Upon being appointed CEO of the Malta Digital Innovation Authority (MDIA) last year, Kenneth Brincat had amassed over 18 years of management experience within the public sector, first as Executive Secretary of the Floriana Local Council, before moving to the Hal Qormi Local Council. In 2018, he took on the role of Chief Operations Officer at the Malta Business Registry (MBR), until he was selected for his current CEO role. 

Looking back on his journey, Kenneth highlights several notable milestones, including being awarded Executive Secretary of the Year in 2017, as well as gaining the European Label of Governance Excellence for the Hal Qormi Local Council that same year – a feather in his cap, with only two local councils at the time having been recognised with such an award in Malta. 

Later, his work at the MBR – which up until that point was known as the Registry of Companies, and existed as a unit within the MFSA – came with a big ask; to create the organisational structure for the MBR to become a standalone agency. “It was all done in nine months, and I definitely consider that a landmark time in my career,” Kenneth reveals. 

Turning his attention to his current position, the CEO reflects that the MDIA was the first of its nature worldwide in setting the standard for the digital future, explaining that “it was originally established to position Malta as a centre of excellence for digital innovation, and to give a regulatory framework to innovative technologies. Since then, we have also started to promote digital innovation, and not just certifying it.” 

Disagreeing with the notion that the same entity cannot promote that which it regulates, Kenneth affirms that where digital innovation is concerned, its dynamic nature and the fact that it is still in its infancy means that there is much room for further promotion and awareness. 

“In 2020, the COVID pandemic did a lot towards the acceleration of the digital transformation of several organisations,” he maintains, musing on the development of the local digital landscape in recent years. To illustrate the effects of this, he points out that Malta is ranked sixth among EU Member States in the Digital Economy and Society Index; and has also ranked first in relation to eGovernment services within the European Commission Benchmark Report in 2021. 

“This shows us that the local digital landscape is in a good position, and has come a long way. It also makes our role more important as the MDIA, because the need for technology assurance is an important function,” he notes. 

With this and other developments in recent years in mind, Kenneth explains that upon his appointment as CEO of the MDIA, he had an important decision to make. “The question was whether I should continue with the strategic direction that the MDIA had up until that point, or whether I should carve out a new path. To determine this, I dedicated time to meeting with stakeholders in the industry to understand MDIA’s role better, and I discovered that we needed a new strategic direction,” he maintains, highlighting the fact, in particular, that numerous technologies were being adopted in our daily lives and hence focus was not to be centred on Blockchain and Smart Contracts only. 

So, moving forward, the CEO’s new strategy is staggered on three pillars – the MDIA’s regulatory role, that of giving technology assurance; the legal implications of what’s going on in Europe and worldwide and how to prepare for that; and finally, a promotional role, spreading awareness of the Authority’s work to the man on the street. 

In relation to the first pillar, one of the projects Kenneth highlights is TAAF – the Technology Assurance Assessment Framework. Through it, the MDIA’s aim is to provide technological assurance to a wide spectrum of technology arrangements. “At the moment, we certify a very restricted spectrum of digital innovation technologies – primarily DLT, Blockchain, Smart Contracts and Critical Solutions, and our strategic direction here is to include a wider spectrum of technologies, which should include a mix of traditional and innovative technologies,” the CEO explains, adding that the framework also provides for different levels of assurances, in line with the risk appetite of the particular technology. 

Expanding on the second pillar, Kenneth reveals that the MDIA has been selected as the certification authority for cyber security, which will give it an important role once the EU’s cyber security law comes into effect later this year. “This means that any technology within the cyber security realm which is certified in Malta will be recognised everywhere in the EU,” he says. 

Finally, when it comes to the third pillar of MDIA’s strategy, the CEO affirms that the Authority is working to promote digital innovation amongst different target groups, from teenagers to the elderly. “We have a very interesting project which I can’t divulge much about yet, targeted at teens,” he teases, adding that “for the elderly, we are looking to narrow the digital divide – we already have a project in place, Digital Connect, whereby we are giving free laptops and internet to vulnerable people in a number of localities.” 

Meanwhile, the MDIA is also the coordinator of the implementation of the National AI Strategy, which sees the Authority working closely with different entities on projects with multiple AI functions. “There are six different projects which we will be launching in the coming weeks, in the sectors of education, health, tourism, water services, customer care and transport,” the CEO affirms. 

Shifting to his thoughts on his leadership role, Kenneth reveals what he believes are the qualities of a good business leader, maintaining “a good leader is one who expands the power of those around him or her. There are also other qualities, like leading by example, having integrity and accountability, and being close to your people through empathy and humility, as well as having a vision and being a positive influence on those around you.” 

In fact, the most important lesson he’s learnt throughout his leadership journey is simply, “it’s not about you”, he says. “Our role is not about us, it’s about the people around us and the work that we have to do in the most effective way. We are only a small part of a whole.” 

Going into his plans and the main opportunities on the horizon for the MDIA in 2022, Kenneth maintains, “the EU is trying to harmonise technological standards in its Member States, particularly in relation to cybersecurity and AI. We have a great role there – being the certification authority of cybersecurity will be an opportunity which will also come with a lot of challenges. We are also closely following debates on AI – while a decision has not yet been finalised, the EU is looking into having such functionality certified, and what looks to be certain is that AI certification will be mandatory.” 

Finally, another major project the CEO is excited about is the European Digital Innovation Hub (EDIH), which will comprise different digital innovation hubs around Europe. Here, the MDIA has been selected as the Maltese counterpart to apply for such funds. “We have applied and are very confident that our application will be selected and awarded. Once done, we have to work to implement this and create a hub where one can get the expertise and the technology within a high-tech workspace which SMEs can use to research and develop new products,” he smiles. 

Closing our chat with a final piece of leadership advice, the CEO urges emerging leaders to be proactive, affirming, “being proactive allows you to create your own opportunities.” 

“Don’t just wait for opportunities to arise, you need to step up before the opportunity is given to you. That is what will get you noticed, and opportunity will come.” 

The interview forms part of the 50 Business Leaders 2022 project. The new online serialisation on MaltaCEOs.mt will feature 50 distinguished business leaders, CEOs, and emerging business minds to create debate and encourage business leaders to share their journey with our readers.

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