Interview with Boudewijn Haverkort, chairmain Commit2Data

We’ve had the opportunity to interview Prof. Haverkort, the chairman of Commit2Data. This is a multi-year national research and innovation program on the basis of a public-private partnership (PPP) on Data Science. He reflects on the link of this program to our DSC/e research topics. He also gives his view on the success of the program and gives a first outlook to calls for 2018.

You started as chairman of Commit2Data in February 2016. What do you like most about the program and your role as chairman? What I like most is that it is a role as connector, connecting people and sectors to new people and sectors. Big data is a topic that is broadly applicable, that will have great impact on all sectors of society. I am in a position to meet and connect these sectors, to get in touch and to build new programs, with support from TNO, NWO, ECP, private parties and various departments. That is very interesting, but also challenging. But it allows us to have true impact, to work on things that go beyond just scientific impact.

Commit2Data focuses on the application possibilities of Big Data and the new business models and opportunities that Big Data creates. How to avoid that different solutions for similar challenges are developed in different domains? That is true, this risk is always there. But it is two-sided. It is a risk, but also an opportunity. What we try to do is to connect the domains, so that mutual inspiration is possible and valid solutions for one domain can be applied and tested in other domains as well. And we invite people from multiple sectors for joint events, like on the ECP annual symposium on November 16, to contribute to an agenda with common goals and needs. As for the opportunity: the field is new, and working fairly independently on multiple solution trajectories also helps in finding the true best solutions, call it design diversity. This is a well-known technique to come up with better overall solutions in the long run.

 

DSC/e hosts over 30 research groups collaborating on five research programs. For which of these five programs do you see most opportunities? For all the area mentioned here, there have already been opportunities to submit proposals and to interact with application fields. Of course, a topic like future healthcare is hot, hence, I expect many opportunities for that field. At the same time, for the other research programs, great opportunities lie ahead. Not only in preparing project proposals and executing projects, but also in shaping our future national agenda.

Within Commit2Data there have been several calls for funding. Which one has been most successful? Depends on how you define success. We have had one call with a very large number of project submissions. From my perspective this is a great success, researchers might find this less of a success, as their chance of acquiring a project is smaller. The first call, on big data and smart industry, issued in 2015 already, was very successful as well. We have selected 6 projects; in the kickoff of these 6 projects we could already see interesting interactions and potential further cooperations. With some 20 private parties involved, I would also call this a success. But the real success is yet to come, if in 1 or 2 years time, we have over 40 projects running, with well over 100 PhD working all on new big data science, technology and applications, in close cooperation with private parties who have substantially co-invested.

What will be upcoming calls in 2018? The exact timing is not known yet, nor the final details, but it is reasonable to expect future calls (in 2018 or 2019) on safe and secure data sharing, big data and agro & food, big data in smart industry and big data and healthcare.

Do you have recommendations for DSC/e and the broader data science community in The Netherlands? Be open and connect. Work in your own domain, but open up to others, and let especially younger researchers have the ability to work in a broad field. And judge them not only on their ‘one domain speciality’ but also on their willingness and capability to work jointly on broader topics. Work in teams, together everyone achieves more. The world, our society, faces challenges that go beyond a single domain or a single scientific discipline. Connect to work on these challenges together, and don't be afraid that these real world challenges do not embody enough true scientific challenges.