The world is changing faster than ever before. To make the city of Groningen future proof on the eve of the fourth industrial revolution, there is a new office and a new ambition: the Digital Office and becoming the digital capital of Europe.
It’s a bold name and claim. “It’s a philosophical question almost”, Nick Stevens, the newly appointed Chief Digital Officer says. “Are we a Digital City, or should we be one? It’s an intent, I would say. There are a lot of great ideas and initiatives already, but not really a singular purpose or direction. That means we’re not as efficient as we could be, but it also means we could be missing out on a lot of opportunities.”
In between the overlap
The Digital Office is a collaboration between local government, education and business organisations. Nick and his team will work on practical projects on the one hand, and identify future opportunities, as well as risks, on the other. This will lay the foundation of a healthy and future proof digital economy in Groningen.
“Digitalization already has a major impact on our economy and our daily lives, and we want to make sure that we can create future jobs and help retain the old ones where we can, by helping people get the relevant digital job skills for example”, Nick explains. “And that can’t be done just by the education sector alone, all sectors will need to work together.”
“These sectors overlap in digital wants and needs, which means they share common and immediate interests where they can work together. But right in the center of the overlap is where it gets interesting, because that’s where the real opportunities are”, Nick continues. “But they’re not on people’s priority list, because there’s no immediate gain. Which is totally understandable, because if you’re running a business, the priority and focus is just that: running your business and focussing on what’s in your best interest.”
“So we focus on that middle part and try to spot these opportunities, help connect the right people and help facilitate innovation”, Nick explains. But even though we’re called the Digital Office, our focus is the economic ecosystem and the impact of digital. We’re not nerds, solely focused on technology”, he adds jokingly.
Licence to do stuff and get things done
In the coming months, Nick and his team will be exploring how to fulfill their role in more concrete ways. “We have a license to do stuff! And that sounds pretty vague, doesn’t it? But we’re dealing with a big question here; What do we, as a city, need to be good at tomorrow? So it’s a deliberate vagueness, because finding out the answer to that question is exactly what we’re here for.”
“Just look at the early days of the Internet. Nobody back then could know what a profound impact it would have. Not only on our lives, but new businesses, new jobs, all that stuff. And change, profound change, is an absolute certainty, even though we can’t predict what it will look like yet. So we can be victims of change, trying to keep up, or we actively look for possibilities and solutions. Sending out speedboats into the the future and map out the possibilities, so to say.”
“That way, we can spot risks and potential”, Nick continues. “We can make sure everyone, old and young, whether you’re a baker or a journalist, has the relevant digital skills needed for the future. And we can potentially create new jobs and new ways to do business around new innovations, that will benefit everyone.”
“But we’re a do tank, not a think tank”, Nick stresses. “We already have some great projects to work on and there will be lots more as we go along and discover new opportunities. We may not know what the future has in store for us, but despite its unpredictability, it’s critical that we don’t leave our economic fate to chance.”
Check out the the current projects of the Groningen Digital Office here: https://groningendigitalcity.com/
PHOTO CREDITS: Jan Buwalda