealed a lack of skills when it comes to certain digital technologies.” Indeed, he continues, digital transformation has become increasingly essential as global developments push businesses to

embrace technology quicker than predicted. And while the pandemic has certainly been a disruption is some respects, the Chief Administrator believes in adaptation, as well as a distinct positive side to all this. Referencing the increased take-up of virtual meetings and events, Mr Cachia notes a great opportunity in e-learning courses and online classes for both children and adults, with the Foundation itself having to shift many of its projects into the digital sphere, with online career sessions, for instance, replacing in-class meetings. And while the future, in relation to COVID-19, remains uncertain, Mr Cachia is firm in the eSkills Malta Foundation’s ultimate goal: to increase in maturity when it comes to digital competencies in Malta, and in so doing, continuing to improve on the island’s positive performance in the digital economy sphere.

In general, we compare well within Europe, but this doesn’t mean we should rest on our laurels.



MODERNISING BUSINESS REGISTRATION FOR MALTA The Malta Business Registry is going through a transformation, or, rather, its online system is. Kenneth Brincat, its Chief Operations Officer, explains to Ray Bugeja how blockchain technology will make life easier for all those making use of data.



Our system overhaul is set to result in an improved and more practical service for our clients.

The Malta Business Registry, also referred to as MBR or Registry, is responsible for the registration of new commercial partnerships, the registration of documents related to commercial partnership, the issuing of certified documentation including certificates of good-standing, among others, the reservation of company names, the collection of registration and other fees, the publication of notices and the imposition and collection of penalties. The Registry also conducts investigations of companies and keeps the company and partnership register. According to its latest annual report, 4,472 commercial partnerships were registered in Malta last year, bringing the total to 98,090. It reported a surplus of €10.2 million for the financial year 2019, when operating expenses exceeded €5.2 million, investing €6.3 million in fixed assets and generating an income of just under €16 million. As for the Registry’s online platform, which was developed in 2004 and enhanced over the years, it was felt that the new technologies available in this era of the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and blockchain have made this the opportune moment to replace its current online system.



Joseph Farrugia, Registrar and Chief Executive Officer and Kenneth Brincat, Deputy Registrar and Chief Operations Officer at the Malta Business Registry

The MBR is the first Registry in the world to be running a production ledger on the Azure Blockchain Service using hyperledger fabric as its underlying technology. 52

Beyond this, however, is the low client usage rate of the Registry’s online platform, as only about 15 per cent of clients use the current online system, Chief Operations Officer Kenneth Brincat explains. During the time the MBR’s offices were closed to the public because of the COVID-19 containment measures, the usage rate was circa 38 per cent. Essentially, he explains, this was down to the fact that clients had no other way of obtaining a fast service from the Registry at the time. “Fuelled by analytics showing that the current platform is not popular, further research identified additional reasons that hinder our clients from using the portal, which mainly relate to its technological limitations,” Mr Brincat continues. As part of its continuous effort to provide clients with the best possible service, the Registry is in the process of launching a new online platform, which will be up and running by the end of 2020 and uses the latest


efficient representation of all companies and involved parties. “Our system overhaul,” Mr Brincat promises, “is set to result in an improved and more practical service for our clients.” The COO explains that the major setback of the MBR’s currently outdated system hinges on the identification of users and their digital signatures. To be an authorised user, one needs to have a Maltese identity (ID) card to be able to sign documents via the chip. The process results in several drawbacks that make it rather complex and burdensome for new users to obtain authorisation to perform actions directly on the system. Targeting this issue head-on, the Registry’s new platform has its own Identity Management protocol, which offers digital certificates for eIDAScompliant Qualified Electronic Signatures whereby the MBR has control over the identities issued on its platform and can ensure that such identities are verified efficiently and effectively. The core of the MBR’s revised system is being developed in the form of a Business Process Management engine that will work in conjunction with a permissioned distributed ledger to handle and manage workflows of processes performed by the MBR, Mr Brincat says. Customers will be able to initiate procedures directly on this engine, provided they have the necessary permissions.

innovative technologies. Specifically, blockchain technology forms the new backbone for the storing of the Registry’s data, and Business Process Management (BPMN) is the new orchestrator for all business procedures performed by the MBR, Mr Brincat adds. Adopting the new technologies triggered a complete overhaul of the MBR’s current system to remove all major deficiencies. Over time, he points out, the system will also help the Registry to streamline its internal processes in order to ensure that customer requests are dealt with in a timely and consistent manner. The MBR’s new technological infrastructure makes use of AI to perform and automate discrete tasks, such as determining how phonetically similar a company’s name is to all other existing and registered company names, as well as verifying identity documents for involved parties. Furthermore, the development of the new system also means re-engineering the Registry’s data scheme to allow for a more accurate and

Such processes will be reviewed internally by MBR representatives and any resulting changes to data will be immediately reflected on the underlying distributed ledger. In addition, MBR employees will be able to manage these processes using the same ledger and this will increase the efficiency of the MBR’s operations and ensure they are all transparent and auditable. “In our new technological environment, the revised system processes will be managed using the hyperledger fabric blockchain development framework. The MBR is the first Registry in the world to be running a production ledger on the Azure Blockchain Service using hyperledger fabric as its underlying technology,” says Mr Brincat. “We are also proud to announce that Microsoft has shown interest in our new blockchain infrastructure and discussions are underway to have our technology tested in their blockchain services environment. In doing so, the MBR’s technology will be the first worldwide to have its infrastructure introduced on blockchain services by Microsoft,” the COO explains. Those using the Registry’s old system also came across a stumbling block when dealing with documents due to the portal’s lack of advanced capabilities in document management. The old system does not intrinsically handle versioning 53


The Registry’s system overhaul project is the first step in enabling a digital ecosystem for Maltese companies.

and revising of documents, and fails to automatically keep a clear audit trail of how submitted documents are changed from time to time. Furthermore, it does not allow for any actions to be performed on documents within the system other than the uploading of PDF files. This, Mr Brincat points out, results in some process inefficiency when compared to more feature-intensive document management systems. The reason is that the management of documents is not directly integrated with the MBR’s workflows of processes within the system used to perform them. Conversely, the new structure contains a document management system with industry-standard features that one should expect nowadays, he notes. The document management system will be fully integrated with the hyperledger fabric blockchain and will guarantee that the management of documents and their relative processes can be carried out in a unified manner, ensuring that all versions of documents are logged, stored and available to the MBR as needed, Mr Brincat continues. The new structure is also meant to facilitate workflow management by focusing on the configuration of work within the Registry and how stakeholders collaborate to complete this work. All relevant processes will be made visible to all stakeholders and this, he says, will allow for business process improvement over time. As a result, the Registry is expected to streamline and standardise its way of dealing with its processes and communicating with its external stakeholders. “The outcome will be a more efficient and transparent modus operandi in which an audit trail of all actions is held,” the COO asserts. While blockchain is considered to be an important part of the revised system as it manages the data layer, he remarks that the business process management system is a vital tool within the new platform.


The MBR’s role, Mr Brincat adds, can be described as a collection of business processes performed to offer services to citizens and non-citizens. Through its revised technological infrastructure, all the Registry’s processes will be documented, designed and described as executable business workflows through the use of industry-standard languages and technologies (BPMN). Importantly, he points out, the MBR is the first Registry in the world to use such technologies in conjunction with blockchain at the backend layer. BPMN will help the MBR run more efficiently, be more transparent and have a clear view


of all ongoing operations at any point in time, he observes. Additionally, blockchain technology will help the Registry share data with trusted counterparts in an efficient and completely transparent manner. “The hyperledger fabric framework will allow participants in the network to be identified,” Mr Brincat notes. “Since it is a permissioned network, different access rights can be granted to various individuals and organisations, allowing the MBR to maintain fine-grained control over how sensitive data is shared and used.” “The Registry’s system overhaul project is the first step in enabling a digital

ecosystem for Maltese companies. In the future, the goal is to integrate other entities or institutions into the blockchain and implement BPMN processes that span across multiple bodies,” he adds. “We will then see more efficient business processes across entities of public interest, resulting in a better end service for our clients. Streamlining the way different entities cooperate and share data between each other will ensure that all processes and interactions are secure, auditable and fully transparent.” “The ultimate winner from all this will be the citizen,” Mr Brincat concludes.




ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE In October 2019, Malta’s National Artificial Intelligence Strategy was published, aiming to drive the country towards building a solid AI ecosystem in the private and public sectors. A year on, Rebecca Anastasi speaks to four of the island’s major thinkers and practitioners in the field to ask how businesses can truly mobilise the potential of this technology. 58

Once associated with sci-fi and cutting-edge research labs, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become a ubiquitous term we read about in everyday news. Its application varies widely from powering self-drive cars to responding in a natural way to human voice commands. But is there room for AI in the small to medium enterprise (SME) which describes the majority of Maltese business? The local authorities certainly seem to think so. In October of last year, the Government published Malta’s National AI Strategy, aiming to spearhead innovation in the field and increase the island’s business competitiveness. The strategy is based on three key pillars: the creation of a solid AI ecosystem based on investments, start-up support and innovation; support for increased adoption of AI in the public sector; and support measures for the adoption of AI in the private sector. “AI is everywhere, and if we believe that it is just a technology available to the big corporations, then we have no idea what we’re talking about,” says Alexiei Dingli, Professor at the Department of AI at the University of Malta, who has been conducting research and working in the field of AI for more than two decades. International experts have rated his work as World Class


and he has won several local and international awards, from, among others, the European Space Agency, the World Intellectual Property Organisation and the United Nations, while, locally, he was a member of the Malta.AI Taskforce set up by the Government. Indeed, looking closely to the situation on-the-ground here on the island, he says he is “pretty sure that small organisations are heavily using AI and dependent on it. But since AI is made up of several technologies, many do not realise that they are using it.” By way of example, Prof. Dingli refers to the spam filter on businesses’ email client; the google search engine; and Facebook targeted ads, which, he says, “all heavily use AI and they’re all used by small businesses daily.” Indeed, the big difference between how larger corporations or SMEs could use the technology lies in their business culture, he insists, saying that those firms using basic functions can be classified as ‘followers’. “But what these businesses miss is that, with AI, a small investment can give incredible returns – much more than what these small businesses can conceive,” he asserts. To illustrate, he lays out the use of AI in a simple enterprise – a beauty salon – saying that simple automation tasks can be used, for example, when scheduling appointments, allowing the business to redirect its resources: in using AI to book customers, they would no longer need a staff member to spend up to three days a month organising their clients, and it would allow the business to save thousands a year, he says.

Once all the preconditions for the project have been established, then the creation of the right team is essential, Prof. Dingli continues. “Finding the right people is not easy, especially when one considers that all the countries in the world are facing a shortage of ICT professionals and other supporting roles (such as graphic designers). Just in Europe, this figure is around one million unfulfilled ICT jobs, and it is set to increase in the coming years as the dependence on technology keeps on growing. Of course, out of these, AI experts are the scarcest.” In the circumstances, “the best bet would be to engage AI experts to manage the project and get ICT professionals to execute it. Luckily, both the University and other educational institutions are continually churning out ICT professionals or converting existing students, thus providing a steady supply of talent, but the demand is usually much higher,” he says.

AI is not a fad but is here to stay. Many have even dubbed it as the new electricity, and we are now entering the age of AI. Alexiei Dingli, Professor of Artificial Intelligence, University of Malta

“As can be seen from the above example, a small shop which uses AI already benefits much more than it spends on such systems. However, even if the initial investment is not possible, the Government offers funds to allow SMEs to modernise and implement AI solutions in their business. So, no more excuses, all that is needed is to take the first step!” To start working with AI, companies have to do so gradually, he insists. “AI is not a magic powder which one sprinkles on, and it is not a technology suited for every project either. So, it is imperative that when organisations start an AI project, they need to consult an AI expert to highlight common pitfalls and ensure that the project doesn’t stall before it even commences.”



Businesses would be advised to check that they are making use of technologies that respect ethical values and to ensure that the use of AI technologies occurs within the context of an internal ethical framework. Jackie Mallia, Legal Consultant, GVZH Advocates

Prof. Dingli also underscores the difference between AI and blockchain saying they “are a different kettle of fish and cannot be compared. Blockchain saw its inception in the past decade. The technology is relatively new and will take some time until it matures. Unfortunately, it also got caught on the hype-train, and the expectations grew out of proportion.” In contrast, “AI is a mature technology which has been around for about seven decades. It joined the hype-train at least twice during the famous AI winters (the ‘70s and ‘80s) when people got disillusioned with the promises of AI. But, as of today, AI has proved itself to be reliable and can be easily integrated with most applications. Its versatility and effectiveness make it ideal for solving most

problems. So, AI is not a fad but is here to stay. Many have even dubbed it as the new electricity, and we are now entering the age of AI.” Jackie Mallia, a legal consultant at GVZH Advocates and specialist in IT law, echoes Prof. Dingli’s insistence that AI can drive the operations and sustainability of Malta’s businesses, whether large or small. “AI is a generalpurpose technology and AI solutions should be available to all industries and to all entities, regardless of size or sector. The provision of consultancy services can also become AI powered and indeed this will become widespread in the future,” she explains. She refers to Malta’s AI Strategy saying that it outlines a number of measures which can enable companies to use, develop and integrate AI applications within their business, also echoing Prof. Dingli’s call for more business to adopt the technology. Indeed, such incentives “include new forms of financial assistance measures to help entities to carry out AI readiness assessments; to review business processes; and to implement AI-based solutions and training programmes; as well as financial support measures to assist business owners and employees to develop AIrelated skills,” she explains. For Dr Mallia, the uses of AI can be as wide or narrow as the necessities required by each company and the technology can be used, for instance, in customer relationship marketing (CRM), and customer service. “When a business collects data on customer interactions, AI can learn more about each customer with each order. That information can be converted into actionable steps and targeted actions, and that could put such a business at an advantage when compared to the competition,” she outlines. However, honing in on the legal implications of using the technology, Dr Mallia says that, while it is difficult to address this issue comprehensively in a few words, “in essence, one needs to keep in mind that a machine does not actually know much until it is programmed with the applicable data, and it is dependent on human



input to teach it how to process that data. There are, thus, risks of discrimination where the data sets may contain bias.” Moreover, as the system becomes more sophisticated, decisions may not be easily explained. “This is why we refer to the ‘black box’ where it is possible that nobody, even the developer of the system, would know exactly what the decision-making process entailed. The ‘autonomy’ of AI systems thus creates issues of liability, among other matters.” Finally, “last but not least”, AI systems require massive amounts of data in order to be properly trained and to achieve accurate results. “When the data required is of a personal nature, several data privacy issues arise. It should be noted that breaches of the General Data Protection Regulation can, in certain situations, result in fines of up to €20 million, or in the case of an undertaking, up to 4 per cent of their total global turnover in the preceding fiscal year, whichever is higher.” Within this context, Dr Mallia says it is essential for businesses planning to adopt AI to be “mindful of the potential legal implications of its use. Businesses would be advised to check that they are making use of technologies that respect ethical values and to ensure that the use of AI technologies occurs within the context of an internal ethical framework.” Meanwhile, CEO of and technology entrepreneur, Gege Gatt, is well-aware of the potential of AI – as well as its pitfalls – having spent his career driving digital transformation in business. Speaking from personal experience, he says that businesses are less constrained by budgets than they are by cultural legacy and change resistance. “The most common problem is not having an innovation strategy and, thus, taking on short-term ‘projects’ which don’t align to an ultimate scope. An innovation strategy should dictate the direction of innovation and its operational implementation. Without one, innovation efforts risk misalignment,” he asserts. However, he warns against buying into the ‘hype’ surrounding AI, urging businesses to look beyond the gloss and into the real-life applicability of the powerful tools the technology affords. “There’s a lot of AI hype which unfortunately ‘hides’ the real discussions we should be having around business benefits, or the tough questions we need to discuss about AI bias, ethics and

An innovation strategy should dictate the direction of innovation and its operational implementation. Without one, innovation efforts risk misalignment. Gege Gatt, CEO,

human agency. Hype shifts the discussion away from AI literacy to sponsored marketing-speak, which is deplorable. This unfortunate approach also marred the blockchain debate from its inception and became a frenzy in 2008 when the pseudonym, Satoshi Nakamoto, published an overview of the peer-to-peer electronic cash system using the blockchain which we now call Bitcoin.” To counteract any scepticism, “AI must engender trust and, to do so, it must have wide societal acceptance. For this to occur, we should take time to explain key AI concepts, like classification and confidence levels, ethics and fairness in machine learning, for nontechnical audiences. And we must do this in simple terms to allow anyone to follow,” Dr Gatt insists. Indeed, he continues, “AI requires a deep partnership between the technologists and the humanists and, so, it presents the need for interdisciplinary education which fosters better communication. We’re not thinking enough about this in our education system and in our public policy formulation,” he claims. Predicting how AI can continue to revolutionise business, Dr Gatt says that “as with any revolution, some jobs will go whilst others will be created. This is a reality we need to get comfortable with.” 61


Those who are only now beginning to deal with Artificial Intelligence are years behind the times. Albrecht von Senden, CTO, Tipico

However, AI will not be able to replace our humanity. Indeed, he asserts, “in the foreseeable future, AI will find it hard to negotiate complex social relationships or be creative in a way which requires self-awareness and consciousness. This is specifically where human ability will trump computing activity. New jobs must be focused on knowledge and the soft skills that drive it. That’s why I think that, today, employability is less about what you already know and more about your capacity to learn and adapt.” From the perspective of a business employing AI in its operations and functions, iGaming firm Tipico insists that the size, the budget or the skills of a company are not decisive factors when it comes to the adoption of the technology. “The only requirement is a basic understanding of what AI should be used for,” Albrecht von Senden, the firm’s Chief Tech Officer (CTO) says. “The most important prerequisite is to define exact use cases, that is, what should be achieved with Artificial Intelligence. Tipico uses AI mainly in customer acquisition and retention in order to offer the best possible user experience to its customers.” Focusing attention on the potential of cloud solutions, business intelligence and mobile app development, which attract continued interest from the business community, the CTO says that these functions are no “vanguard” but the use of AI in this regard is the status quo. “Those who are only now beginning to deal with Artificial Intelligence are years behind the times. Tipico is well positioned in this field and has recognised the potential early on. Nevertheless, there is still a lot of room for improvement in Europe – especially when compared 62

to the situation in the USA: while companies in the United States are already recruiting data scientists, many other European companies are still looking for developers to implement Artificial Intelligence,” he explains. He, too, believes that blockchain and AI are not comparable since, when it comes to the iGaming sector, the criteria for success are very different, though he praises the use of AI, saying that the relevance of the latter is due to the sports betting business being based on a business-to-customer relationship. However, he underscores, “AI is only successful if exact use cases are defined, and the proper models and algorithms are used for AI training.” Looking ahead, does he see the iGaming sector adopt more AI functions in the future? “That is the big question,” he says. But, for the firm, AI will continue to remain a priority particularly in acquiring and retaining customers. “Tipico is on a good path here. Customers enjoy the best user experience and the company’s Gross Gaming Revenue increases at the same time because of the best product on the market. All in all, it is a win-win situation for Tipico and its customers,” he insists. Yet, zooming out to the wider impact of AI on society, Mr von Senden says that, since AI is based on algorithms created by the companies, “the ethical, social and economic aspects must of course be considered”. However, he expresses faith in the technology – and perhaps a bit of cynicism towards mankind – saying “problems and difficulties only arise if the wrong models are used.”



FOR RESEARCH IN THE DIGITAL SECTOR The digital sector is evolving at a fast rate and it is hugely impacting societies and economies worldwide. Its evolution is driven by citizens’ demands through communication networks, the internet and other digital services. According to the Digital Economy and Society Index, Malta performs well above the EU-average. Several strategies have been launched in past years to help boost this sector, including the Malta Council for Science and Technology (MCST)’s National R&I Strategy 2020. The strategy noted the importance of ICT in building Malta’s knowledge-based economy, whilst also continuously stressing the importance of continued investment in this smart specialisation area. FUSION is a national funding programme managed by the MCST’s R&I Programmes Unit. FUSION provides the necessary funding for researchers in the ICT sector which can turn their innovative ideas into products or services. FUSION is split into two sub-programmes, the Commercialisation Voucher Programme (CVP) and the Technology Development Programme (TDP). The CVP provides an initial feasibility assessment of the research idea, whilst the TDP provides state financing in the form of grants for actual research, development and innovation. Since 2015, the FUSION programme has provided more than €12 million in funding, €1.5 million specifically to the ICT smart sector. The European Union also understands the importance of the digital sector and has always allocated substantial budgets for it within its various funding programmes. The Framework Programme Unit within the Malta Council for Science and Technology was mandated by the Government to coordinate the activities concerning Malta’s participation in the European Research and Innovation framework programmes. Currently, the Horizon 2020 framework programme is approaching its end and the unit is preparing to represent the new framework programme, Horizon Europe. Horizon Europe will have an estimated budget of €85 billion and will run from 2021 to 2027. A substantial portion of

this budget will be dedicated to the digital sector and its technologies. The upcoming programme will be a key instrument of the European Union for supporting research and innovation, and will accelerate Europe’s recovery, along with boosting Europe’s innovation capacity and competitiveness in the digital sector. Within the Horizon Europe framework programme, research and innovation in digital technologies are supported through the Global Challenges and Industrial Competitiveness pillar within the Digital, Industry and Space Cluster. The clusters will be supporting the digital sector through continuous progress in the key enabling digital technologies such as electronics and photonics components, artificial intelligence, robotics, big data, software technologies, cloud technologies, low-power electronics, cyber trust and security, edge computing, high performance computing, IoT, NGI, 6G, quantum technologies and space-based infrastructures, services, applications and data. Research funds for these technologies can be applied for within the top down and bottom up open calls and partnerships in the upcoming Digital, Industry and Space biannual work programme. Local stakeholders who may be interested in applying for national or EU funding, should get in touch with the respective units within MCST in order to be supported accordingly on how to access the research funds. The units organise regular activities that support the stakeholders’ journey from concept to potential funding and management of such funds. For more information call on T: 2360 2200 or Email: 63






Globiance describes itself as merger of a bank and a cryptocurrency exchange. The main driving force behind the project – Irina Mudreac and Oliver Marco La Rosa, partners in business and also in life – explain to Ray Bugeja how it works. The idea to set up Globiance was born in 2018. At the time, its seven co-founders were of the opinion that cryptocurrencies will replace the banking system in a short time. However, they soon realised that this was far from true and that what the world needs is a bridge between the traditional financial system and cryptocurrencies. “We also realised that it is very hard to find banking solutions for crypto or other high-risk industries and we started to focus on finding suitable banking providers for us and our clients. From the start, we planned a global set-up to be able to serve clients around the world with their needs,” they recall. Ms Mudreac, the company’s Chief People Officer, and Mr La Rosa, the CEO, say they have helped a large number of clients, including most major gambling groups in Malta to open accounts in one or more banks. Crypto services were also launched as, slowly but surely, the gambling industry pushes more volume towards cryptocurrencies. Mr La Rosa had been involved in successful ventures in the past and has over 13 years’ experience with his team, servicing banks in Europe and knowing, as well as supporting, the IT platforms used by such banks that now benefit Globiance. 65


From the start, we planned a global set-up to be able to serve clients around the world with their needs.

Prior to co-founding Globiance, Ms Mudreac had set up two successful ventures herself. With a background in psychology, she can not only fulfil her official role in the company but also play a crucial part in vetting new suppliers and business partners. The other co-founders Alexander Pfau and Sascha La Rosa have a technical background and are responsible for the platform. Nicolas Bruzstowski, serial entrepreneur and owner of The Network in Malta, as well as Oliver De Bono, the former COO of Malta Blockchain Summit and Sigma, are the marketing gurus in the team. “We complement each other very well. Despite facing several setbacks with the project initially, we never gave up and always followed our goal and, finally, launched our first platform in May 2019,” they assert. In addition to the Estonian and UK platform already in place, Globiance recently took over a Singapore EMI, which serves not only as headquarters of the expansion in the Asian markets but allows the company to offer more services directly. The founders point out they do not plan to replace their banking partners but believe in working with several banks in numerous countries and integrating more each month so, in the end, clients will have one platform with all banking services available in one place: “onboarding with an additional bank through Globiance and doing daily business without the need to log in into


multiple banking platforms to check balances and execute transactions.” Globiance, Mr La Rosa explains, provides financial services to both professional and personal customers. Its platform covers exchange and trading of crypto and fiat currencies, payment solutions and worldwide transfers. Globiance is one of the few platforms with a global approach and, additionally, features integrated individual bank accounts for each client, they add. It focuses on the user experience of buying and selling crypto, combined with the ability to instantly withdraw fiat to the integrated accounts, and a personal client support that does not hide behind emails. In October, the company launches its UKbased multi-bank platform GlobiancePay. Through this platform, the co-founders say, Globiance not only opens SEPA/ SWIFT accounts for its clients but also merges multiple banks in one offering and can provide IBANs under one login. In addition, accounts will be in the client’s name for SWIFT payments. “It is a great platform and we are very proud to be able to offer it to our clients,” Ms Mudreac asserts. Multiple Tier 1 banks are behind the platform and users can open one or multiple accounts from each bank to create redundancy and different payment rails for business sections or regions, she explains. Globiance works with over 35 banking partners and it strives to make all of them accessible as fast as possible in either the UK-based GlobiancePay platform or the Globiance global platforms.


The goal is to facilitate access to all underlying banks via a combined interface, listing IBANs of multiple banks together with the client’s crypto and fiat assets for a complete overview of one’s finances with the ability to initiate crypto and fiat payments in all directions. The newly-released Globiance global platforms (Europe, Asia, Latin America, Middle East, Africa, Pacific and the Commonwealth of Independent States) now feature multi-language and multi-currency wallet accounts providing several currencies including EUR, GBP, USD, SGD, HKD, THB, MYR, IDR, CNY, JPY, KRW, LAK, VND, AUD, NZD, CAD, ARS, MXN, BRL, COL, CLP, PEN, TRY, ZAR, NGN, KES, UGX, INR and GTQ. Besides buying and selling cryptocurrencies (largescale crypto-to-fiat cash-outs or buying crypto), users can handle their

Despite facing several setbacks with the project initially, we never gave up and always followed our goal. 67


…What the world needs is a bridge between the traditional financial system and cryptocurrencies.



payments within the platform (internal, national or international via crypto or SEPA/SWIFT). Also, retail users can pay businesses on the Globiance platform with crypto or fiat currencies, they say. The Globiance Payment Gateway was launched beginning of October and features more than 220 built-in connections to Acquirers and Alternative Payment Methods. Globiance starts with offering different acquirers solutions in its gateway while it onboards with the card networks directly to be able to grant its clients the most competitive rates possible, the top company executives continue. They explain that banking and crypto exchange services go hand-in-hand on the company’s platforms, which is why it integrates its banking partner in the platform, making it easier for clients to deal with both crypto and fiat currencies. Given the sensitivity surrounding the use of cryptocurrencies, the subject of regulation is inevitably raised. “From day one, we planned to conduct KYC/AML on a banking level as we already understood that is where the industry is heading once it matures, so we were not surprised by the tightening of regulations,” they explain. “Each user goes through KYC/KYB and AML checks, powered by our partner, ShuftiPro, before one is allowed to trade. We also integrated the coin analysis services of Ospree, ensuring the safe origin of coins traded on our platforms. We have our own Compliance Department, which ensures the safety of all business partners and clients dealing on our platforms,” the co-founders point out. When asked about their opinion on ICOs they add that the air for Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) has become thin and that there are very few projects that still obtain funding. However, on the other hand, they remark, this results in a natural selection and the filtering out of “bad” projects that would have never received funding before the ICO regulation. Too many projects received funding in 2017 and most of them ended silently, Ms Mudreac and Mr La Rosa continue. However, they think there remain some good projects that are worth investing early in and benefiting from their success, provided, of course, that careful research is first conducted as one would do with traditional investments. Security tokens, the business partners insist, have a place in the market, especially for commodities and

real estate. In their view, such methods facilitate the trading of illiquid assets and, thus, allow more investors to participate, including those with small budgets. Real estate developers can, finally, reach into every household to turn them into investors, they add. The co-founders strongly believe that cryptocurrencies and digital currencies will stand the test of time. For example, more and more banks join Ripple to ease transfers between them and, also, national currencies are being planned and deployed globally, they explain. Globiance especially follows the national cryptocurrency development closely and will list those in the Globiance platforms to allow their clients to trade as soon as possible. As to stable coins, Ms Mudreac and Mr La Rosa deem them very important for mass adoption. Many users fear the volatility of cryptocurrencies but with stable coins they can be sure their money has the same value tomorrow, they explain. Acknowledging that fiat currencies are changing value too, they note this is not happening at the same rate as cryptocurrencies. Crypto usage, they note, is already much better than before and many industries value their speed and easy handling, using crypto to settle their bills and to receive payments. The acceptance increases every day and, in their view, it is just a matter of time before one can speak of mass adoption. Globiance is working on its own Singapore dollarbased stable coin together with its partners, XinFin. It considers the Singapore dollar to be a very important currency for Asia’s trade finance and the company is hoping to drive the digitisation forward, facilitating the trading with its SGDX stable coin. Globiance already planned five live platforms before adding the CIS and Pacific global platforms as well as the Globiance Gateway, which are also all live now. In addition to the GlobiancePay multi-banking platform which starts end of October, Ms Mudreac and Mr La Rosa say more solutions and platforms, including a platform for the North American market, will be released in future. Globiance offers global platforms that cater to the needs of business and retail clients alike but, today, it focuses on corporate clients that use its services. “We are permanently improving the platform and strive to become the provider that makes all our clients globally happy,” they note.




The rehabilitation of the former Farsons Brewery is a landmark regeneration project that will present a unique and exciting workplace environment for Malta’s digital and creative community.

Located in the heart of the Central Business District, The Brewhouse marks the first local example of such a large-scale industrial conversion on the island. Inaugurated in 1950, the restoration of this much-loved iconic building was entrusted to world-renowned Ian Ritchie Architects, London, who submitted a winning proposal in 2014 that not only respected and celebrated the significance of the historical landmark, but also elevated it to new heights to further the pioneering legacy of this great building. Following almost a decade of careful planning and preparation, The Brewhouse is now finally close to completion with plans to reopen its doors as a vibrant mixed-use destination by mid2021. Great attention has been given to every detail of restoring the 7,000 square metres of this listed, Art Deco style building, 2,000 square metres of which have been specifically designated as leasable open-plan office space, meeting facilities and co-working areas. 72


Amongst these, the conversion of the former brewery’s fermentation vats into a hot-desking workspace is perhaps one of the most innovative changes, while the Redler Room, which still houses the original conveyor used by the brewery to transport milled malt to the ale and lager tanks, will no doubt equally inspire as a fully-equipped 20-person conference facility with an incredible breakout space over the rotunda of the brewhouse coppers. “The Brewhouse was one of those magical projects to work on,” says the lead architect Ian Ritchie, who explained that the design philosophy of the project was to restore and renovate with sensitivity and retain the integral and unique aesthetic qualities of both the internal and external building and surrounding built environment. Of special interest is the existing brewery ‘Coppers’, which will form an important showpiece to the building, alongside the brewing machinery and equipment, which will provide a thematic backdrop throughout the building. As part of the redesign, large geometric shapes have been introduced into the concrete dividing walls at all levels to add a playful touch to the unique ambience of the work environment. “The ability for this unique building to become a great event building and a centrepiece to the emergent Central Business District will be fantastic,” Ritchie continues, “and it will be the centre of the social infrastructure for the whole development with Trident Park.”

The Brewhouse, which is flanked by the Trident Park redevelopment, also designed by Ian Ritchie, will share many amenities with its neighbour, adding to the holistic package and campus style lifestyle that the building offers. Both developments are connected by multi-level walkways that are linked to a multilevel above ground, naturally-ventilated car park, and all tenants will have convenient access to an on-site conference centre and boardroom, fully-equipped gym, wellness centre, child care facilities and more. Furthermore, housed within the Brewhouse itself will be several event spaces offering flexible facilities, as well as a range of food and beverage outlets, including the Kettles Café nestled underneath the bellies of the copper brewing tanks and The Cisk Tap, which will be the first Cisk bar on the island located at the very top of The Brewhouse, offering exceptional panoramic views of the island. All this culminates into an outstanding offering that will create a thriving and interactive series of multipurpose spaces in which to work, play and relax, with a goal to inspire the creatives and entrepreneurs working here every single day. As Ritchie concludes, “The Brewhouse will be epic but intimate and a natural home for the young, the business entrepreneurs and start-up companies, which will be quite thrilling because there is nothing like it anywhere else.”

For more information on The Brewhouse office leasing options, early bird offers and site visits, get in touch on M: 9945 5694/9988 9307 or E:



AN ACCEPTABLE RESULT OF FINANCIAL INNOVATION: THE EVOLUTION AND ADOPTION OF CRYPTOCURRENCIES By Juanita Brockdorff – Partner, Tax Services and Matthew Scerri – Associate Director, Advisory KPMG Digital Solutions Looking back to 2009 when Bitcoin was launched and its subsequent eruption onto the global scene over the following decade, as would have been expected with any change worthy of note, two reactions ensued; on the one hand a notable minority were vocal in embracing the revolution in money systems and digital assets brought about by distributed ledgers, while on the other hand a vociferous majority reacted with scepticism, if not downright opposition. This was an especially common sentiment among those who stood to lose most if they did not jump on the bandwagon, namely financial institutions and the authorities regulating them. Fast forward to 2020 and the tide is turning: an increasing number of jurisdictions have amended their legislation to consider, or even facilitate, the use of cryptocurrencies and digital assets. Examples include South Korea which on 5th March 2020 enacted an amendment to its laws legalising holding and trading in cryptocurrencies and digital assets. Global banking institutions have increased their investment in experimenting with virtual currencies of their own, while institutional investors have turned to the new asset class with a vengeance, such that the OECD had to take 74

stock and report on a global market in virtual currencies acknowledged as amounting to over USD 350 billion in capitalisation in September 2020. In order to understand such change of sentiment, one needs to look at what made cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin appealing in the first place, and further understand and appreciate the difference between what financial institutions are proposing in relation to what Bitcoin and other comparable cryptocurrencies promise to provide. While the technology behind cryptocurrencies is complex, at a high level it can be stated that it ensures that the ownership of value can only be used once and the amount owned by a particular user cannot be manipulated illegitimately without a single person or organisation being in control, hence decentralisation. With cryptocurrencies challenging the status quo it is easy to see how established institutions took note of a threat to their raison d’être. In storing or using money, people now had an option to move away from a system relying on trust and involved intermediary fees to one which is fully transparent – hence trust-less – and eliminates the cost of middlemen.


National Bank and the Bank of England (BoE), as well as the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) (later joined by the US Federal Reserve) launched a joint research group on CBDCs (Central Bank Digital Currencies), where CBDCs which would be based on DLT (Distributed Ledger Technology) could be considered to be an evolved form of central bank deposits utilising such new technology to enhance their utility. While CBDCs being centrally controlled could be adopted in a centralised form and might be an attempt by national and supranational authorities, like the EU, to retain monetary sovereignty, their creation could be considered another interim step on the way to democratisation of monetary systems. It would appear that cryptocurrencies and their closely-affiliated tokenised assets are becoming increasingly accepted by financial institutions and governments the world over, such that in January 2020 the OECD took note of the phenomenon of tokenisation with assets becoming digitally represented on distributed ledgers as tokens, by reporting on their impact on traditional financial markets. Rather than lag behind further, in September 2020 the EU Commission adopted the Digital Finance Package which amongst other initiatives includes a proposal for legislating on crypto-assets. Over time, Bitcoin was joined by a plethora of other cryptocurrencies: while some brought little to no unique selling points, others helped push distributed ledger technologies forward in different directions. One such notable advancement was the creation of stablecoins – cryptocurrencies designed to avoid fluctuations in value and the accompanying volatility characteristic of other cryptocurrency markets. While the very manners with which stablecoins operate varies, with some being pegged to a reserve cash fund while others emulating what central banks do via algorithms, stablecoins combine the reliability and rapidity elements inherent in cryptocurrencies with a stability element – making them an instant hit, fit for broader adoption. When consortia of corporations started to team up to issue their own digital currencies, with the Facebook-led stablecoin Libra project making waves across the globe, creating an environment where private companies can compete with central banks, the next move towards acceptance was precipitated. In September 2020, the European Central Bank (ECB) released a report (Occasional Paper 247) which signals the acceptance by focusing on managing stablecoins, while almost concurrently the US Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) issued a statement confirming that US national banks were allowed to provide services to US stablecoin issuers. Earlier, in January 2020, six major central banks, namely the Bank of Japan (BOJ), the ECB, the Swiss

Closer to home, Maltese legislation already incorporates a remarkable percentage of the aforementioned EU’s proposal, for three years prior Malta was one of the first countries to react positively to the certainty and transparency brought about by blockchain and currencies or assets based on it or other DLT. The country should be wellplaced at reviving its innovative stance in regulation by taking into account the global positive position which has come to prevail in relation to DLT, cryptocurrencies and tokenised assets, perhaps by issuing the first licences in the short term. In addition, Malta’s regulation could be tweaked to acknowledge the broader acceptance which has come about towards the new system of money and its accompanying asset classes – without softening the sensible stance the country had adopted from the outset, namely that requiring cryptocurrency and digital asset operators to comply with anti-money laundering legislation, as well as providing trust for even more widespread adoption of such innovations by providing certification through its digital regulator, the Malta Digital Innovation Authority (MDIA), created to regulate and certify innovative technological arrangements. History teaches us that we reject innovation at our own peril: the fittest, the ones who survive are not the strongest, but the ones fastest at adapting to change. 75



IS MALTA READY FOR THE MOST CRITICAL BUILDING BLOCK OF A ‘DIGITAL SOCIETY’? Possessing the potential to impact how we communicate, how we do business and augment our wellbeing, 5G is a hot topic within the communications sector and beyond. Sarah Micallef discusses Malta’s readiness for 5G and the resulting digital transformation with the island’s key players. 76


“The ‘fifth generation’ of telecommunications systems, or 5G, is seen by Europe as the most critical building block of its ‘digital society’ in the next decade,” explains Jesmond Bugeja, CEO at the Malta Communications Authority (MCA), the National Regulatory Authority tasked with regulating communications services, including fixed and mobile telephony, internet and TV distribution services in Malta. Broadly speaking, 5G has the potential to impact how we communicate, how we do business and augment our well-being, with the MCA CEO affirming that it promises to be “significantly more” than merely an enhancement of 4G. “5G is the first generation of cellular connectivity, designed with the intent of addressing the vertical industry, including healthcare, automotive, energy, public services and utilities, manufacturing and logistics, and agriculture,” he says, adding that this new generation of cellular connectivity may act as a catalyst for digital transformation, delivering faster, more reliable, ubiquitous hyper-connectivity.

The market is ready to develop and invest in 5G, and it is likely that extensive roll-outs will take place during 2021. “It is envisioned that 5G and the resulting digital transformation can be an enabler over which Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Virtual Reality and Big Data Analytics can transform all sectors of our economy and society. Specifically, 5G is being identified as one of the pillars of Intelligent Connectivity,” Mr Bugeja continues. “To fully understand the importance of 5G it is worth remembering how we got here,” says Melita CEO Harald Roesch. “While 1G allowed us to use mobile phones for voice calls, 2G brought us the possibility of writing short text messages. We could first use our mobile phones to surf the internet thanks to 3G technology, with online user experience subsequently being boosted by 4G and – most recently – 4.5G. As such, 5G will be a lot faster – delivering higher data speeds, lower latency and greater network capacity,” he maintains.

Jesmond Bugeja, CEO, Malta Communications Authority

For Malta, Mr Roesch continues, our high population density means lots of people using a network at the same time within a relatively small area. “In the short term, we will all be able to enjoy greater reliability on our mobiles, smoother video streaming and – for the gamers amongst us – more exciting gaming,” he says, adding that 5G will give us the same high speeds and high performance online whether we’re outdoors, connecting to the internet over 5G, or at home over a fixed internet connection. But this is just the start. “In the medium term, 5G will present consumers with applications to protect themselves and their families, such as augmented 77



The second step is to test 5G – which Melita is currently doing on a small scale. This trial is primarily designed to test the performance of the Ericsson network and equipment, and its ability to deliver the speeds and capacity needed for 5G in the Maltese environment. Harald Roesch, CEO, Melita

reality windscreens in cars, and high-performing home alarm systems and sensors,” the CEO adds, revealing that perhaps the most important area where 5G will bring tangible benefits is healthcare. “For example, it will facilitate real-time, or quasi real-time remote consultations and even remote operations could potentially be possible, regardless of location,” he says. Moreover, with the speeds that 5G can generate, Mr Roesch affirms, the Internet of Things (IoT) can reach verticals it has never reached before. “We will be able to connect industrial solutions to the internet to enhance smoother communication between manufacturing plants and the supply chain, and to grant 24/7 internet access to vehicles, enhancing self-driving and AI-complemented transportation. 5G will lay a solid basis for solutions that will significantly change how we live our lives in the near future, 78

sparking novel digital solutions that we could not have thought about earlier.” Vodafone Malta CEO, Tamas Banyai, explains that 5G supports up to 10 times faster speeds for mobile broadband, which enables 4K (the standard used for commercial digital cinema) media streaming, video analytics, holograms and very high definition video download and upload, as well as the ability to connect a huge number of devices. “This enables the massive adoption of the Internet of Things, with more than 500 times the number of devices connected on 4G today.” Giving further examples of how this can be implemented in real terms, he adds, “it will connect millions of critical appliances that other mobile services cannot reach, such as gas or water leak detectors embedded underground, alarms situated deep within buildings or even livestock and electricity lines.”


In 2016, the European Commission published the ‘5G for Europe: An Action Plan’, which outlined a number of actions considered necessary for the introduction of 5G in Europe. Speaking of the plan, the MCA CEO affirms that it identifies 5G as a game changer, enabling industrial transformations through wireless broadband services provided at gigabit speeds; the support of new types of applications connecting devices and objects; and versatility by way of software virtualisation, allowing innovative business models across multiple sectors. Locally, he maintains, these transformations have already started on the basis of existing networks and have the potential to be further enhanced through 5G and its application in the coming years. “The realisation of 5G necessitates investments by operators. These include additional spectrum resources, the roll-out of 5G transmission and network infrastructure, as well as increased investments in high-speed connectivity to connect this infrastructure. Investments are also required in back-end systems to support the advanced services that 5G may enable,” asserts Mr Bugeja.

A major challenge to implement 5G locally is the significant effort and cost required to upgrade the existing radio base station sites, both from a structural and an equipment point of view. Tamas Banyai, CEO, Vodafone Malta

“The preparations required for a 5G implementation are significant,” says Vodafone Malta’s CEO, highlighting three main areas which are critical: spectrum, technology (including core networks, radio networks and devices) and cost. Speaking of the spectrum needed for 5G, Mr Banyai affirms that a number of pioneer spectrum bands have been identified by the EU Commission, with the MCA currently aligning itself to make these bands available to local operators. From an implementation point of view, the CEO points out that an existing mobile network requires significant upgrades to the core network elements to support higher capacities, speed and interworking with other technologies for seamless interoperability; as well as the redesign and upgrades of all radio base stations, as 5G requires the deployment of additional radio equipment and an additional set of antennas. “A major challenge to implement 5G locally is the significant effort and cost required to upgrade the existing radio base station sites, both from a structural and an equipment point of view,” he continues, adding that in order to facilitate the successful deployment of a 5G network locally, there needs to be enhanced coordination between the various authorities involved. On behalf of GO, CEO Nikhil Patil maintains that the company has the groundwork in place thanks to GO’s True-Fibre network, as well as the fact that all of its base stations are already entirely backhauled over fibre. However, he posits, “a number of pieces of the puzzle need to fall into place, namely spectrum allocations, vendor agreements, and base station upgrades. There also needs to be clearer visibility on the use cases as well as the widespread availability of the customer-side devices that support 5G.” 79


There needs to be clearer visibility on the use cases as well as the widespread availability of the customer-side devices that support 5G. Nikhil Patil, CEO, GO

out trials of innovative wireless systems such as 5G on a non-commercial basis. Melita has been granted a licence to trial its 5G infrastructure and measure performance in a local context. “This trial began at the end of September and is running at the Melita Data Centre next to Madliena Fort, and a limited number of locations in Sliema, St Julian’s and Valletta,” Mr Roesch states.

Melita CEO Harald Roesch agrees that 5G will revolutionise communication and highlights several steps that are necessary for its implementation – the first being the right infrastructure. “At Melita, we partnered with Ericsson and started rolling out our 5G-ready network in May 2018, reaching nationwide coverage by the end of 2019,” he says, affirming that the company has been using this network to operate its 4.5G mobile services. “The second step is to test 5G – which Melita is currently doing on a small scale. This trial is primarily designed to test the performance of the Ericsson network and equipment, and its ability to deliver the speeds and capacity needed for 5G in the Maltese environment,” he continues. Indeed, the MCA has noted that Malta is an ideal location for pilot studies of 5G, going on to publish a lightweight test and trial licensing framework which grants local and foreign companies the licence to carry 80

“One of the advantages of having invested in Ericsson’s network is that Melita is able to transmit 5G using wireless frequencies which have been in use in Malta for many years. We recognise that some people have concerns over this new technology; however, using these established frequencies, we are confident that there will be negligible changes in emission levels when compared to existing networks – levels which themselves are a small fraction of a percentage of the 2020 guideline levels set internationally by ICNRIP – the international nongovernmental organisation formally recognised by the WHO,” he continues. While CEO Nikhil Patil notes that GO is in ongoing discussions with internal and external stakeholders regarding trialling 5G, Vodafone Malta went live with a 5G demo last year, conducting the country’s first live holographic call using 5G, featuring a live orchestra and band being joined on stage by two singers in hologram form. “With this, we demonstrated the ultra-low latency and lightning fast speeds that one can achieve with 5G,” outlines CEO Tamas Banyai, highlighting these as two crucial factors in transmitting the feeds in real time from Ta’ Qali to Luqa and vice versa. The main objective of the European Commission’s aforementioned 5G Action Plan for Europe was industry deployment of advanced 5G networks as from 2020. Shedding light on where Malta stands in relation to this objective, the MCA CEO explains that in 2017, the MCA embarked on a five-year work plan outlining actions aimed at facilitating the deployment of 5G networks in Malta.


“In preparing this plan, the MCA considered the relevant EU Regulations and Directives, including the new European Electronic Communications Code, the EU 5G Action Plan and Roadmap and developments at ITU level. MCA’s active participation in BEREC, the European body representing the independent regulators of Electronic Communications, is also of significant relevance to this plan,” Mr Bugeja maintains. Whilst upholding principles of technology and service neutrality, the CEO continues, the MCA’s actions aim to facilitate access to the necessary key resources required by operators for the fruition of potential 5G business cases, whilst ensuring compliance with relevant obligations and the prevailing standards and regulations. “Malta’s telecommunications infrastructure is at the forefront of Europe. Three providers offer 4.5G services nation-wide, with one of them having already invested in 5G-ready infrastructure. Such readiness indicates that the market is ready to develop and invest in 5G, and it is likely that extensive roll-outs will take place during 2021,” Mr Bugeja says.

Affirming that any commercial launch of 5G services in Malta is reliant upon the frequencies being assigned, Melita CEO Harald Roesch asserts that once these are in place, and the company has the results of the small-scale trial, it will be in a position to assess the next step. Still, an additional consideration for a commercial launch are the benefits for, and demand from, its customers. “As 5G networks roll out internationally, 5G devices are becoming more available and more affordable; as people in Malta naturally replace their current devices, we expect that gradually more of our customers will be in a position to benefit from 5G,” he says. Vodafone Malta’s CEO is in agreement, maintaining that, apart from the technical complexities and significant cost implications, the successful deployment of 5G requires an ecosystem of 5G compatible phones and devices. “We have seen some vendors launching 5G-ready devices, but these are still few in comparison to the full market scale. We’re excited about bringing significant improvement to the way Malta connects and we will definitely be there once 5G becomes a commercial reality locally, as we have been with previous technological innovations over the past 30 years,” Mr Banyai concludes.






With the first tenants scheduled to move in by summer 2021 and all amenities expected to be fully operational by the same time, The Quad Business Towers are well underway to setting a new benchmark for commercial property on the island. DIGITAL ISLAND catches up with the marketing team to discuss the latest developments. Dominating the skyline of the Central Business District in Mriehel, The Quad Business Towers are simply impossible to miss, even in their currently unfinished state. Within the coming year, this state-of-the-art development will open its doors to its first tenants, delivering on its promise of offering an unparalleled convergence of design and sustainability. Described as a “next-generation office development”, the four-tower concept reaches a commanding maximum height of 19 storeys with over 44,000 square metres of mixed commercial floor space, and has been carefully designed to foster the best possible tenant experience while implementing notable green building concepts. The Quad’s marketing team explains that construction of the towers is progressing

on schedule and should be completed by early 2021, with the first tenants expected to move in by summer. “We’ve already started works on the fenestration, the piazza, as well as the common areas, which will be ready by early summer next year.” Despite the pandemic and the many obstacles it presented for works to continue uninterrupted, the team explains that its development schedule remained largely intact, with minimal impact to the pace of construction on site. “Of course, there were challenges and complications. We moved quickly to introduce new safety measures to protect workers and engaged proactively with all suppliers to ensure we could continue to receive construction materials on time. The extended team really worked hard and now that is beginning to show, and everything is coming together.” 83


The mixed-use development provides a combination of Grade A-standard flexible and adaptive floorplates, ranging between 400 square metres and 1,200 square metres. The office space, available for sale or rent, with rental rates starting from €225 per square metre per annum (excluding VAT), gives tenants the ability to scale up their business vertically or horizontally across the four towers, each with their own high-spec reception and lobby areas. The versatile and functional layouts enable tenants to provide their staff with open work areas, private focus rooms, meeting and lounge areas. The four towers surround a central piazza with open landscaped spaces, totalling 6,000 square metres, providing a much-needed green lung to the area. Additionally, the development will be equipped with several on-site facilities, including a childcare centre, a supermarket, a fitness and wellness centre, restaurants, coffee shops, a stationery and printing service, among others. Besides adding to the overall upscale ambience of The Quad, these facilities also provide a better worklife balance to tenants and their staff. Adding to all this is the provision of plentiful on-site parking. “The development will include circa 1,400 car parking spaces, providing for tenants’ needs as well as retaining ample spaces for visitors and public use. Motorcycle spaces, bicycle spaces and preferential spaces allocated for car-sharing vehicles are all initiatives we are undertaking to promote our Green Transport Plan,” the team explains. “This aligns the values of The Quad with the vision of the Central Business District Foundation’s goals to safeguard green spaces and pedestrian zones – leading to greener, more sustainable development all-round.” 84

Sustainability, in fact, has been central to the development of The Quad Business Towers since the start. Being the first development in Malta to apply for LEED’s (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum Certification, it is well on its way to exceeding the requirements to achieve such a valuable accreditation. “LEED® certifications are audited and monitored by the internationally recognised U.S. Green Building Council. The certification is awarded by investigating sustainable building materials and methods over a number of different categories such as sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere,” The Quad’s marketing team explains. “The process of certification is lengthy and detailed. It requires a high level of supervision of site sustainability measures during construction, implementation of sustainable building measures and careful selection of materials which can deliver the highest standard of an indoor working environment. Therefore, the undertaking of such a certification cannot be taken lightly. A LEED Platinum certificate is a demonstration of prioritising quality and sustainability at every step of the build.” The result of such certification is a space that reduces water and energy consumption, has excellent indoor air quality, ample natural light and a comfortable working atmosphere, with the ultimate aim being to minimise the building’s impact on the environment. The architectural and engineering designs, entrusted to DeMicoli & Associates, have also been carried out with LEED consultants to ensure that the required sustainable


materials are selected, and methods implemented. Such features include highefficiency air conditioning units with capture and recycling of the condensate, capture and use of rainwater, specifically designed façade glazing with strict thermal properties, recycling of water with an on-site grey water treatment unit, use of photovoltaic panels and the use of presence detectors. “All of these measures would not be possible without the strong collaborative effort between The Quad Business Towers’ project management team, engineers, architects, and contractors on site. Without the dedication and buy-in of the main contractors, the required quality of a LEED Platinum building could not be achieved,” the team explains. Another of The Quad’s numerous attractive qualities is undoubtedly its location. “From our discussions with prospective tenants/buyers,

The development will include circa 1,400 car parking spaces, providing for tenants’ needs as well as retaining ample spaces for visitors and public use.

we’ve found that tenants of office space in the traditional areas of Valletta, Sliema and St Julian’s are somewhat disillusioned due to the congestion, lack of parking and difficulty to expand their operation,” the team explains. “One main gripe is that getting to these congested areas and finding a parking space makes commuting a nightmare. The Quad is centrally located immediately off the main arterial road and is within a 15-minute drive of Valletta, the airport and the main hotel areas.” One business that will be relocating from “a fairly decent office” in the Sliema/St Julian’s area to The Quad described the decision to move “to a centrally located state-of-the-art office paying roughly the same rent and saving myself and my staff some 20 to 30 minutes a day in parking and commuting time”, as a “no brainer”. “The ample parking, views, airy offices, and on-site facilities, particularly childcare, are additional bonuses.” The architects at DeMicoli & Associates designed the quadruple set of towers at varying heights – 13, 15, 16 and 19 storeys respectively. “The selection of four separate towers rather than a single larger tower provides ample commercial space while allowing natural light to permeate between the buildings. The four towers are juxtaposed to provide a framed view, with gentle curved façades to soften the height of the development,” they assert. “At the lower levels, a series of walkways and bridges connect the four towers and bring them together as one.” Adding to its attractiveness for foreign investors is its Special Designated Area (SDA) status, which essentially allows non-Maltese purchasers the same rights as Maltese citizens when transacting property purchased within the development. “The future for the Central Business District in Mriehel looks bright, as it is transforming into a business and commercial hub. The architectural landscape of the area is rapidly evolving to reflect this shift, with the Quad Business Towers leading the way.” 85


MALTA’S CAR RENTAL INDUSTRY To survive such fast-paced and challenging times, keeping up with new industry developments and trends are a must to stay on top. Martina Said meets Gordon Farrugia, Director at First Car Rental, to find out how he transformed his young business to meet current needs and expectations in the car rental industry. 86



With over 18 years of experience in the transport and car rental industries, Gordon Farrugia, Director at First Car Rental, was determined to do things differently after taking over a division of his family’s business and developing it on his own steam. That was three and a half years ago, and today, First Car Rental has evolved from an outgoing family-run business to an innovative car rental company with an eye on the future. Getting there, however, required doing things differently, and for Mr Farrugia, it meant taking everything he learned from his years spent in the transport sector, specifically the chauffeur-driven business, as well as his Directorship in the family business, and applying his experiences to a new operating system. “I started with the basics in the transport industry and climbed the ladder the right way, gradually, rather than accelerating through the process without knowing exactly what the operations are all about,” says Mr Farrugia. “Later, I worked in a division that handled outgoing bookings for car rentals and this is where I developed a passion for the industry.”


Having been involved in both the day-to-day business as well as management decisions of the family-run business gave Mr Farrugia in-depth knowledge of the industry, which he put to good use when he began his own car rental company with a modest fleet of around 80 cars that he inherited – most of which needed to be replaced. “A constant requirement in our industry is the upgrading of the fleet with vehicles that have the latest safety features and the lowest CO2 emissions. The majority of cars in the fleet I started off with were over five years old and needed to be changed. This was the first major hurdle which had to be overcome for the company to be competitive and offer a good service. Today, we have more than 300 vehicles in our fleet, and getting to where we are required a complete change in mentality and strategy.” From the outset, Mr Farrugia’s focus was to deliver a quality product and service across the board, and to put himself in the customers’ shoes to understand what they would expect and demand. He began by investing in new vehicles and trained all staff – which grew from six to over 20 during this period – to instil and uphold the same attitude and drive for the business, with a focus on quality. “Over the past three years, as tourism in Malta really boomed, it would have been easy to grow our fleet further to accommodate high demand, but rather than going for volume, we chose value,” says Mr Farrugia. “Today, I can say that we achieved what we wanted. All brokers who sell our service rank us first or second among our competitors, and this is a very good achievement considering where we started. The biggest challenge now is to maintain the level of service we promised and built over the years.” First Car Rental’s quality offering is not limited to its vehicles – which are changed every three years and have a maximum mileage of 40,000km, making them practically brand new. The company prides itself on offering a comprehensive product that is communicated transparently to the client, with no unexpected surprises. To this end, Mr Farrugia says the company sells a product that may not be the cheapest, albeit still competitive, but which offers peace of mind. “Building a rapport with clients has translated into repeat clients, as well as attracting a type of client that takes an interest in caring for our vehicles, aided by the fact that the cars are as good as new.” Like many others, the company’s successes and achievements have been hampered by the ongoing pandemic that has brought many aspects of First Car Rental’s business, which is heavily affected by tourism, to a grinding halt. Mr Farrugia estimates that business this year has dropped by around 60 per

Today, we have more than 300 vehicles in our fleet, and getting to where we are required a complete change in mentality and strategy.

cent compared to previous years, after being forced to close for three months, and with bleak predictions for the winter months ahead. Despite his almost two-decade long industry experience, Mr Farrugia says that the biggest changes he’s seen in the sector – alongside increased competition over the years and an ever-changing landscape – have unfolded over the past six months in the midst of a global pandemic. “What we’ve seen throughout these COVID times is the need to move towards a product that, unfortunately, requires less human interaction, which is a highlight of the job.” As the health crisis has made customers weary of human contact, Mr Farrugia says his company is working on creating systems and products that cater for these changes. Through the company’s new website, clients can manage their online bookings, thereby speeding up the rental process and drastically minimising the amount of time spent meeting company representatives. “All information is gathered on our system so that when a customer turns up to collect their car, they simply sign the rental agreement, take the key and go. On average, a customer spends 10 to 15 minutes at the desk, but this system brings it down to around three minutes,” says Mr Farrugia. “We were planning to launch this service next year, but have fast-tracked its development to keep up with the times we’re living in.” Also in the pipeline is a specliased service, provided through a separate dedicated company, which, through one simple app, allows users to undertake a one-time registration, validate their details, book their car and go. Following a series of clear steps, clients will use the app on their phone as a key to unlock the vehicle. After recording the condition of 87


the vehicle with an easy step-by-step process, clients can sign the rental agreement with a digital signature and drive off. “It will be a completely seamless service where customers won’t need to meet any representatives, and all information is stored on a cloud which they can access,” says Mr Farrugia. “This requires a substantial investment as every vehicle needs to be installed with equipment to facilitate this technology. By the end of the year, a trial phase will begin where we’ll test the technology on part of the fleet, and it will be rolled out to the rest in due time.” While the company’s technological advancements are significant, there’s no denying that the industry is still facing a lot of uncertainty. Mr Farrugia explains that people are not booking their trips in advance, making it difficult to plan for the months ahead. “There’s been

In our corporate leasing segment, we offer tailor-made packages designed to the customer’s needs, offering a preferential rate and an allinclusive service.


a shift from early bookings to last-minute registrations and walk-ins. In fact, although tourism has dropped drastically, we have noticed a slight increase in walkins. The volumes don’t compare to those in 2019 and 2018, but taking everything into account, it is a welcome change in our business pattern,” says Mr Farrugia. “We believe this emerged because tourists are booking last-minute holidays, and also, clients are assured that, given the current circumstances, they are making use of a car that is cleaned and sanitised just for them, as against other means of transport,” he asserts. Having achieved his targets within the car rental segment, Mr Farrugia is now looking to expand its offering within the corporate rentals segment, steadily increasing the portfolio of leasing clients to match that of its rental service, while retaining and improving the same level of service across the board. “In our corporate leasing segment, we offer tailormade packages designed to the customer’s needs, offering a preferential rate and an all-inclusive service,” he explains. “The client pays a monthly fee that includes insurance, maintenance, cleaning, car collection and drop-off at the airport if the client needs to travel, as well as a replacement car if the need for a service arises. This is just one of our tailored products for the corporate segment.” Looking ahead towards the rest of 2020, Mr Farrugia is certain that the months ahead are going to be extremely challenging for many businesses, including First Car Rental. “The coming months will be a case of surviving with the resources we have. If Government doesn’t continue to offer support, many companies will be facing huge difficulties,” he asserts. “What we know for sure is that we will be running at a constant loss from October to March 2021, unless a vaccine is available later on this year.” Despite all the uncertainty, the Director is not shying away from investment and future plans, including keeping up to speed with Government’s strategy to move towards an entirely electric fleet. Mr Farrugia asserts that he intends to continue rejuvenating the company’s fleet and purchasing new vehicles, “even in this difficult time, in preparation for next year and to maintain our existing strategy. And we have other developments in the pipeline – in a way, COVID has helped us focus on these projects and speed up the process of development. Hopefully, from next year, we’ll start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”



MDIA TO NEW HEIGHTS Highlighting blockchain’s advantages is considered by the Malta Digital Innovation Authority (MDIA) as its main achievement. Chief Executive Officer, Stephen McCarthy, tells Ray Bugeja what the Regulator responsible for innovative technologies certification has been doing and what is in the pipeline.

Set up in 2018 through the Malta Digital Innovation Authority Act, the MDIA is responsible for pushing Government policies promoting Malta as the centre for excellence for technological innovation, while setting and enforcing standards that ensure compliance with international obligations. At the time, there were many cases of Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) failing to deliver the sort of technology they advertised and, therefore, the regulator faced an uphill battle. In fact, the MDIA also seeks to protect and support all users and encourages all types of innovation by allowing for maximum flexibility when it comes to the certification of Innovative Technology Arrangements (ITAs). Asked to list the MDIA’s five main achievements so far, Mr McCarthy, who has been at the helm since



its inception, immediately replies that “the main achievement” is the increased awareness about blockchain’s advantages. “Such awareness has led to national authorities implementing blockchain systems in their modus operandi, marking another milestone,” he proudly says. Another achievement, he continues, lies in the fact that, through its accredited Systems Auditors, the regulator is in a position to review Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLTs), which will then lead to obtaining MDIA certification. In its work, the regulator is backed by a strong legal framework that also serves to inject more confidence among the public and users with regard to the technology being offered to them. As a watchdog in the innovative technologies industry, the MDIA makes sure that before systems such as blockchain and DLTs go on the market, they are tested to establish that they do what they are meant to. As such, as technology becomes ever more present in our daily lives, the regulator’s role obviously assumes more importance.

The digital economy strategy will include a higher dependence on various technologies. The CEO remarks that the COVID-19 outbreak clearly demonstrates how dependant society is on technology, highlighting the need for such technology to be dependable and safe. He also refers to MDIA’s initiative of widening its remit not just to DLTs but also to cybersecurity, data protection and critical systems. In addition, the launching of its own sandbox, planned for Quarter 4, will enable start-ups to test their software without incurring any huge costs. Mr McCarthy explains that a regulatory sandbox addresses the need for a controlled environment in which new business models can be tested. Operating in a sandbox environment, he says, allows one to operate within certain parameters supervised by the authorities, with most sandboxes focusing on a particular regulated activity, and the MDIA taking the supervisory role as the lead authority for that activity. 91


As with other regulatory certification, he continues, to provide strong guarantees to users of and investors in the operations of the deployed arrangements and services, the process comes with substantial overheads in terms of cost. A regulatory Sandbox for Innovative Technology Arrangements certification will ensure that Malta can provide regulatory certainty for ITAs still being rolled out and by smaller players in the market while providing an incremental solution leading up to full certification, yet lowering the high barriers to entry with the current all-ornothing approach, the CEO says.

for the respective operations. It also offers a welcoming environment in which one can share ideas and opinions, he continues. In addition, the MDIA is managing the process of adjudicating an application for a European Digital Innovation Hub, which forms part of the Digital Europe Programme. This, the CEO says, will lead to a bigger role for the MDIA because it will be a point of reference when it comes to research on certain specific technologies.

Such initiatives, he continues, will help Malta become a launch pad, which is what Malta aims for. Some startups, he says, will eventually make it to the international market. “That is the way to build such a business, even in generating employment and obtaining know-how for the country,” he remarks.

Looking ahead to 2021, also in view of the Government’s 2021-2024 Digital Economy Strategy, the CEO explains that, as Malta continues in its efforts to become a digital island, more emerging technologies will be embraced, whereas others that are already in use will be further strengthened. A case in point, he notes, is cybersecurity, for which the MDIA has been recognised as the competent certification authority.

Without a doubt, from an operational point of view, another achievement is the opening of the new offices in Mriehel, Mr McCarthy says. He explains that the move brought about a more structured modus operandi because the building has designated areas specifically catered

“The digital economy strategy will include a higher dependence on various technologies. The MDIA is well positioned to expand its certification programme to cater for such new technologies, with the aim being that of ensuring trust among the users,” he asserts.



The 2021-2024 Digital Economy Strategy includes key recommendations made by the recently-launched Digital Economy Think Tank, a decision that was welcomed by the MDIA because, as its CEO puts it, it is a forum where it can discuss the way forward on the digital economy not only with operators and other regulators, but also with independent experts. “With the objective of putting Malta at the forefront of the digital economy, the think tank and the MDIA can work together symbiotically,” Mr McCarthy argues. The MDIA is striving to chart a way forward for innovative and disruptive technologies and, he explains, that is being done in two ways. The regulator is working on an educational campaign targeting 11- and 12-year olds that is aimed at raising awareness about the functionality of such technologies from a young age. This, the CEO points out, will help young generations become more aware of the technologies that exist now, which, in turn, should help to put them in a better position to embrace such systems. He acknowledges that the education system’s crop includes “excellent” material for the industry, however, “more can be done to ensure Malta is developing human resources that are ever more adept at working in this field.” In his opinion, the existing synergy and collaboration between educational institutions and private industry should be ratcheted up and he would like to see a ‘hub’ whereby the private sector involves itself in the training of students from a young age. Likewise, he deems it essential to have more students following science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects, thus ensuring a bigger and a better-trained workforce for a sector “the country needs more than ever”. The availability of the required talent is a matter the MDIA takes very seriously and, in fact, it has launched an exercise to assess what the situation on the ground really is. An issue raised in the Government’s Pre-Budget Document 2021 is the availability of

skilled human capital, and the MDIA is taking action to address the matter. Indeed, the educational campaign referred to above forms part of the MDIA’s efforts in strengthening skilled human capital, the CEO says. He points out that the MDIA forms part of the Artificial Intelligence scholarship fund being offered by the University of Malta. This was launched in July and the feedback was very strong and positive, which, Mr McCarthy observes, shows that today’s generation is increasingly understanding the benefits of such technology as well as the ever-increasing dependence on it. Furthermore, the European Digital Innovation Hub will be a very powerful tool for having skilled human capital because it will offer a place where one can test and experiment, he continues. The other method to chart a way forward for innovative and disruptive technologies is to adopt an open-door policy through which companies that are interested in introducing an innovative and disruptive technology as part of their operations can seek advice from the MDIA’s expertise. Such companies could include both public entities as well as the private sector. The CEO acknowledges that things have changed throughout the past couple of years, such as blockchain being used widely in the financial sector and that it means more than just cryptocurrency and creating opportunities for money-laundering to take place. He stresses the commitment to regulation and transparency. Malta, he points out, is the only country which demands that both the operators and the technology being offered are subject to due diligence. It is the MDIA’s responsibility to see to it that the technology is checked by independent and reputable auditors in a bid to eliminate the risk of problems like bugs and violation of the law. Finally, Mr McCarthy harps on the need to invest in research and development if Malta is to achieve its vision when it comes to innovative and disruptive technologies.

With the objective of putting Malta at the forefront of the digital economy, the think tank and the MDIA can work together symbiotically. 93



Mobile apps are increasingly changing the pace and patterns of our day-to-day lives, having experienced a remarkable rise in popularity in recent months and years. Sarah Micallef speaks to a local app developer and two companies that offer personalised services through their apps, to find out how mobile apps are shaping the local landscape. From controlling your home’s heating and cooling system to switching on your alarm, ordering takeaway food, taxis and more, mobile apps have grown in popularity in Malta, and are gradually changing the pace and patterns of our daily lives. “Mobile apps are increasing in popularity as they offer a responsive experience and deep interaction with the device being used,” says Bjorn Azzopardi, Founder and CEO at digital product agency Think, and more recently, start-up Loyale – a loyalty platform which is POS independent and mobile first. While web applications have evolved over the years, the CEO believes that mobile apps deliver a better experience to the user. “The local industry, like the international one, appreciates this and we have seen a steep increase in requests to develop mobile 94

applications,” Mr Azzopardi maintains, pointing out that “app technology has increased efficiency twofold in myriad industries, from entertainment right through to healthcare.” “Mobile apps have opened doors to a faster and more efficient way of providing a service or even just gathering data. This alone stimulates both the economy as well as enhances our quality of life,” says Mr Azzopardi. Speaking of his own project, Loyale, he explains that the loyalty platform was built as a result of an industry need, which the team discovered through a client who was looking to invest in a flexible, mobile first rewards platform to help them engage with their customers. “Our search for ready-made solutions returned very limited and expensive apps that were not so




Launched in July 2019 by Debono Group in partnership with shared mobility solutions provider ViaVan, the Cool Ride-Pooling apps make it easy for customers to get affordable, safe and efficient rides anywhere in Malta. “We want to deliver innovative mobility solutions that can help reduce traffic congestion and carbon emissions by pooling people travelling in the same direction. Our service is designed not only for private riders but also businesses – employees and customers – that care not only about financial savings but environmental issues as well,” Ms Jasenaite explains.

Mobile apps have opened doors to a faster and more efficient way of providing a service or even just gathering data. Bjorn Azzopardi, Founder and CEO, Loyale

customisable. We then took the decision to start developing the app in-house, with the vision to eventually build a platform that was POS independent, thereby allowing us to tap into different customers with different POS systems as well as large groups of companies which ran different POS systems,” Mr Azzopardi maintains. And it has already borne fruit. “Our first launch was a huge success, and our client has, to date, registered over 300,000 customers,” he continues, affirming that the team is now ready to take it to the next level, both locally and internationally, by launching the subscription model, making rewarding customers more accessible. “Through this app our customers can set up their own rewards scheme and be part of a community with other rewards schemes. This will allow them to target their customers with great deals and encourage them to return,” he says. Meanwhile, another sector that has been at the forefront of app technology is transport, as Laura Jasenaite, CEO at Cool RidePooling, can attest. 96

At present, the app enjoys over 60,000 users. “Thanks to them, within a bit more than a year of operations, we have already saved Malta’s infrastructure from over 860,000 vehicle kilometres by pooling multiple passengers into shared vehicles that would have otherwise been travelled by single occupancy vehicles,” the CEO maintains, shedding light on the farreaching impact. Speaking of the main benefits of the app, Ms Jasenaite highlights ease of use as a primary factor, as well as the fact that the service is available 24/7, covering the entirety of Malta. “It gives [customers] peace of mind that a vehicle to help them get from A to B will always be available within 10 to 15 minutes from the booking,” she maintains. The CEO also notes the importance of keeping abreast of the latest technology and updates, affirming that “we’re constantly working on improvements. We trust data and our customers’ feedback, and amend our service offering according to our customers’ needs.” Sharing her opinion on app technology locally, and what the near future holds when it comes to apps on the islands, Ms Jasenaite believes that “the more innovative solutions we have on the island, the better for everyone! We encourage innovation that contributes towards a cleaner environment and improves the lives of people living in Malta.”


We encourage innovation that contributes towards a cleaner environment and improves the lives of people living in Malta. Recent months have also seen the food and beverage industry take more notice of app technology and the ways in which it can transform their business offering, resulting in more restaurants, eateries and cafés introducing their own apps. One local example is popular coffee chain Costa, which launched its app, Costa Club Malta, on World Coffee Day in 2019.

Laura Jasenaite, CEO, Cool Ride-Pooling

The app replaced the chain’s traditional stamp card loyalty system, explains Yanis Azzopardi, Marketing Manager at Costa Malta. “We wanted to start understanding who our customers really are and be able to reward in different ways depending on the level of loyalty,” he says, adding that the app and platform are more of a marketing engine than simply a loyalty system. “It gives us the opportunity to communicate directly with our customers.” Admitting that the team was concerned that their customers might not want to download the app when it was first introduced, Mr Azzopardi reveals that “take-up has been great so far” and that their fears did not materialise. “We didn’t encounter any hurdles when it came to converting people onto the app. We were also a little sceptical about the older generation downloading the app, but so far results have proved otherwise,” he maintains. Speaking of the main benefits, Mr Azzopardi says that “apart from all the fun of having your profile and adding points with every purchase, users love the fact that every so often they get extra rewards or a surprise special offer. Also, before, users only used to get rewarded on coffee purchases. With the app, we introduced points on all products and items.”



And with the encouraging response, updates and additions to the app are always on the cards. “That’s the fun of having a digital platform; there are no limits of where it can take you. We have something in the pipeline and some projects which we had already started but unfortunately had to pause while other priorities took over. Nonetheless, we’re confident that we’ll be launching more updates in the years to come,” he teases. As for the future of app technology, Mr Azzopardi affirms that the local market has been very successful when it comes to app development during the past few years, with a very good number of big brands and young start-ups launching successful products. “I believe the island has a lot to offer in the near future not just locally, but even internationally,” he states.

As a local app developer, Loyale’s Bjorn Azzopardi goes on to shed light on the latest trends when it comes to developing apps for the local market, revealing that the trend is to be more innovative in the deliverable. “This means looking at emerging app technologies and devising ways in which to leverage this and stand out from the competition. Our job is to keep ourselves abreast of all the new technologies being launched on popular platforms and finding ways to give our customers the edge over their competition,” he says. As for what he sees in the near future when it comes to app technology on the islands, Mr Azzopardi is in agreement that app technology is evolving, and feels that as a country, Malta is very much on a par with the rest of the world. “We are creating some great projects locally. Apps will continue to grow in popularity, and I would love to see the education industry invest further in mobile app tuition,” he concludes, positing, “why not have children follow syllabi which can be delivered online?”

We wanted to start understanding who our customers really are and be able to reward in different ways depending on the level of loyalty. Yanis Azzopardi, Marketing Manager, Costa Malta


Profile for Content House Group

Digital Island 2021  

Tomorrow's World. Today.

Digital Island 2021  

Tomorrow's World. Today.


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