In an interview conducted by Business Now, the Malta Digital Innovation Authority’s (MDIA) Chief Operations Officer Francois Piccione explains how his role primarily involves reinforcing internal structures and discovering new endeavours so that the Authority, which he describes as ‘still quite new, yet willing to grow’, can keep up with new technologies and regulations being addressed at European Union level. Formerly, he served as the Executive Secretary of the Malta Blockchain Taskforce and formed part of the Malta.AI Taskforce. Mr Piccione says that ‘thanks to the experience I have managed to garner, we are well-positioned to provide strategic advice in terms of digital strategy, which will ultimately lead to a better holistic approach in Malta’.
The MDIA’s main goal is to evaluate and verify that technological products are in compliance with the established standards for certification, thereby protecting users of novel technology arrangements. Mr Piccione points out that the MDIA was the first of its sort in the world when it was established in 2018, making Malta a pioneer in this field. The Authority was given the task of monitoring the execution of the national AI plan in 2019. As a result, the MDIA implemented a number of deliverables, including an AI-focused scholarship fund, research programs, and the execution of AI pilot projects, among others.The Authority offers hands-on support to digital start-ups and SMEs in building their products through various measures taken on by the MDIA itself as well as the expansion of its scope.
Mr Piccione also highlights the impact which Covid-19 had on the industry. Mr Piccione argues that one of the most significant ways in which the pandemic has affected Malta’s industries is that enterprises have had to adjust swiftly and implement innovative digital solutions to operate remotely, which has led to an increase in the use of online platforms amongst the public both throughout, and post, the pandemic.
The COO also mentioned an award established by the Authority for innovative technology to address COVID-19 as an example of how the MDIA assists local start-ups and SMEs in this area. He also noted the financial detriment caused by the pandemic, which the MDIA sought to address through offering digital start-ups and SMEs the opportunity to be assisted in the development of their products through the Technology Assurance Sandbox at a discounted rate. The sandbox is a programme that develops a product to meet defined standards and provides it a competitive advantage. The sandbox, which is the first of its kind, was established in Malta in May 2021, and aims to provide a secure environment for digital start-ups to innovate their products in accordance with established criteria. They aim to improve and enhance the local digital product through this project. On the one side, there is the service provider who can provide a product that functions as it should with certainty. On the other hand, there is the investor and consumer who is investing in or purchasing a product that has previously been evaluated against high European and worldwide standards.
The Pathfinder MDIA Digital Scholarship, which was introduced in June 2021 and is meant to aid students in postgraduate degrees related to AI, is one example of the MDIA’s recent activity. For full-time successful applicants, the Digital Scholarship offered paid tuition and bench costs, as well as a study allowance. The funding totalled €100,000, with each student receiving a maximum of €10,000 throughout the course of their studies. An additional €20,000 in financing has been confirmed, increasing the total amount to €120,000.
The MDIA has also contributed to research projects run by the University of Malta in recent months, with funds totalling over €160,000 going to three projects aiming at implementing AI in everyday life. Furthermore, the Malta Digital Innovation Authority is working hard to become a component of Malta’s digitalisation agenda.
In his closing remarks, Mr Piccione spoke about the Authority’s forthcoming project, which is aimed at allowing digital ideas to come to life through the provision of essential instruments, as well as its new Technology Assurance Assessment Framework, which will enable the Authority to provide numerous products directed at various kinds of businesses, whether a start-up or a large corporation.
Read the full interview here.
Author: Stephanie Marinova