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Nicodemos Damianou: "People will see results in digital transition this year"

Within this year, the people of Cyprus will see tangible results in the field of digital transition, the Deputy Minister of Research, Innovation and Digital Policy, Nicodemos Damianou, told CNA, in an interview, referring to specific timetables for the implementation of milestones in the state's digital policy.

Some of the milestones he mentioned were the delivery of the new government portal in June/July, while announcements will be made in May on how the e-ID and e-signature will become available. The "digital assistant", which will operate within the government portal using artificial intelligence, is expected to get into effect, during the fourth quarter this year. Moreover, the Deputy Minister said the e-Justice software is expected to go into production in September, and the transfer of all government data centres to a secure location is planned to begin in the fourth quarter of the year, to address the issue holistically.

Furthermore, the Deputy Minister also referred to the importance of cybersecurity as a prerequisite for all of the above, as well as the necessity of integrating artificial intelligence in many areas of the public sphere, noting that this technology is "here to stay".

"Digital transformation is the big bet", he said. In this direction, the "digital citizen", a mobile application through which anyone will be able to keep official state documents in digital form, will be implemented. "We will start this year with three basic documents, the identity card, the driving licence and the MOT certificate", he said.

At the same time, the new central government portal, the new, is being implemented, through which the digitisation of state services will be progressively implemented. As he said, the first edition of the new government portal will go live in June-July. 

Asked whether there will be horizontal communication between the government departments' software, he said that one challenge of the implementation of the above project is that the corresponding procedures will have to be changed. He noted that today, the government's infrastructure is fragmented, since different departments have their own registers for the same issues and this makes it difficult to get information and disseminate it, and it also fragments the service that the citizen receives. "Through this process and progressively, we will try to fix these problems", he said.

"I hope that in May we will be able to make an announcement on how we will give the citizens the electronic identity and electronic signature", he said. He explained that the e-ID is different from the digital form of our physical identity. "It is our identity in the electronic world, it is the way I identify myself on the government portal to submit a request," he said.

Integrating AI in government services

"We aim within the fourth quarter of the year, to implement the digital assistant in the new government portal", which will use generative AI technologies, the Deputy Minister said. "People have now started asking for such tools; instead of picking up the phone, they use their mobile or computer", he said.

Regarding the general use of artificial intelligence in the implementation of the Ministry's plans, he said that "I am convinced that artificial intelligence is one of those cutting-edge technologies that is here to stay and will have a horizontal impact on everything".

He noted that the government is reviewing the state's strategy for artificial intelligence. "We want to integrate AI into functions of the state, such as tourism, policing, cyber security, issues related to agriculture. There are many areas where we need to find solutions", he said.

He added that artificial intelligence is also a key pillar in making Cyprus a regional technology and data centre.

Ongoing projects

The Deputy Minister also referred to projects that are being implemented. He mentioned the e-justice, the upgrading of the Road Transport Department, Social Insurance, Tax, Urban Planning. "These are major projects, which have been included under the Recovery and Resilience Plan and which we are being asked to manage", he said.

Regarding the e-justice, he said it is a project in which the management was not done properly and is now being reviewed from the beginning with the users. This, he noted, is taking longer than anticipated. "I see a timeline around September" for it to go into production, he said.

Asked if the state servers that he identified as not being protected up to standards, were moved, he said that it will soon be announced how and where all the government's data centres will begin moving to an appropriate place in the fourth quarter of the year.

Cyber security

"Cyber security is an essential precondition for everything we have discussed", he said, noting that the Digital Security Authority has put in place the national CSIRT, which is the body that responds to cyber security incidents and operates on a 24-hour basis. "It is an action that significantly improves the shielding of critical infrastructure", he said.

Additionally, he noted that the National Cyber Security Coordination Centre has been established. Also, campaigns are being conducted to raise awareness among both the public and businesses. At the moment, he noted, there is a joint awareness campaign on electronic frauds among the Digital Security Authority (DSA), the Banking Association and the Police.

"The Deputy Ministry has the responsibility of policy and coordination, and we are standardizing a comprehensive framework for cyber security, which will help us to further strengthen the way we respond", he said, noting that the principle of "Security by Design" should be applied onwards, meaning that any system that begins to be designed must take security issues into account from the start.

"Cyber security is now becoming a national security issue and that is how we should handle it", he stressed.

Digital skills

The digital transition is not only the services that the state provides to the citizens, but also the conditions for a digitally mature economy and society to be able to reap the benefits of this digitalization and to be able to act as a lever for the implementation of all this, Damianou said.

He noted that one of the dimensions, which Europe is also measuring, is basic digital skills. "We are a little below the European average, around 50%, compared to 59%" in the EU, he added.

He said that we have a national plan for digital skills, which is now also funded by the Recovery and Resilience Plan with €24 million. Of this, €13 million concerns the education system and is handled by the Ministry of Education.

He also noted the great shortage of IT and technology specialists, a challenge he said the rest of Europe is also facing. He said that, recently, in cooperation with the Ministry of Labour and CITEA, the pilot project "Re-Up Skilling" was announced, through which 15 unemployed people, who have no knowledge and background in technology and IT, will undergo an intensive 10-week programme to be trained in data analytics.

Research and Innovation

Regarding research and innovation, the Deputy Minister said that the responsibility of his office is to create a supportive framework. "We started 10 years ago as a country with an infant research and innovation ecosystem. Today, we have an ecosystem that has huge potential and momentum", he said, noting that for the second consecutive year, Cyprus is ranked 10th in Europe in the "strong innovator" category, based on the European Innovation Scoreboard.

He noted that through European funding, the Cypriot ecosystem has raised almost €0.5 billion. "It is performing very well and the challenge is how we help this system to turn research results into products, how we bring together the productive economy with the research and innovation ecosystem and how we help the ecosystem to integrate such knowledge that it can raise funding not only from government or European programmes, but from private capital", he noted

Concluding, the Deputy Minister said that the people have heard many promises. "But we ought to set targets. The important thing is that we have now started the implementation of many projects. I am sure that within the year we will get results", he said.

(Source: CNA)

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