CBS, The Hague University of Applied Sciences work on big data

24/05/2017 15:52 / Author: Miriam van der Sangen / Category: Innovation and development
In September 2016, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) established the Center for Big Data Statistics (CBDS). In collaboration with partners from government, the business community, science and education, CBDS promotes the use of big data technology and big data methods in statistics production. One of these partners is the The Hague University of Applied Sciences (De Haagse Hogeschool or HHs). On 16 May, the two parties signed a declaration of intent to start exploring possible areas of collaboration involving big data. This will mainly be focused on the exchange of knowledge and expertise and big data projects for students of the university.

New valuable statistics

CBS is committed to increasing the use of big data in the production of official statistics. To achieve CBS’ ambitions in this area, CBDS was established with a threefold purpose. Sofie De Broe, scientific director of CBDS: ‘Our first objective is to develop so-called real-time statistics in order to achieve faster production. This will enable businesses as well as government departments to make better-informed policy decisions. Our second goal is to produce new and valuable statistics for regions and urban areas in particular. This will enhance decision-making and policy support, for instance in the area of smart cities, Sustainable Development Goals, mobility and health care. The third goal of the CBDS is to tap into as many new sources as possible in order to reduce the administrative burden for both companies and individuals.’

Partners at home and abroad

The CBDS is to develop these new statistical products in collaboration with partners in Netherlands and in other countries. The HHs is a new partner. What is the objective of the declaration of intent between the CBDS and HHs? De Broe: ‘We would like to work as partners. Most importantly, to share, enhance and increase knowledge in the field of big data through research and innovation. HHs is a particularly interesting partner because its vocational training is very much aligned with the world of work. Access to data and knowing how to work with data often form hurdles that have to be overcome. This is where collaboration with HHs can provide great added value.’ Although concrete projects are yet to be defined, promising prospects include for instance analysis of social media use for statistical purposes, or exploring high-performance computing techniques on the new Spark cluster at CBS ( a computer system used by researchers and statisticians to speed up processing of huge volumes of big data, ed.).

Hackatrain

Although the declaration of intent which was signed on 16 May marked the official start of the partnership between CB(D)S and HHs, students of HHs have been active as interns at CBS before that. Among them Marco Lips, currently a third-year student in applied mathematics at HHs, who started working as an intern at CBS in April. He is involved in preparing datasets for a special event: the Hackatrain. This is a hackathon which is to take place on a train from Amsterdam to Berlin. While on board the train and within a couple of hours, technicians and developers will work together to find a sound solution for a research question from Dutch railway companies NS and Prorail. ‘The main goal of the Hackatrain is to improve the experience of international travellers, for example by providing data about facilities at stations, transfer information, and assistance with connecting transportation.’

‘I sense tremendous enthusiasm at the The Hague University of Applied Sciences for this collaboration’

Travel behaviour and tourism

Lips is preparing CBS statistics so they can be used by the participants in the Hackatrain, who will get to work with them on their Amsterdam-Berlin trip. ‘I want to prepare datasets on travel behaviour and tourism in such a way that the Hackatrain participants are able to use them easily. CBS has data available on topics like holiday trips, e.g. the number of people travelling to Berlin, whether they travel alone or in the company of others, etc. In addition, CBS has statistics on the daily mobility of the Dutch population.’ Preparing the datasets is not an easy task: ‘For instance, the StatLine datasets I am using often contain many more data than are relevant in the Hackatrain. I turn these into ready-to-use datasets for participants.’

Working with external partners

Guido Ongena is a lecturer in ICT at the University of Applied Sciences in The Hague. As such, he is paving the way for university-wide application of big data. ‘HHs courses cover a very broad area: from applied mathematics to business engineering and from management science to commercial economics. In September we are introducing a new minor ‘applied data science’ which should be available to students from various departments, because things are moving fast within the field of big data. Aside from this minor, education manager Sandra van Steenvelt is exploring possible integration of the big data theme into bachelor studies across the university. Whereas universities have already embraced big data on a large scale, universities of applied science have just begun taking more initiatives in this field. ’This is one among various reasons for HHs to start collaborating with external partners, both at home and abroad. For example, the City of The Hague, CBS, Atos and CGI. A connection is also being established with the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft). ‘We would also like to get involved in the CBS Urban Data Center/The Hague, due to be launched soon. Both the City of The Hague and CBS have indicated they see excellent opportunities for collaboration there.’

Learning to speak the language of the organisation

Partnership with CB(D)S is essential, according to Ongena. ‘Working on projects together with CBS is extremely important, for example with CBS methodologists and researchers. Collaboration generates new insights. By actually working at CBDS, our students can acquire a great deal of knowledge. There they are closely involved in the professional field and learn to speak the language of the organisation. The projects are leading; not learning how to program in R, if programming in Python is easier for a certain task.’ Various students from HHs have already completed internships at CBS. In September of this year, one student will begin working on his graduation project at CBS. ‘I sense tremendous enthusiasm at HHs for this collaboration. Everyone is extremely motivated, they even sacrifice their spare time. There is definitely the readiness to put energy into this project.’