The following article is related on how the Business Industry took advantage of Computers, to improve their efficiency, and maintain their clients. While doing our research we were impressed by the number of companies in Malta importing computers. The home computer market is barley mentioned in this article as a separate, and more detailed article can be read from this link:
As already mentioned briefly in my Article “Computers in Malta (home computers)”, Computers were considered taboo in the 70’s. Nevertheless, in the Business section particularly in the finance services, this was changing drastically at the beginning of the 80’s. Local magazines started to show up and new IT companies started to form up and offered different services and latest equipment imported mostly from the British market.
The first automated system was introduced way back in 1947 with an automated wages and costings machine supplied by ICL (The company changed its name in 1968 due to a merger between English Electric Leo Marconi (EELM) and Elliott Automation in the UK). The system was first installed at a local beverage factory and later the government acquired another type for the Malta dry docks. These were the only systems known on the Island but later in the mid 70’s things started to move as more companies started to emerge and these companies opted for an automation system.
With Malta's Independence in 1964 and ten years later becoming a Republic, there were more opportunities and companies started to emerge. The Maltese economy still depended on the British economy, which was beneficial for new companies to import Computers and the latest British technology more easily. In the late 70’s, Malta had its first called Computer Center in Dingli. It had the latest technology which was mainly used by the Local government and banks for their statistic and accounting system.
At the time computers were considered as a threat for the employment of staff, and the government decided to impose certain regulations to control the flow of computers and automated systems into companies. In 1978 NCR opened a Technical Center in Mtarfa, offering in-house training for the Middle East and African technical staff. The Technical Center was maintained by Philip Toledo Ltd which later was appointed as HP distributor in 1981.
Things were difficult in 1979 as the Government of Malta, during that year had several disputes with Britain, and in fact the last British military service left the country that same year. Unfortunately at the time Malta was very much influenced by politics and Religion, which caused many companies to suffer and loose business.
During our research we found a 1974 article, stating how difficult it was to sell computers in Malta, but we need to consider that at the time of the article there was a Government change which probably meant that the company saw a threat to its business but was still hoping that things would get much more better than before. At the time ICL was mainly the only international supplier on the Island and with the new regulations in place things got harder.
"As the article states IBM is so unenthusiastic about Malta's prospects that it not only doesn't maintain an office there, it positively forbids it office equipment agents."
ICL was right in being optimistic, as by the end of the 70's beginning of the 80's many companies showed up in the local market despite the difficulties and regulations imposed by the Local Government, things were starting to get better. Other Computer Companies offering various IT services started to emerge. Companies such as Computime, Megabyte, Economicard, Petroni, Interspan, Professional Computing Ltd, BDS Ltd, CAM Ltd, Jodal Trading, Intercomp, Micro Computers Ltd, Frank Borda & Sons, Panta Computer, Image systems Ltd, Office electronics, and Datamat Ltd, were established in just 5 years, between 1977 - 1982.
More companies emerged in the following years, with the most key role companies were Eurocomp, Shireburn, DMA Micro Services Ltd and Office Computers Ltd. As one can predict the market was over saturated with computer companies selling various types of computers, accessories and services.
Shops were very limited to the public, or limited to one outlet that the company had. The only sales generated were from other emerging companies, in need of automating their accounts systems for better efficiency. Other computer companies/shops emerged later in the late 80’s, and beginning of the 90’s, but the list is quite long to name all the companies in this Article. To mention just a few for history reasons companies such as Home & Office, First Computers Ltd, Digitone, Unicomp, Link, Datax, W.I.S.E Computers, Computer Solutions, Bits and Bytes, Sharper Image, and Merlin Computers, started to sell computers and were considered as the first or successful Computer Shops on the Island. A small note about Datax and Link shops is that the owners of these shops once managed Datalink Computers shop and later formed two separate companies, hence Datax and Link. Although a few of them obtained private and Government projects, these were mainly shops selling to the general public, and small to medium sized companies, or to the emerging Maltese gaming community (See article on home computing).
The following is a list of the top companies and what was supplied to the companies and general public. As you can see from the chart none of the companies sold the same brand. This was due to the regulation the government adopted as sole agents.
Most of the Companies mentioned, were striving to sell new Computers to the public, especially the shops as the only revenue was through peripherals and software sold. The more established Companies that had a stable and corporate clientele, had a better cash flow due to projects and maintenance work.
To boost the revenue for Companies and shops, an Annual event was setup to raise awareness among the public, and the business community of what was available on the market. One event was the Informatix Business exhibition, but unfortunately in the beginning the exhibition was limited to the larger companies due to participation prices. This was usually held at The Phoenicia Hotel Hall and the first one was in 1983. All this started through Informatics Magazine published by JP Advertising Ltd, which had almost the same name as the exhibition, and through a previous exhibition called Eletronika fair, which was previously organized by the Chamber of Commerce of Malta.
The Informatix exhibition was held annually till the late 80’s, but still small companies could not exhibit what they had to offer as the exhibition was more focused on business. Computers started to gain more popularity with the public by the end of the 80's, and in 1990 "The Home and personal Computer Show" was organized for the first time thanks to CAS LTD. The show was organized mainly to accommodate the boom of computers in homes and the video game market. Unfortunately, we did not manage to find additional info on CAS LTD (Computer Advisory Services) other than it was registered in 1987 offering Computer Courses and was still active till 2013.
Other business exhibitions were held during the late 80’s and beginning of the 90’s, which is impossible to mention all. What is worth mentioning is that by the end of the 90's the Malta fairs and convention center was organizing a Computer fair which most companies participated, but everything started from Informatix exhibition and its related magazine.
As stated previously, established companies could not sell the same equipment brand, so they started to offer different types of services. At the time the local Government imposed a rule to keep one agent. This was mainly to overcome companies overlap each other, thus giving a variation on the local market. Importation documentation was also burdensome, as lots of paper had to be submitted and had to be evaluated prior acceptance of the equipment on the local Market. Sales were not high, so most business Computer Suppliers started offering local and foreign software and services.
To mention a few services companies such as, Computime, Megabyte and Panta Computers Ltd started to sell On-line timesharing on their Mainframes and systems. It's true they offered the same service but the sanction was on the equipment not the service offered. This resulted in a reduced in the cost for many companies such as banks, hotels and Government entities. The price included a full-service support, backups and end user terminals with modem.
Time sharing offered peace of mind as the data was well backed up, updated regularly and maintained by IT experts. We could compare it to the cloud services offered today. In Malta many companies took advantage of this including the Government and major hotels. The ON-LINE Timesharing services ceased operation in the beginning of the 90’s where more companies opted for IBM compatible computers and the need of an internal IT department was a must.
It is worth mentioning that Computime time-sharing Mainframe has been donated to the club and managed to save a piece of history. Unfortunately, the others went destroyed or are held in private collections, which the club did not manage to save or acquire. Hopefully the Prime at University of Malta is still intact but needs lot of attention. The club offered their services to restore the Prime and NCR equipment and a plan is being discussed to repair and maintain such equipment for display.
During the beginning of the 90’s, schools and other companies offered courses in word-processing, data storage and ‘O’ level courses in computer studies. Due to this, more people were attracted to computers which opened another world for most of us in the IT industry. Despite the effort and sales, most of the Companies started to close or stopped selling computers, and focused on other electronic products or trend. From the above list of 22 companies only 12 made it through until the mid-90’s, and later the list went down to 7. International companies such as Commodore, Sinclair, Amstrad, ICL and Apricot were dissolved, leaving the Maltese companies who imported these computers with nothing to import. Nevertheless computer shops kept on opening due to the drastic increase in gamers updating their equipment or buying latest consoles.
Other companies were formed or joined venture as ICT solutions and Panta Computers did, but still the market was completely different after the 80’s. A major change was the Government’s removal to the unique adoption of sole agents regulation, which meant that anyone could import other suppliers computers more easily than before (paperwork was still heavy to import stuff until Malta joined the EU).
By the mid 90’s there were over 50 shops across the island selling computers and all stating that they had the best product on the island. There were companies having multiple shops in different locations across the island. Still the cost of the Computer itself was still high priced compared to other countries, but by mid/late 90's prices started to drop drastically due to the local build Chinese clones and unbranded products on the local market. In 2008 accession into the EU pushed further shops to open and access other opportunities to the local shop owners, such as tenders, removal of Import taxation from EU countries and EU grants for startups.
Today, the IT Industry in Malta is very strong as new companies and shops emerge every year. The gaming companies have helped in the flourishing of the industry and complimenting the opportunities that Malta offers. The days of pure hardware knowledge have ended and nowadays if a computer fails or is older than 2 years will be replaced, after all like other companies do across the globe.