Mark Vermeer (Municipality of Rotterdam): ‘Covid is breakthough for data-driven working’

Organizations that want to extract value from data have a lot of homework to do. Blindly staring at all the conditions that must be met is not the right way. It is about finding use cases as quickly as possible, in which the use of data adds value. The municipality of Rotterdam has picked up this gauntlet. The city has a goldmine of data, also from the physical domain. Mark Vermeer, CIO of the municipality of Rotterdam, shares his experiences with the increasing use of data in the municipality.

Rotterdam, with more than 650,000 inhabitants and a growing economy, is a textbook example of a municipality where a lot is happening and therefore a lot of data is generated. CIO Mark Vermeer gives examples like this: “Think of sensor data, data about parking spaces and traffic lights, including data from satellites.”

Vermeer is an econometrician and a computer scientist with a PhD, worked at Rijkswaterstaat, but has been employed by the municipality of Rotterdam since 2000. He has held various positions, generally related to information and ICT. He has been CIO since 2016, but his role is broad: formally he is director of Innovation, Information Provision, Facilities and Research.


According to Mark Vermeer, the structural use of data analysis started with a budget for digital initiatives, raised by all departments within the municipal organisation. Yet this was not the breakthrough of data-driven working. It came with Covid-19. Mark Vermeer: ​​“The pre-Covid situation was more or less that data-driven working was something for information professionals and much less for ’the business’. However, sometimes you end up in situations where it is useful or even urgent to base your actions on data. The covid crisis was a textbook example of this.”

Structural substantiation

He continues: “How to deal with this crisis? That was the question at all levels of the municipal organization. The need for information was great. Of course we had had reporting for years, but now there was a need for much more up-to-date information. For example, we made a Covid dashboard for the GGD, which occasionally even made it possible to predict outbreaks. We have also made a dashboard for the board to map the influence of Covid on the city. Think of economic and social aspects, such as unemployment, mobility, benefits, turnover…”


“This will not go away,” concludes Mark Vermeer, “Covid-19 was an impulse, but led to interest in structurally substantiating policy with data. ‘This is what we always want!,’ was the conclusion.”

“Sometimes it makes sense to base your actions on data”

He thinks it is still too early to speak of a data-driven culture in the municipal organization: “I do hope that such a culture will emerge. It is still too early to be able to determine that. Will we return to the order of the day when we have recovered from the crisis? I do expect that things will stick.”


That conclusion is not very bold. Like so many government institutions, the municipality of Rotterdam has been familiar with the phenomenon of open data for years, as it were a container in which you can search for data sets. There is also a lot of innovation with data, describes the CIO: “Now we are moving towards an open urban data platform, in which the city itself, in the form of a digital twin, is the basis for searches and new services. We strive to create a community around the platform, so that the municipality is not the only one contributing. We certainly want to involve citizens. The goal is to provide a holistic view of the city for everyone to use.”

“Another great example of how we use data is the collaboration with insurers. They receive data, aggregated and anonymous, from measuring equipment in the cars of insured persons, who in return receive a discount on their premium. If we receive a message from insurers that braking is more frequent at a certain intersection, that is valuable information and we can take a closer look at that intersection.”


To be able to work data-driven, some homework is required, for example in the field of data quality and metadata management. “We are almost finished setting up a data analytics platform”, responds Mark Vermeer, “With the government you have the advantage of the various basic registrations, where you must already have your data management in order. Now we have structured the data management function more structurally, with a view to the data analytics platform.”

“The city itself, in the form of a digital twin, will become the basis for searches and new services”

At the same time, you do not want to get stuck in this homework and make the value of data for the organization concrete as quickly as possible. How does the municipality deal with this dilemma?

“The municipality has so many data sets that you have to make a choice if you want to tackle data management. You start with the most promising use cases. The use of data sets then always takes place within the data strategy and architecture. The data stewards or data custodians ensure that data sets that are used within business units are subsequently also more widely accessible, against certain quality standards. So when it comes to choosing between preparation and generating value, it’s a trade-off.”

Research & Business Intelligence

Within the municipal organization, the Research & Business Intelligence (OBI) department plays a pioneering role in the field of data. OBI is both a central part of the organization where research and data analytics take place, but also has the task of promoting the expansion of data-driven work throughout the organization. To this end, a central center of excellence has been set up, adjacent to OBI, supplemented with centers of excellence per business unit.

A nice overview of OBI’s work can be found here.

In the fourth broadcast of the CIO TV Digital Leaders Boardroom, Mark Vermeer discusses discusses issues surrounding the use of the value of data, as described in this interview. He also discusses the use of data in ecosystems, the relationship between culture and data-drivenness, dealing with the scarcity of talent and the lasting importance of human judgment. Bas Overtoom, Director Data Analytics at KPMG, outlines the context, developments and challenges of ‘data as a differentiator’. Guido Coenders, Director Global Solutions at Equinix and Davy van Iersel, Vice President of Sales at Capgemini share the ambitions and experiences of their organizations and customers in this area. Watch it here:

About the Digital Leaders Boardroom

In every industry around the globe, organizations are setting the pace for growth, innovation and leadership by putting digital technology at the center of business strategy and competitive advantage. These are the digital leaders.

Equinix and ICT Media introduce to you the “Digital Leaders Boardroom: CIO TV” virtual event series where C-level executives from leading companies in The Netherlands will come together and discuss how they are embracing digital technology to thrive today and prepare for tomorrow.

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