I wanna get Digital, Digital! Let me hear your ID talk!

Rightfully so, the onset of the pandemic accelerated the need for Digital Transformation. The pandemic seriously challenged every aspect of our way of life. Even the most basic of tasks, those that we take for granted, such as purchasing basic supplies became a challenge.

If we look back at March 2020 and how quickly we had to make amends, we will find that technology was, most of the times the solution. All businesses went online practically overnight. Yes, there may have been some challenges because of the suddenness of the change, but in a matter of a few weeks, many supermarkets and restaurants were efficiently running an online business. Even culture and arts explored the online world. I remember purchasing a coupon to watch one of my favourite local stand-up comedy shows on the internet. When we missed travel, we started doing virtual tours of places of interest we always wanted to visit. This shows that, if used correctly, technology can transform our challenges into opportunities.

The pandemic will eventually be over, but its effects will be here to stay for some time and we must let them guide us on the way forward.

Hence, it comes as no surprise that Digital Transformation ranks high on both the European Union’s and Malta’s post-pandemic recovery plan.

I cannot however not mention how buzz words such as Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Automation are frequently and interchangeably used when talking about Digitial Transformation.

Yes, for those that are well-ahead in the journey of Digital Transformation; AI, Robotics and Automation may be the next steps. Yet, some others may not have even started this transformative process. I like to describe Digital Transformation as a journey; a journey which we all know where it starts. A journey which we all know it should have no end because there is always scope for further digitalisation.

The goals of digitalisation should be to simplify and optimise existing manual processes, to eventually introduce efficiency and save time. Probably because of being a techie myself, I would say 90% of our daily undertakings can be somewhat digitalised. 

90% of our daily undertakings can be somewhat digitalised.

This is where, politically, we should divert our attention; to understand how to facilitate both businesses and citizens alike to digitalise.  

If we dig deeper into how the journey of digitalisation developed within the last twenty months, we realise that whilst most businesses adapted easily, others could not; surely not because they did not want but because the nature of their business did not allow them to.

Let’s take banking as an example. Whilst all local banks continue to enhance their digital banking applications, increase limits for ATM withdrawals, contactless payments and the likes to help us transact with ease, they can do very little to digitise contractual processes such as loan applications.

There may be a million reasons why this may be difficult, such as gathering KYC documentation, vetting source of funds, and so on; but most probably these are all aspects that can be digitised easily.

The case for digital signatures

However even if all these processes are digitalised, a loan application would still mandate a visit to your local bank, at least to gather that blessed wet ink signature on every paper in that application!

Does a contract need a wet ink signature in 2022? Probably not, more so because in Malta, just like in the rest of the European Union, the use of digital signature is completely legal. Mind you, the challenges of signature capture exist not only in banking, but in various other sectors. 

Having a professional background in consulting businesses in digital transformation, I can say this is a challenge in all the financial services industry and high value retail. Do you imagine purchasing a car without needing to sign a ton of papers? Do you imagine insuring that same car you just purchased without signing another ton of papers? Hence, whilst the legal frameworks for digital signatures and digital identities are in place, this remains challenging.

Do you imagine purchasing a car without needing to sign a ton of papers?

Not only do we have the legal framework for digital signatures in place, Malta has a digital identification system (e-ID) that has achieved the highest level of security assurance. It is now time to take this to the next level.

It is now time to think about e-ID integrated signatures. It is now time to think about signature wallets. Imagine having your signature collected periodically every couple of years through the renewal of your ID Card and henceforth, you can put a signature on any document that requires so through a biometric validated app on your phone. Would you need to go to the bank to sign a loan application? No, you would receive a signature request, login with your e-ID profile or with a biometric validated application and consent to sign that document.

Is it this easy? From an implementation point of view, from a security point of view, from a confidence point of view; definitely not! But so was mobile banking! All of us were somewhat concerned, it is nowadays taken for granted.

Let us not just think about efficiency and convenience, which are the biggest advantages of digital signatures. Let us also consider the environmental advantages of avoiding physical wet ink signature. How many documents do we sign, only for them to end up shredded after being scanned and stored in a digital document repository?

We have secured substantial EU funds to invest in Digital Transformation through the COVID Recovery Fund. This is a golden opportunity to digitalise the most basic of manual processes; to digitalise and simplify probably the singlemost inhibitor to further digitalisation.


Brian Scicluna is Digital Transformation Consultant by profession and Vice Chairperson of Fondazzjoni IDEAT 

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