SURF, our members and the scientific community received some good news in 2019: in October 2019 that year, the Minister of Education, Culture and Science decided to allocate EUR 20 million to NWO each year to strengthen the scientific IT infrastructure
Looking back on 2019 - CEO, Erik Fledderus
We have had an eventful year at SURF. For the outside world, it looked like business as usual, including the significant results that are outlined in this Annual Overview. It was, though, also a year of reorganisation at SURF. This is still ongoing in 2020.
Towards a new organisation
“SURF is a cooperative, and cooperatives are made up of and for their members. Our members, educational and research institutions, seem no longer to be satisfied with SURF: they expect more and different things from us that we are able to offer in our current form. They want to cooperate with us more and have more of an influence on what we do, so that the reasons underlying our various activities are more visible. After all, we do a lot at SURF and members have lost sight of the ins and outs of this. Members think SURF is too intricate. This means that, sometimes, it is not clear where responsibilities and competencies lie, both in terms of cooperative management and in terms of the internal SURF organisation.
One of the things we have done to improve this is taken the decision to change our internal organisation. The aim is to create a single, transparent SURF organisation, which is efficient and effective for both management and in terms of internal and external collaboration. This revamp will have a big impact - as well it should! An impact on people in the organisation - something that is not always easy - and an impact on our relationship with members, which must become more effective. New agreements on governance from the end of 2019 onwards will help with this; furthermore, we are working on a new structure that will allow our members to stand out, so that we can help each other thrive together in education and research.
This structure will allow us to be more effective at decision-making, become more efficient, make the division of competencies and responsibilities clearer, make space for disruptive innovation and innovation with the members and improve governance together with the members. These steps are significant and we have every faith that we will be able to achieve them.
One of the first concrete changes is the appointment of a new CEO: Jet de Ranitz will be strengthening our team as of 1 May. She is currently chair of the board at Inholland University of Applied Sciences and has wide-ranging managerial experience in education, research and culture. We look forward to her joining us!
Significant milestones in SURF service provision
Our services can always count on appreciation from our members - and 2019 was another year of high quality. We carried out a client satisfaction survey among operational contact people, who gave our services an average score of 8. This annual overview has showcased a number of leading studies carried out using our computing, data and network services. Almost all of our services grew steadily in, for instance, the number of users, number of logins or number of locations. We also launched new services, thereby further expanding our overall service portfolio.
First SURF Summit
The first SURF Summit was held in 2019. During the event for board members, CSC's (Coordinating SURF Contact Persons) and other strategic relations, small groups discussed issues which will significantly impact the future of our sector, such as safe & open and the digitisation of education. We presented a SURF Summit Special, showing what the sessions delivered and what we shall do with the input we gathered. We are organising another SURF Summit in 2020, to be held on 7 October. The 2020 Summit will be focussed on the SURF Two-Year Plan 2021-2022.
SURF, our members and the scientific community received some good news in 2019: in October 2019 that year, the Minister of Education, Culture and Science decided to allocate EUR 20 million to NWO each year to strengthen the scientific IT infrastructure. Most of this funding is intended for knowledge and expertise for support and innovation at institutions, the eScience Center and SURF. This is the first time that there has been a long-term strategy to strengthen the scientific IT infrastructure and associated expertise in the Netherlands.
This will also increase SURF’s structural financing by EUR 11 million a year. The allocation of this funding has launched the process that will lead to tendering for the successor to our national supercomputer, Cartesius.
The new Digital Competence Centers (DCCs) are another component. This will strengthen the use of data stewards and research software engineers at knowledge institutions. SURF will play a coordinating, facilitating role to ensure mutual cooperation and joint development of knowledge and facilities between these centres.
On top of the services and knowledge sharing that we provide in education, research and cooperative facilities, we are also working on three projects, known as strategic impetuses. We want to use the results of these to support our members as best we can to achieve their own ambitions. An impetus:
- contributes to addressing an issue faster by organising collaboration and knowledge-sharing between members within SURF; and
- provides (at least some of) the necessary renewal of the cooperative facilities to facilitate the education and research processes optimally both now and in the future.
These impetuses are:
- Educational renewal - this impetus brings the educational activities within SURF into line with one another, linking them to the Educational Innovation Acceleration Plan with IT.
- Research and Open Science - this impetus brings research activities into line with one another. This will contribute towards governance of the cooperation with research communities. The connection with the ambitions of the National Programme Open Science and National Platform for Applied Sciences will create a more transparent landscape of facilities and services for researchers. It will also contribute to standards and architecture.
- On Campus - within this impetus, we are developing a holistic vision and bringing activities for digital ‘campus’ facilities into line with one another.
- In these impetuses, SURF operates as a flywheel for the development of a joint vision between the various sectors and fora, and the contribution to, among other things, the Educational Innovation Acceleration Plan with IT, the National Plan Open Science, and the National Platform for Applied Sciences.
Educational Renewal Impetus
Digitisation will help to increase the quality of education. It will take a great deal of effort to achieve this. Along with the Association of Universities (VH) of Applied Sciences and the Association of Dutch Universities (VSNU), SURF has written the 'Educational Innovation Acceleration Plan with IT'. SURF acts as a coordinator for the acceleration plan and actively contributes to acceleration zones. The acceleration plan and the Educational Renewal Impetus are a virtuous circle. SURF’s main focus is on infrastructural issues.
In February and March, SURF organised a study tour for senior managers and board members with a focus on structural issues in the use of study data. SURF and institutions are experimenting with issuing digital badges and is developing an infrastructure to search for and locate open learning materials. We are helping institutions to make the education they offer and the range of choices available clear for students, using education catalogues. Use of standards such as the Open Onderwijs API plays a significant role in this. We put the protection of public values at the heart of the SURF Education Days.
Research and Open Science Impetus
Researchers and scientists carry out research and in the process of which they use and generate data. Cooperation is the key to making this data FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable) and ensuring it stays this way. The European project FAIRsFAIR seeks to help the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) to create FAIR participation rules with the aim of making all components and methodologies FAIR-compliant. SURF has a substantial role in concretely developing the FAIR principles for research data. In 2019, one of the things we did was to develop an assessment framework for ‘FAIR services’ and ‘FAIR software’ (an area in which SURF has taken the lead). See, for example, our report Recommendations for Services in a FAIR data ecosystem. In 2019, SURF worked to bring together experts and initiatives to create sound solutions for research data management. One of the outcomes of this is the development of two new services based on the iRODS data management platform: the Storage Scale-out Service and the iRODS hosting service.
The LCRDM (National Coordination Point Research Data Management) tackles issues arising from research support partners’ daily practice and which are too big for any one institution to resolve alone. In 2019, the LCRDM tested a new lean & mean working strategy with a model of pitches, short-term task forces and a consolidating advice group. It was hugely successful. In 2019, the pool of experts was expanded to over 200 members from 70 research institutions.
Impetus On Campus
As part of Impetus On Campus, in 2019 many vision and scenario pathways were launched in the university of applied sciences and senior secondary vocational education sectors. The results describe a range of possibilities for the IT campus Infrastructure of the Future (Horizon 2030) and the role institutions and SURF will (be able to) play in that. What are the underlying educational, research, technological and socio-economic trends? What questions, dilemmas and challenges will the institutions and SURF face? What will we tackle together and what not, and why? The answers to these questions will give rise to a number of scenarios in the IT Campus of the Future, which will then be implemented with a number of institutions.