Digital Economy and Society Index 2020 – Malta ranks 5th out of 28 countries

Digital Economy and Society Index 2020 – Malta ranks 5th out of 28 countries

Article by Carm Cachia, published on the Sunday Times of Malta on 05.07.2020

Digital technologies are profoundly changing our life, in the way we work, do business, and the way we travel, communicate and the way we live. When one considers the world in these areas in the past, we will deduce what a better life we live in today. Technology has provided us with fast-digital communications, social media interaction, electronic commerce, and so much more. Digitisation has, is and will steadily transform our world where we can create a lot of value for people to live better, companies to thrive resulting in more high-quality employment, and for training and education to be delivered more effectively. This transformation is as fundamental as that caused by the past industrial revolution.

In this respect, we need to reflect at all levels of society as to how Europe can best meet the challenges ahead and the risks that come with it. We will require a lot of efforts from everyone, including governments and every type of organisation, but this will give us a better life encased by a positive digital future for everyone. The European Union is the space and environment where a lot of work can be done to achieve this, and there are many great examples, led the Commission, to make our life more competitive, safe and fair. A distinctive example is the Single Digital Market which “aims to open up digital opportunities for people and business and enhance Europe’s position as a world leader in the digital economy. A European approach to digital transformation means empowering and including every citizen, strengthening the potential of every business and meeting global challenges with our core values”.

For the next five years, the European Commission, in collaboration with all member countries, will work hard in achieving the following objectives:

– Technology that works for people that makes a real difference to people’s daily lives;
– A fair and competitive economy where companies of all sizes and in any sector, can compete on equal terms to develop technology and use it to make them more competitive;
– An open, democratic and sustainable society where citizens can interact and share data, online or offline, in a trustworthy environment to respect our fundamental democratic values and to contribute to an efficient and sustainable economy.

It is therefore important to reflect on our progress in achieving these aims, and more importantly to receive guidelines and share ideas with the rest of Europe (and possibly the world) to become better and stronger. Each country needs to know the strengths and weaknesses so that it can focus on improvements. The Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) monitors each country’s digital performance and collectively gives the European snapshot. Hence DESI tracks the European competitiveness with other continents. The DESI identifies areas requiring more investment and action. The European Commission undertakes a lot of research and studies on behalf of all European countries. All this work results in a European Digital Strategy, which is represented by guidelines and white papers for different pillars (e.g. White Paper on Artificial Intelligence, SME Strategy, European data strategy). The DESI will then measure the level of activity and results based on these strategies.

It is important, therefore to note that the DESI is annually updated and optimised in its thematic content because the digital world is a changing environment and presents us not just with additional challenges but also with opportunities. Funding can also be provided based on this thematic content. The themes of the DESI 2020 includes Connectivity, Human Capital, Use of Internet, Integration of Digital Technology and Digital Public Services.

However, before continuing, let us realise the facts as they appeared for Malta in this DESI 2020. Malta ranked 5th out of 28 countries, ahead of Ireland, Estonia, UK, Belgium, Luxemburg, Spain and many others. The attributes to the strong digital economy stakeholders and robust government policies are reaping fruit. These countries are very strong countries with enormous budgets and resources. No wonder that during the launch of the National eSkills Strategy in March 2019, Mr Gerard De Graaf, Director-General DG-CONNECT in the European Commissioned, envisaged that in the future, Malta will become a leader in Digital Economy, and how right he was! In the DESI 2020, Malta followed Finland, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. The primary objective of all countries is to do their best to provide the best digital environment for their citizens, SMEs, enterprises, and the educational environment and not to compete in the DESI. However, each country would want to know their standing in Europe and possibly the countries to follow.

But let us focus a little on Malta now. Malta continues with its progress, year on year, and an in the DESI 2020 Malta jumped three places, from 8th to 5th. An important achievement for sure, owed to the hard work the country has undertaken.

In Connectivity, Malta gained seven places from 2019, ranking 10th in 2020 from 17th in 2019. With 100% of the households covered with NGA and VHC networks, fixed broadband take-up of 84%, and improvements in 100 Mbps broadband connections, Malta can be proud in offering society and the corporate world with one of the best in Europe. International connectivity investments on a submarine cable by one of the main operators will connect Malta to Marseille and Egypt, thus reducing dependence on the Italy connection. Most of the operators either upgraded their communications network or had existing state-of-the-art nodes. MCA is carrying outstanding initiatives to move towards the planning of 5G implementations, including a White Paper and Survey on ‘5G Demand and Future Business’. We must congratulate MCA and all the network providers for their vision and outstanding work.

Human Resource is one of the most important subjects for all technology providers and consumers. Malta has moved up three places from 9th in 2019 to 6th in 2020. We scored high in many areas. 38% of the people in Malta have above basic digital skills as against the 33% EU average. ICT graduates have significantly increased, reaching 7.9% of all graduates, while there are 4.8% ICT specialists in the workforce which is higher than the 3.9% EU Average. Progress has also been made in gender in the digital sector, where 2.1% of female ICT specialists form part of the female workforce, compared to the 1.4% EU Average. So many great initiatives contributed to the progress in the Human Resource ranking. eSkills Malta Foundation launched the National eSkills Strategy 2019-2021 which covers areas of basic digital literacy, quality of teaching, advanced skills, and re-skilling and upskilling the workforce. The Foundation also worked on many initiatives in career guidance, the connection of industry requirements with education, Summer Bootcamps, gender initiatives and carrying out several studies. MITA also had 382 students who took part in the Student Placement Programme. At the same time, the DESI also mentioned the Distributed Ledger Technology Masters programme run by the University of Malta Centre with the same name. One also cannot but mention the upgrade of the ICT education in schools with the introduction of C3 (instead of ECDL) which includes concepts of coding, robotics, animation and editing. The DESI was full of praise for the EU Codeweek initiatives carried out in Malta, in which yet again, placed first in Europe for the number of events per capita. Around 20,000 people participated in 537 events, and penetration of over 80% in the schools of Malta. The only damper in the Human Resource is that 46% of the population still lack basic digital skills, which is 2% under the EU average. The European Commission credits well the way the Government set-up the eSkills Malta Foundation as a National Coalition focusing on digital skills and the ICT Profession and credits the sterling work being done by the Foundation and for its important future projects.

In the Use of Internet, Malta placed 6th in the DESI ranking, up by one place from last year. Malta scored well in Internet users. 85% of the population mirrors the same EU average, 82% of people reads the news online as against 72% EU average, playing music-videos-games with 88% of the population as against 81% EU average, 48% for video on demand as against 31% EU Average, video calls with 64% against 60% EU average, Social networks with a sizzling 82% as against 65% EU average, and 35% of internet users selling online as against 23% EU average. It was nice to note that Malta improved on the number of people doing an online course, with 13% as against the 11% EU Average. Surprisingly, Malta did not score well in shopping online with 67% of the population as against 71% EU average, Banking with 63% of internet users as against 66% of EU average. Credit here goes to the government and the various stakeholders who worked incessantly to get the population to this advanced rank.

In the Integration of Digital technology, Malta performs above the EU average in the use of digital technologies by enterprises, ranking 7th. 24% of the businesses also use big data analysis, the highest in the EU, while 43% of enterprises use social media as against 25% of the EU. In e-commerce, 23% of SME’s sell online while e-commerce represents 6% of total SMEs turnover, while Malta is slightly above the EU average in cross-border sales. The DESI also highlights that 41% of enterprises in Malta have high to very high levels of digitisation which is well above the 26% EU Average. In the recent past, the Maltese Government have encouraged and helped the industry with measures to boost digital technologies for competitiveness. These initiatives have amply contributed to this excellent result, and this augurs well to the important and crucial road of the digital transformation, which will actively take place in Europe. The European Commission noticed the important initiative for setting up the Malta Digital Innovation Authority, which launched the blockchain and DLT strategy, the corresponding digital assets regulatory framework and the National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence. DESI also highlights the setting up of between government and industry to attract Foreign Direct Investment and the promotion of local tech industries abroad. Others worthy of mention are the MITA Innovation Hub which accelerated 11 innovative start-ups, the MITA Emerging Technologies Lab which organised over 50 different activities to 700 people, and the Cybersecurity Summit organised by the Maltese Government.

On Digital Public Services, where we scored 100% for the provision of Pre-filled forms and 90% on the Online service completion, however, take-up of eGovernment services is still low with 57% of internet users as against 67% EU average. We also scored well on Digital public services for business with a score of 94% as against 88% EU average. But we scored very low on Open data with 42% as against 66% EU average, this underlines an issue and may pose a problem for Malta in the future.

The DESI 2020 is a good marker for us where although we scored very well and ranked with the top countries, however, Malta will need to focus on several issues. DESI is a great tool because it guides us on certain priorities and areas of attention. The rank of 5th from 28 EU countries is definitely a clear indication that the digital economy policies and actions are amongst the best being adopted in Europe. It is a challenge to achieve this and even more to keep up with and improve on that position. From the eSkills Malta Foundation point-of-view, we know our policies, strategy and actions are working. At the same time, we would like to thank all those who collaborated with us and understood what we are trying to achieve, and we look forward to a bright future.