An academic whose specialisation is in digital marketing is of the opinion that, after decades of national investment and EU funding in IT, businesses in Malta should have been better prepared to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. In a short Interview, Dr Franco Curmi said that “It is not as if Malta had not invested millions of euros of EU and National funds in Malta’s Digital Economy. Most probably, there were enough funds to directly pay the digital transformation of all Maltese companies, with an amazing website included, that has AI and Blockchain functionality. However, after years of governments’ throwing money at the ‘digital economy’, most businesses still found themselves totally unprepared”.
The question as to where did the funds actually go, therefore, remains legitimate. For many years, noted Curmi, a key priority of investments was in areas “…that make great news for public relations but that have little tangible community or economic relevance. One example out of many is the millions of euros “invested” in the Blockchain Island with negligible returns, many questionably supported events, and even more news features. The writing was on the wall” said Dr Curmi. In hindsight, he said, Blockchain Island funding turned out to be, in some cases, a sponsored celebration of technology geeks instead of societal-wide innovation through the essential diversity of experts that embody wellbeing, sociologists, values in computing and the broader community stakeholders.
Low investment in research
Second is the low research investment that does not cultivate an innovation culture across the industry. Unfortunately, research investment in Malta is one of the lowest in the EU. In Germany, for example, research institutions can tap into both National funds and EU funds among others. In Malta national funds are negligible in contrast with other EU countries. This week, for the first time, the government assigned €600,000 of research funds to the University of Malta. That is a first in history and that is commendable. More is needed in areas beyond the traditional sciences to include Innovation Science (that is the scientific approach to managing and implementing innovation) and Digital Economy among others.
Dr Franco Curmi will be the guest of Newsbook Q&A next Tuesday at 16:00h on Newsbook.com.mt