Seeking the tools to usher Cyprus into the digital age

Seeking the tools to usher Cyprus into the digital age

Cyprus is making progress in the digital era but it still has some way to go before it gets where it wants to be. This appears to be the general conclusion from the “Cyprus in the Digital Agenda” conference which took place a few days ago, organized by Kathimerini newspaper’s Cyprus edition and the SPP Media Group in Nicosia.

There was much discussion on the issue of fake news, with Kathimerini’s executive director, Alexis Papachelas, emphasizing the need for the elites to connect with the people. The editor in chief of Kathimerini English Edition, Tom Ellis, moderated a lively discussion on the subject of native content, or paid advertising that is consistent with the function and profile of the medium in which it is presented.

The aim of the conference, which was moderated by Michalis Sofocleous, former director of Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades’s office, was to raise key issues forming the foundation of the country’s transition into the digital age. The discussion revolved around the need to invest in solar energy and to coordinate action on the digital agenda, how our everyday lives are changing with artificial intelligence and the importance of big data in the new era of advertising.

Fake news was the first topic on the conference’s agenda, with European Commission chief spokesperson Margaritis Schinas admitting that the European Union has often been the target of fake news stories.

Jivka Petkova, the European Commission’s multimedia chief editor, offered examples of fake news stories, including one that claimed the European Commission had banned kebabs, children’s balloons and French fries.

While the need to establish a set of guidelines and best practices was emphasized, it became clear that, in sharp contrast to the issue of personal data protection, the Commission had not come up with a specific legislative framework that would provide for the imposition of fines on media outlets that reproduce fake news.

It is understood that an effort is under way to coordinate policy on a communications strategy.

“We feel alone in the fight against fake news,” said Schinas.

At the same time, Kathimerini executive director Papachelas underlined the need to find the right tools to deal with fake news but without the average citizen losing his or her access to information.

The founders of Avocarrot (now Glispa Global Group), George Makkoulis and Panos Papageorgiou, presented their own take on the prospects being generated in the advertising industry, while speaking on the utilization of internet user data along with the limitations stemming from private data regulations.

They explained that advertising companies currently have a lot of power in their hands and also touched on the issue of election results that can be influenced by ads.

One way out could be native content, or paid advertising that is consistent with the function and profile of the medium in which it is presented. As reported by Tania Giakoumaki, general manager at Bakers Digital Communication, a V+O Group company, as much as 74 percent of ad revenue is expected to come from native content by 2021.

During a discussion on advertising, it emerged that native content is still in its infancy in Cyprus while the situation on the ground will ultimately set advertising trends in the coming years. The panel was moderated by Ellis, and the participants included George Theodotou, chief marketing director at Alpha Mega Supermarkets, Vassilis Papadopoulos, MTN’s senior manager of Innovation and New Business Development, PhilGood Magazine’s chief editor Stavros Christodoulou, and Kathimerini editor in chief Michalis Tsikalas.

The discussion emphasized the fact that Cyprus has no effective means of coordinating the implementation of the country’s digital strategy. Despite the fact that a plan is in place, there is no agency or body that can coordinate the implementation of all the many different issues.

This has resulted in a void that has not gone unnoticed at the Presidential Palace, with President Anastasiades already looking into the possibility of setting up the position of digital policy commissioner. This individual would have executive powers and be responsible for overseeing the vision and implementation of digital policy in Cyprus.

One of the crucial questions is the issue of artificial intelligence and its implementation, said Energy Minister Yiorgos Lakkotrypis, explaining that AI paves the way for what is essentially the democratization of energy in such a way that the consumer moves away from the fringes of the market toward the center.

That is, a home or small business could produce its own energy using the sun and store it either in batteries installed in the building or in an electric vehicle. Then, using artificial intelligence, a smart network could distribute the energy where it is needed, while being able to provide information and data on how much energy each home has produced and even calculate the tax on it. This would allow each household to produce energy and manage its own affairs.

“This scenario is unavoidable, it may not happen tomorrow, but it will happen,” Lakkotrypis said.

The challenge is to make the most of solar energy and also figuring out how to match its application with the cells inside solar panels on rooftops. Since 2013, 12,000 photovoltaic systems have been installed in Cyprus, while the application of net billing will be on a similar trajectory in the near future. That means businesses and commercial properties will be able to produce electricity through photovoltaic systems not only to meet their own energy needs but also to sell any production surplus to the Cyprus Electricity Authority and therefore generate income.

Automaker BMW’s output of vehicles powered by electricity will reach 25 percent by 2025, said Sebastian Waldbauer, a senior product and price manager at the company, who stressed that the challenge is boosting the government’s stake in electrification as well as changing ways of thinking.

Stelios Himonas, the permanent secretary at the Energy Ministry and a Cyprus Digital Champion, explained the framework within which government incentives will be given to promote vehicle electrification. The most important of these are state subsidies for the purchase of electric or hybrid vehicles – including subsidies for the installation of photovoltaic systems in the homes of electric vehicle (EV) owners, special pricing at EV charging points and subsidies for the installation of publicly accessible charging points (i.e. by municipalities and local communities).

But an official announcement on these incentives is not an immediate priority for the government, according to Himonas, who made it clear that the pressing need right now is to meet transportation and environmental commitments by 2020.

What can be expected is the gradual adoption of some incentives. It is also generally understood that the trend toward vehicle electrification will increase in the coming years, with interest expected to be 53 times higher than today by the year 2030. Dr Himonas added that vehicle electrification in Cyprus is currently in its infancy.

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