In today’s world, technology is the key disruptor across all industries. Innovation and scientific advancements are transforming ages-old business practices into more efficient ways of working, and consequently changing the entire landscape of the world around us. Kenneth Spiteri, Vodafone Malta’s Director of Enterprise & Business Development, is keenly passionate about the potential that technology holds to completely change the world, and is spearheading the way the company is harnessing it to make the world a better place.
“Technology is moving faster than we can even assimilate, and it is causing disruption across all industries, changing the dynamics of usage, and bringing the difference to the end consumer,” Mr Spiteri says. “Take UBER, for example – it disrupted the taxi industry through technology, without even having any cars. There are a number of industries which are ready to be disrupted, and will be disrupted. This will have wide-ranging implications on the employment side, on who is recruited, and on how the business is done.”
Mr Spiteri explains that many industries have already experienced disruption – smart meters, for instance, have replaced the human meter reader going door-to-door. “That’s the basic form of the Internet of Things (IoT),” he says. But now Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) – a new technology standard, just like 3G and 4G, designed to broaden the future of IoT connectivity – is set to cause further disruption, since it has the ability to penetrate and provide coverage even to the most remote places. “With Narrowband-IoT, you can have a device placed deep underground, in the middle of a large field, or any other place previously thought of as unreachable by older networks. It can be used to provide monitoring and help regulate all kinds of industries. What’s unique about NB-IoT is that it brings together two sides which are normally seen as opposing forces – the regulatory side and the commercial aspect. With NB-IoT, the commercial side gives the regulator the ability to carry out its work.”
Indeed, the applications for NB-IoT are limitless, from the healthcare industry, where wearables are being developed to read signs of an incoming heart attack in a patient, to the agriculture industry, where farmers are alerted that one of their cows is about to give birth. In Malta, Vodafone Malta was the first to introduce NB-IoT, and its first nationwide usage was in collaboration with GreenPak, with its smart iBiNs. “The sim card monitors how full the bin is, and sends the truck to empty it when needed,” Mr Spiteri explains. “Users can also download a web app to check whether the bins are empty of not. It’s efficient from the company’s perspective, but also positive from an environmental perspective – the truck won’t make any wasted trips to empty the bins if they’re not full yet. There are multiple benefits attached to such usage.”
Blockchain also has a key role to play in the business ecosystem of the future. “Malta has put in the right level of regulation, with the right level of barriers to entry, so we only get companies which are serious about it, which can be monitored and audited. There’s still a lot of hype surrounding the technology, but by time, the dust will settle and the companies which are truly committed will be able to grow here. Other jurisdictions are catching up, so Malta needs to keep abreast of such developments. While it’s still early days to see how it will play out on a global level, I think it will make telecommunications more efficient. The telecoms industry is built on the trust of millions of interactions between clients, and blockchain can definitely make it more robust.”
Another pillar of the technological revolution is Artificial Intelligence (AI). “The common saying that it’s going to replace everyone is far from the truth,” Mr Spiteri says. “What AI can do is replace the highly repetitive tasks, machine learn, and adapt. For instance, you may soon be able to phone a call centre, speak to a robot, and you wouldn’t even know that you’re not talking to a human being. I recently visited a concept store where all the night-shift stacking is carried out by robots. While AI is still far from replacing a human completely, there are certainly jobs that won’t be present in the near future. I think this is where the divide is – how much industries are prepared for that and how ready they are to adapt to that change.”
Mr Spiteri says that the education system needs a revamp across the board in order to be prepared for this brave new world. “Today’s students were born in the digital age and are fully immersed in it. Anyone who is 10 years old today will change jobs about 10 times in their lifetime, and when I say change, I mean that they will have to learn new skills, as industries become defunct within a decade. Look at the top 10 listed companies that there were on the New York Stock Exchange 10 years ago, and compare them to the ones that there are today. Only one or two are still there – the others have either gone bust or been replaced by the new kids on the block. Technology is changing so fast that we have to change as quickly with it, especially if we want to prepare the workforce of tomorrow for the realities they’ll have to face.”
As the interview proceeds, it quickly becomes clear that applying technology for the wider benefit of the public is a priority for the company – in other words, “connecting for good.” “The social element is a key part of our strategy. A business always has to make profits, but we also take pride and put a lot of effort into using our business acumen for the benefit of society. Through the Vodafone Malta Foundation, we use our technology to implement positive strategies for those who are in need. Currently, we’re undertaking a project together with the University’s Department of Artificial Intelligence to develop cutting-edge technology involving virtual reality (VR) to reduce pain without the use of medication in children undergoing painful, high-stress hospital procedures.
“In what will be a first in the medical field, the project will combine VR with ‘affective gaming’, meaning that the specially designed game will be intelligent enough to also determine the user’s emotional and physical state and adjust the game accordingly in real time in order to distract the child from feeling pain.”
This is an aspect that ties into the bigger picture of how Vodafone sees itself – a provider of solutions that can really help and make a difference.
What else does the future hold for Vodafone? “We aim to be a key partner for any Government by deploying the technologies that keep Malta abreast. All the new technologies and ideas need very robust networks and Vodafone is a global leader in that. Apart from that, I believe that in five years’ time, Vodafone will be seen in a completely different way. While telecommunications companies are usually all about networks and data speeds, we aim to be more of a technology enabler, shaping solutions rather than just being a pipe for connectivity. Vodafone Malta will be a very intrinsic part of that technological ecosystem.”