Technology for a better government at core of MITA Strategy
Written by Paul Cocks
The Malta Information Technology
Agency is behind the government’s
inroads into approachable userfriendly e-services while providing secure and sound IT access across all
government. Paul Cocks spoke to
MITA’s Ing Emanuel Darmanin on
the agency’s new three-year strategy
plan, emerging technology and the
What is the role of MITA?
Our role is to assist government in four principal areas. The first is in developing and implementing digital strategies and policies. Secondly, we provide the Public Administration with the digital infrastructure and services to sustain their ongoing operations. Thirdly, we deliver horizontal digital platforms and vertical information systems based on the needs of departments or entities. Finally, we help in the promulgation and the increased use of digital technologies.
The client is always the government, but the end user in some cases is the public, is that right?
MITA is owned 100% by government and provides services solely to government. Although our direct client is the Public Administration, ultimately, the systems and services that we operate are utilised by ministries and entities to provide services to the general public or businesses. For example, if you receive pension benefits or children’s allowance, these are delivered by Social Services, using systems developed, provided, hosted, and maintained by MITA.
MITA has just launched a three-year strategy, focused around seven main pillars. What is the ultimate aim of this strategy? Where does MITA hope this strategy will take it by end of 2023?
The new strategy is for three years, covering the period 2021 to 2023, and with a vision of ‘Committed To A Digital Future’. The digital scenario changes fast and continuously; you can never say that you have done enough. It might be good for today, and perhaps, tomorrow. But today you need to plan for tomorrow and the day after that. Through our services, we are committed to remain relevant not only for now but even for the future. How do we do this? As our mission statement says, we provide direction but we also implement solutions. We do not simply say what should be done, but we also provide the tools necessary to implement the vision.
Our strategy is based on seven pillars, or domains as we like to call them. At the core of our work is our data centre, built to international standards, from where we operate most of government’s critical information systems and where the associated data, which the public and businesses entrust with government, is stored. We ensure that, through the government network which we operate, these systems and data are, at any point in time, safely accessible by ministries, department, entities and embassies.
The second domain relates to information systems. We implement and maintain horizontal platforms which are used internally within Government; these include email system and collaboration platform. We also implement solutions which are common across Government and which enable the implementation of workflows, sending SMSs (e.g., with results), allowing online payments, etc. Then we also develop, implement, maintain and modernise vertical systems used by specific departments such as the law courts, social policy, Income Tax , VAT and health.
Our strategy sees us to continuously assist government in strengthening its vision to deliver services of excellence. Therefore, a third domain focuses on emerging technologies and data. We enable data sharing, of course within legal parameters, and concepts such as Once-only for data already in Government’s possession, and a single version of the truth in terms of, for example, a person’s name and address. We are committed to make full use of innovative technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things, and best utilisation of data to offer better services.
A key domain focuses on information security to which we give utmost priority in everything that we do. We have recently launched a Security Operations Centre which, on an ongoing basis, monitors the landscape, and uses tools and resources to minimise security risk, and to take proper measures. This domain also includes Cyber Security, the importance of which is always on the increase as more people work and transact online. We implement awareness sessions to different audiences, be it public officials, citizens and businesses.
As this strategy is a testament of, all that we do is done adopting a strategic approach, and hence another domain. We are involved in and assist at both national and Public Administration level in drafting and setting up digital policies, strategies and roadmaps. As we talk, together with key partners, we are working on drafting the new National Cyber Security strategy. We also represent Malta on various EU and national committees. Our strategic plan is supplemented by comprehensive yearly business plans which establish key milestones and detail resource requirement to implement the strategy.
A sixth domain relates to our external environment. We are like that technician who goes to a client with a toolbox equipped with our knowledge, digital platforms, infrastructure, information systems, partners, etc. Our consultants go to a government department, determine their needs, and then we design, develop, project manage and implement solutions. There are instances where we provide services directly to citizens and businesses, such as through awareness campaigns to increase the use of digital technologies.
Finally, is the internal domain. Just like any other organisations, we have several internal functions and processes that are integral to our work. We administer our tendering processes, establish procurement frameworks for use by government and operate within ISO standards and certifications. We run the organisation in a financially sustainable manner and by generating our income through the projects and services that we deliver.
Supporting the seven domains is our most important asset – our employees. We have excellent resources in different areas of the digital field. We take measures to motivate, develop and recognise our employees and have a climate where they can deliver.
With reference to the importance of data security and information security … the use of digital services is on the rise, even with regards to eservices offered by the government. But with digital services comes the risk of digital breaches, and that is where cyber security comes in. How big is the risk of all this personal data collected being breached?
If you are looking for zero risk, maybe you should lock yourself in a room with no access to the outside world. But that is not the reality we live in. On the contrary, as you said, the use and spectrum of digital services is increasing, as more and more functions are switched to a digital platform. So, the only option one has, is to put in place appropriate measures to protect data, systems and people using them. We invest heavily in information security, while building the systems, an throughout the whole process. We treat the data under our guardianship as the holy grail, and we ensure that we have the tools and resources to always protect it.
How do you assuage the fears of people who are wary of new emerging technology, like AI, IoT and blockchain?
As part of our strategy, we have put in place a new ‘applied research’ function, with the aim of using such technologies to help government address particular pain points or to develop new services. We also anticipate future needs of the Public Administration and design solutions which we then offer to government. In either case, such services are only introduced after we do proof of concepts, to test, verify and validate. And, importantly, in anything that we do, we incorporate security from the ground up, not as an afterthought. So, as to your question – should one be worried? My answer would be that, if you work diligently and give due consideration to important principles including privacy and security, these technologies will not pose a risk.
How did COVID-19 impact MITA and the services you offer?
COVID-19 did not really impact the work and services that we provide to government. More than anything, the pandemic affects us from a human resources point of view, in the sense that some staff work remotely. However, we are proud that we had already set up a remote working framework which was implemented before the pandemic hit us. So we could continue with our services, practically without disruptions. We also provide essential services, including assisting the health department in various instances. We were involved in the setting up of the swab centres, the development of the contact tracing app and the Tele-Medicine initiative. As we talk, we continue to ensure that the government can keep functioning and we therefore ensure access to email, websites and collaboration sites, as well as access to line of business systems, be they used by the health department, the law courts, social services and customs.
Finally, what is that excites you most personally about this new strategy plan?
I have been at MITA for 27 years, and what excites me and motivates me most is the fact that, what we do is part of a much bigger picture. What we deliver ensures that government can keep on functioning and do so more efficiently. It is not just us, let us be clear, but we are an important cog in the wheel that keeps the country running. Moreover, the fast advances in technology brings about new opportunities and challenges, which is already exciting. The fact that, at MITA, we can employ such technologies to bring about further benefits to our society, excites me even more.