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Quick Questions and Answers

As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, technological applications and initiatives are multiplying in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease and treat patients – but also to enable organisations to continue with their day-to-day operations.

At a time when everyone needs better information, digital technologies have been essential when it comes to maintaining ongoing systems for everyone from state authorities and international organisations to people in quarantine or maintaining social distancing, the Head of the Innovation, Technology & Knowledge Services Department at the Central Bank of Malta, Saviour Busuttil, explains how his team has contributed.

Saviour Busuttil

What was the biggest struggle for the Bank's Innovation, Technology & Knowledge Services Department in the initial phases of the pandemic?

Prior to the pandemic, access to IT services at the Bank was mostly focused on in-premise or travel-related access. As business functions requested a stronger teleworking presence and mobility, our IT teams worked incessantly to update and reconfigure our services to expand the existing capabilities (in terms of procuring and deploying additional laptops and accessories). We also introduced new solutions to meet the demand for telepresence.

On another front, security assessments were conducted to ensure that the changes to the infrastructure mitigated risk and met the expected level of security.

These activities placed considerable demand on our IT team – who were already committed to other very important projects having strict deadlines. Nonetheless, our employees rose to the challenge and delivered within the projected timelines.

Do you think that the lessons learnt from the crisis will lead to permanent changes in operational models?

The new way of working – with a focus on mobility, collaboration and flexibility – highlight important changes to the way we conduct business. While locally we may have discounted collaboration platforms in the past, since the pandemic these platforms have become the norm. Business managers and employees today understand that organising a virtual meeting is as effective as – if not more than – a physical presence. Furthermore, the logistics become fairly simple as meetings need not be bound to a particular office or conference room, thus increasing flexibility and reducing transport and travel.

Mobility has also brought about a different perspective on business continuity. Apart from limiting the demands for physical locations, mobility also provides flexibility. Still, some business processes would need to evolve to make better use of the teleworking workforce.

What are the challenges in the second stage of the crisis?

Primarily, the first challenge definitely remains to keep our employees safe. In fact, physical presence within the offices and externally is being kept to a minimum – and strictly complies with the recommendations of the health authorities.

Technically, the infrastructure would ideally continue to evolve to provide a wider selection of IT services to teleworkers. The Innovation, Technology and Knowledge Services Department, with the support of the Chief Operations Officer, Executive Committee and the Board of Directors, is delivering what we call ‘Smart Mobility’, an initiative to provide access via mobile phones to our systems, as well as laptops to all employees. Our projections are that the great majority of our workforce will be mobile and flexible enough to work securely from any remote location before the end of this year.

How do you match the need for teleworking flexibility with cybersecurity?

As organisations offer more services online, the security risk profile also increases. Concurrent with the updates conducted on the Bank’s teleworking presence, our Cybersecurity Office has also deployed additional security measures and controls, complemented with a higher level of monitoring.

Our internal team regularly carries out security assessments on our infrastructures; additionally, we have engaged external experts to carry out independent assessments. The Bank has also invested heavily in security monitoring tools that leverage artificial intelligence capabilities, working around the clock. Furthermore, we actively collaborate with local and international institutions and authorities to monitor the threat landscape and imminent risks.

Collaboration tools were available for some time; why would you think that businesses are only now relying more on such platforms?

Collaboration platforms were mostly used for international events, with the goal at the time being to minimise travel. In fact, the European System of Central Banks uses teleconference systems on a regular basis to reduce carbon emissions. However, the full potential of these collaboration platforms was discounted locally. These tools have taken centre stage during social distancing restrictions. On a daily basis, our employees have realised that such tools are crucial for business operations. As virtual meetings also reduce travel time, employees can make better use of their work schedule. Collaboration tools are also evolving with demand: in fact, we now see new applications which enable project teams to utilise whiteboard and other templates for specific business needs.

The financial implications with regards to technology have been enormous, particularly for small organisations. Given your vast experience in this area, what advice would you give them?

Information technology enables most organisations today. Investing in technology is critical and must be aligned with the organisation’s strategy. Nonetheless, technology investment must be justified by strong business demand.

When investing in technology, organisations need to also consider their human capital and knowledge. This has been our strongest pillar when it came to enabling our business to meet rapidly changing demands and challenges.