The Fluid Society
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As a child I was already fascinated by technology and what you can do with it. Not at least because of my father, who had worked for Shell almost all his life in international positions, but who did not have a technical training. The University of Delft was therefore a logical choice. And because I always wanted to know exactly how things really work, I ended up in the Physics faculty. The engineering study was completed on the subject of CAD (Computer Aided Design), with a design in Assembler Language, an indication for my later interest in IT.
Not surprisingly, Shell became my first employer. A pure engineering company with international branches. Yet that was not what I was looking for. In that phase of my life I started to develop more and more interest in the social side of technology and in energy issues. The Club of Rome was in the news daily during that period. That is why I made a change towards the government: hoping to get involved in the social aspects of energy supply.
I went to work at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and became a policy officer for, among other things, the Broad Social Discussion on Nuclear Energy led by the former Minister de Brauw. A fascinating project: discussions with the entire country about whether or not to introduce an extremely complex new technology. Subsequently, work was done on innovation at the Technology Policy Directorate, which had arisen as a result of a political discussion whether innovation now belonged to the Ministry of Education and Science or the Ministry of Economic Affairs. But after a few years, the urge to be more practical drove me back to the business world.
In the meantime, IT had become an increasingly important topic at that time, both in business and in society. The first computers, including Apple, entered the consumer market. It was clear that IT started to play an increasingly important role in society. That all fitted well with my original education and I decided to make a career change from the energy world to the IT and technology world.
I started as a consultant at Bull Nederland, followed a few years later by various Management positions at RAET. That gave me a good insight into the hardware world and the software world. At RAET, work has been done on Municipal and Provincial solutions and later on Healthcare solutions. When RAET was split up after the necessary turbulent years, an option for reorientation emerged.
Still fascinated by the combination of technology and society, I thought it was an honor and pleasure to hold the position of Director of the Millennium Platform. Under the inspiring leadership of Jan Timmer, the former Philips CEO, a great team was put together to save the country from the Millennium Bug! The project reminded me somewhat of the project of the Social Discussion Nuclear Energy in which I had been involved. It was also particularly interesting to see how the various countries in the world tackled this problem. Originally there were only eight countries, including the Netherlands, the US, the UK, who responded to the distress signals from some gurus and experts that things could get stuck. In a few international meetings it was decided to start “awareness actions” for all other countries, and very slowly, things started to happen in Europe at the European Commission. In the Netherlands, sceptics and believers bombarded each other with the most bizarre stories. Reason for the Millennium Platform to do own background studies and to bring out the actual state of affairs. Yes it all ended well. But yes: a number of definitely useful actions have also been carried out. And what if we had not done anything? We have not taken that risk and I believe that was right.
After this special project, a position as Chief Information Officer was the tailor-made function for me. Broad background in IT, extensive experience in business and government, and I was used to operate strategically. First of all at Hagemeijer and then at Océ in Venlo, the position of CIO (Chief Information Officer) and Senior Vice President has been fulfilled with great pleasure. The position was entirely in line with my interests: how can you use technology in a smart way to improve an organization.
Because the position and role are relatively new, there was no professional association for CIOs. But we regularly ran into each other, especially when IT suppliers had organized something again. So it was good and it was time for the CIOs to have an own club. In short, the CIO-Platform Nederland (www.cio-platform.nl) was established and I was the first chairman for five years, until my formal retirement.
Via the CIO Platform I was also a board member of the European association of CIOs. In the first instance, this was a fairly informal organization with the main objective of discussing common IT issues and establishing a link with the European Commission in the field of IT legislation and policy. But because IT became more socially important, there was an urge from both within and from the European Commission to transform the informal association into a real European organization. As I had just retired from Océ, I was the designated person to become the first Secretary General of the now established European CIO Association (www.eurocio.org). A position that I held until the end of 2015.
In the many years I have worked in IT policy positions and worked with think tanks, many aspects have been discussed about the social influence of IT and the increasing digitization. About the positive and possibly negative aspects. About the influence on organizations and their structures, as well as on people themselves. And about what IT policy is needed to steer digitization in the right direction. Asked by, among others, the CIO Magazine (www.ict-media.nl/media/cio-magazine) to write columns on those topics, I gladly did that.
Now that even more time has come to think about the enormous influence of IT and digitization on society and people, the step has been taken to write books and columns about the great influence of digitization on society and people. In particular because, strangely enough, there is little literature on that subject. Yes there are many books about new technology. There are also books about disruptions in organizations due to digitization. There are many books, in particular science fiction, with predictions about what will become possible with IT and through digitization. But there is not much literature about the social and economic influence of digitization. Nor about the profound influence of digitization on the thinking and functioning of people. And about the question of how humanity should reorganize itself in the digitizing world. Because the digital society is emphatically completely different from the traditional industrial society. If the digital world, better yet: worlds, are not going to get their own forms of control, then I believe there are major social risks. To contribute to these discussions, my books and columns are intended. In the coming period I hope to be able to write regularly blogs and books about the many topics digitization is having on our society. I hereby challenge everyone to pick up the pen and to ventilate ideas about this.