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Key points from the SURF Members' Council on 10 April

Topics discussed at the Members' Council on 10 April included the SURF customer satisfaction survey, the new Public Values innovation zone, the mid-term review belonging to the SURF Strategy 2022-2027 and the large-scale national facility for generative AI.

You can read more about the topics below:

Customer satisfaction survey

In 2023, SURF conducted a customer satisfaction survey (KTO) among users of SURF services with an 8 as the average result. We are proud of this. Satisfaction with 25 SURF services was surveyed. Each of these services was also rated individually, with any recommendations. The service owners will work with the recommendations in their own teams, including information services. In 2025, the KTO will be repeated to identify the improvements and their impact and again measure satisfaction with our services.

SURF and its services are also rated highly by respondents to 'Computable 100'. SURF ranks number 6 overall and is even the most popular Dutch IT service provider. The Executive Board (BoD) is most proud of the fact that SURF ranks third as the Dutch IT company with the highest level of employee knowledge. That is a great compliment to the employees.

Public Values Innovation Zone (digital sovereignty)

The Members' Council voted in favour of the proposal to start the Public Values Innovation Zone (digital sovereignty). In this zone, SURF and its members will work together as a cooperative in the coming years to be in control of our own digital environment as a sector, now and in the future. This will enable institutions to make concrete work of public values.

Originally, the topic started from the working title 'public values'. However, public values transcend the digital domain and are also relevant to non-digital themes such as internationalisation, social safety, diversity in the workplace and the opportunities of public-private partnerships. That would be too broad a scope. Therefore, the innovation zone focuses on striving for common digital sovereignty, so that the entire sector can take control of the necessary digital environment, based on public values.

Read the news item

Nomination Scientific Technical Council

During this Members' Council, Paola Grosso was nominated for a second term on the Scientific Technical Council (WTR). Paola is a professor at the Faculty of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Computer Science of the University of Amsterdam; scientific director of the Institute of Computer Science; and a member of the Multi Scale Networked Systems research group.

Mid-term review

When SURF Strategy 2022-2027 was adopted, it was agreed to evaluate it at mid-term, asking whether adjustments were needed. This mid-term review started at the end of 2023 with a self-assessment by SURF. Together with other documentation, this formed the input for the review from the WTR. The WTR also visited SURF on 5 February this year, and spoke to several staff members. Based on this, the WTR issued an independent opinion on the progress of the SURF Strategy 2022-2027. In the Members' Council, the flexibility and innovation focus of SURF and all SURF employees were further emphasised by the WTR's chair. The WTR also advised SURF to take a more leading role on (topical) issues such as cyber security.

The Executive Board recognises itself in the WTR's advice and sees this as an incentive to continue along the chosen path. The strategy still fits and the way SURF is implementing it is also assessed as good. At the same time, SURF and the WTR see changing circumstances (such as the rapid rise of generative AI, Npuls as a new partnership and cybersecurity risks) leading to a sharpening of the main goals. In the second half of the SURF Strategy, the focus is therefore more explicitly on:

  • Further development of the education and research infrastructure strategy
  • Collectivity & governance as the basis of a powerful research and education sector
  • The SURF organisation is fit for purpose (in this context, an updated Organisation Plan will be presented at the end of 2024/beginning of 2025)

In addition, members of the cooperative face a different financial picture and tight labour market conditions in the second half of the strategy. Also, SURF now has a more diverse membership base. This makes it necessary to take a more businesslike approach to what SURF does and does not do for members and what conditions apply. Important points of attention here are governance and collectivity. The Members' Council will ask SURF to make proposals in this regard.

Large-scale national facility for generative AI

Last December, the Members' Council was informed about the start of the GPT-NL project, which aims to develop an open Dutch language model. Meanwhile, the government is looking ahead to the next phase, namely a large-scale European computing facility specifically for (generative) AI. Given its heavy dependence on China and the United States, Europe intends to develop its own AI foundation model, to be developed and managed in separate data centres set up for AI. This requires computing capacity; EuroHPC is issuing calls for this, for which the Netherlands is considering submitting an application. The ministries of EZK, OCW and BZK are investigating this together. In April, the pros and cons of setting up a national AI facility, versus hitching a ride on European partners or Big Tech suppliers, will be identified. As a next step, it may be decided to bid as the Netherlands for the EuroHPC call, which is expected to open in October and should be answered by January 2025. The scenario of a proposal for a national AI facility is being worked out by AiNed and SURF, with such a facility to be accessible to both research institutions and industry. If the government decides it wants to go ahead with answering the EuroHPC call, SURF wants to ensure that part of the capacity benefits scientific research and thus becomes part of this initiative - for that part, SURF would then participate. For science and technology in the Netherlands, this would be a huge boost. This fits well with the large-scale computing strategy developed earlier, which has been discussed with NWO's Digitalisation Research Committee and SURF's HPC Regiegroep HPC and is part of the innovation zone around the future of the Dutch research infrastructure.

Given the financial resources needed for a national AI facility of 400 to 500 million euros for the next eight years, with EuroHPC accounting for half, in addition to the ministries, talks are being held with regions such as the province of Groningen to participate in the business case. SURF itself is performing a risk analysis in the coming months to weigh up whether and if so how we as a cooperative want to participate in this. In anticipation of a definitive answer from the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (they are in the lead here) as to whether the Netherlands will commit itself to attracting this national facility, and SURF's own elaboration of the risk analysis, the Members' Council was informed that a decision on SURF's possible participation in this initiative will have to be taken in the Members' Council of 9 October 2024, as it is not included in the Annual Plan 2024.

Changes in the Members' Council

  • In the December Members' Council it was announced that the (new) fourth seat for MBO will be filled by Hans Maas, member of the Board of Governors of Grafisch Lyceum Rotterdam.
  • The (new) fifth seat for MBO will be filled by Simone Fredriksz, member of the Executive Board of Albeda College.
  • From the NFU, we received notification that the seat filled by Josefien Kursten of UMC Utrecht will be taken over by Dirk Schraven, member of the Executive Board of Erasmus MC.
  • The departure of Tineke Zweed from Utrecht University of Applied Sciences created a vacancy in the hbo department, to be filled by Gerard van Assem, member of the Board of Governors of Utrecht University of Applied Sciences.
  • Due to the departure of Hanneke Reuling at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, a vacancy has arisen in the hbo department, which will be filled by Ton Groot Zwaaftink, chairman of the Executive Board of the Thomas More University of Applied Sciences.
  • Drs J.W. van Wessel retired from the Royal Library. Niek Schroten, board member Information & Technology, now represents the Royal Library.