By Andrew Rosenbaum
Many more digital public services will soon be available in Cyprus. These are the kind of projects that the government is able to implement rapidly thanks to the two-speed approach crafted by the deputy ministry of research, innovation and digital policy.
In an interview with the Cyprus Mail, Deputy Minister Kyriakos Kokkinos elaborated on the government’s digital transformation strategy, explaining also how a large part of the European Resilience and Recovery Funds (RRF) will be directed to the ministry to accelerate egovernment, aiming at better citizen and business services from the government.
“I believe that the new Resilience and Recovery fund is extremely important and instrumental if properly leveraged and used, and it came at the right time. We’re already on a fast-track for an interactive digital transformation, not just at the government level but also at the national level, and in this respect, we have a number of projects in the pipeline,” Kokkinos said.
There are two categories of projects: one category is the major large scale-initiatives, a set of projects totalling roughly €350 million – ranging from five to 50 million euros each and expected to be implemented within the next two to five years. And then the other packet of projects consists of smaller projects of low to medium complexity yet high impact on society and or the business community.
“These are very important projects and refer mainly to digitisation of public services, such as the enablement of ePayments of many of the citizen and business services and other eForms submissions in an interactive and bi-directional way, which will enhance efficiency and speed in citizens and businesses’ interactions with the state and each other, while reducing related time and costs. For example, student school registrations, applications for different licences (new ore renewals), online payments and many more. Our target is that any type of government interaction with citizens will be possible online,” Kokkinos said.
“You don’t need to take years to make an online payment for social security or to file a case to the court; these are small-scale projects that can be implemented within weeks or months if properly planned and designed. Hence, we’ve identified a packet of about 150 services which can be deployed in a three-to-eighteen-month horizon and will be implemented concurrently.”
Mega projects, with a two to five-year implementation include, for example, the hospital automation system, which is a €50 million euro project and the school management system, as well as the deployment of new tech infrastructure and holistic systems for different governmental departments.
Kokkinos said a third packet is not fully defined yet. This is based on the Green Deal and how technology and digitisation can help steer towards the objectives of the Green Deal as envisioned and crafted by European Commission.
“The new RRF (Recovery and Resilience Facility) also focuses on the Green Deal, and we are working in collaboration with other key ministries – especially the agriculture ministry, as well as our research ecosystem – towards the realignment of our projects and initiatives portfolio so that we properly execute our national Green Deal plan to be in support and aligned with the EC Green Deal plan,” he said.
Kokkinos described climate change and environmental degradation as an existential threat to Europe and the world. To overcome these challenges, Europe needs a new growth strategy that will transform the union into a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy, where there are no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050.
“The European Green Deal is aiming to make the EU’s economy sustainable by turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities, and making the transition just and inclusive for all. Technology and digitisation are key levers towards this! Projects based on the Green Deal for Cyprus can focus on climate change, quality of water, soil exploitation, food and smart cities, energy, solar energy exploitation etc. These are all very important projects that we need to tackle,” he said.
“We have the technology and intellectual capital needed here in Cyprus and we can do it!”
Kokkinos views RRF as a great instrument for making things happen faster, in a consistent and efficient manner, but it is conditioned to ensure proper execution in a timely, disciplined and qualitative way so that the targeted benefits of each project is truly realised as planned.
“By October of this year we need to provide our initial plans and proposals in drafts, while final selection will take place early next year.”
Kokkinos is also working to improve the pool of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), especially in the domain of advanced ICT (Information & Communication Technology) skills in Cyprus.
“There is a shortage of ICT skills in Cyprus today, especially in the domains of cybersecurity, modern IT tooling, agile project management methodology, data sciences, big data and artificial intelligence. So, we need to work along with our ecosystem (Ministry of Education, Academia and Research, businesses) for building these capabilities in a consistent and sustainable manner. Cyprus scores lower than the European average in terms of STEM graduates and need to fix this.”
Kokkinos again proposes a two-speed approach to change this.
One is to come up with very specific fast-track programmes in collaboration with academia that will tailor the skills of existing graduates to be compatible with what the market needs. This is a 12-to 18-month programme. The second prong, which is long-term, is that Cyprus’ education system needs to be restructured to encourage the young to study science, technology and mathematics.
“Cyprus’ education needs to be on a continuous recalibration mode so that we produce the right calibre of future knowledge workers,” he said.
“There is a skills gap in education that we need to reconfigure, that’s why I said it’s a long-term objective. But at least in the short-term we can partially address this challenge through engagement of our universities to work with the industry and realign STEM and ICT skills and competencies that best fit the market.”