14 MAY 2003

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The future of Malta’s information society

Information Technology and Investment Minister Austin Gatt addresses the HP NSPBU Solution Partner Symposium, during which he outlines how Malta’s information society got to the developed level at which it is and expounds on where it is heading in the future.

I start by thanking you for granting me this opportunity of meeting you at a time when you are bringing together in Malta partners in business, clients and servers as it were, to exploit and synergise your various talents to identify new opportunities.
It is with great satisfaction that I see Malta become an ever more credible host where various stake holders in the IT business can come together and find here solutions to the challenges of the future.
We have had to work hard to come this far. Only 16 years ago Malta was a technological desert where computers were looked upon with nihilistic suspicion. In the late eighties and early nineties, the Government I belong to invested heavily in the basic infrastructural building blocks that have made it possible for us to build the steps towards the future we are now climbing.
It all started coming together in the last two or three years. The Government pushed far up its priority list the objective of making Malta a regional centre of excellence in the technology sector. That objective was secondary only and indeed complimentary to the objective of joining the EU at the next enlargement. We aimed to create new opportunities of wealth and employment together with opportunities of education and cultural growth.
The new Government, that is now barely a month old, has re-affirmed that objective. The creation of a specific IT and Investment Ministry signals the will of the Government to apply technology considerations to all its decisions at the level of Government. Technology is now ubiquitous also in the priorities set by Government in the reforms it undertakes to improve efficiency in its operations and in the operations of all bodies dependant on it; in the quality of service provided in our health and education systems; indeed at all levels of our interaction with the public.
Knitting technology in the fabric of our lives is therefore not merely an economic project. It certainly is that, in that we wish to see more value added to our business and the creation of better paid, more specialised jobs. Yet, for us, this is also a social project. We aim to use technology to have a premier health service. We aim to use technology to ensure that citizens of all ages learn to access the changes of our world.
Technology is also a political process. It ensures greater efficiency in the workings of Government, as much as it ensures greater transparency and a healthier, livelier democracy.
The more targets we reach, the higher we aim. It is indeed significant that we have passed from the eEurope+ programme that aimed to acquire a healthy basis for technological advancement in EU applicant countries to the eEurope programme. This sets for us new ambitions to reach, within two years, the objectives that Europe has set itself to reach.
It is clear to me that much as we may have a lot to be proud of, there is no point to sit on our laurels. We have much yet to do. The objective I have set myself in this area is to bring together the economic, the social and the political dimensions of our initiatives in the area of information technology into one coherent national strategy.
And I wish to be very clear about this: by the phrase "our initiatives", I do not simply mean "the initiatives of the Government."
During the past three years we have built a direct, intimate relationship with all the stakeholders in this area. Our list of partners includes all the major operators in the business, be they creators of software, suppliers of hardware, generators of networking technologies, Internet providers and all the other elements of the technology loop. On the other hand we have ensured that all sectors of our society are engaged in this process. Starting from the obvious clients of these initiatives, businesses and Government (where effort is still needed to engage small businesses and the most reluctant, rigid columns of public bureaucracy), we have also ensured that no one feels left out: senior citizens, young schoolchildren, women, disabled persons. If anyone is going to do benefit from the opportunities of new technologies, then it became our mission to ensure that everyone does.
On the basis of this broad network that we have created, we now want to construct a strategy on Information and Communications Technologies which incorporates all the streams of initiative being undertaken by anyone in this area in this country. I do not wish to imply that there will be no room for the various component entities to develop their own views of what Malta’s information society of the future should look like. Quite the contrary we want to adopt those sectored visions into one global vision of our future.
To do this we need to take a page out of your book. Fundamentally the contemporary burst of creativity and rapid technological process can be explained by the fact that around the world everyday people are individually developing a small step of progress on the freshest invention of the day before. This electrifying global synergy has changed the rhythm and the tune of the way progress in our world is achieved. There is still much importance for giants in the economies of today. They still contribute a huge share of innovation but they are no longer by any means on their own. Indeed, Information Technology has shown, if there ever was any doubt, that small is beautiful.
Probably the single-most self-evident challenge for this sector that we live with today and which is likely to grow in the immediate future, is the world-wide shortage of human talent available to keep up with all the potential growth we have ahead of us. Technology itself has made it relatively easy for operations of any business to provide its service from just about anywhere on the globe to anywhere on the globe. It is hardly a matter of how close you are to where the money is anymore. It is more a matter of whether you have the people with the right skills working for you.
This is the future we want to build for Malta. A regional centre of excellence cannot be understood to have the traditional meanings of proximity to resources or heavy infrastructure. A regional centre of excellence is a place where the invisible yet ubiquitous infrastructure is ahead of the times and where the people know how to exploit that technology for the improvement of their own well-being.
As Europe aims to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2005, we aim to become the last outpost of excellence in our region. The targets set by eEurope are ambitious in and of themselves. Our ambition is to be the best practice model for those working their way up to these ambitions.
The fact that you are here today is a good start.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
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