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From coal mining to data mining

From coal mining to data mining

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts

MAASTRICHT. Mandela, Einstein, cycling, nature, the physicist Robert Dijkgraaf and finally a shot from space. The intended effect of the promotional film that kicked off the opening programme of the Smart Services Campus in Heerlen may not be immediately obvious, but the link with smart services should become clear soon enough.

It is a year since Maastricht University, the Province of Limburg, the pension fund APG, the Open University and Zuyd University of Applied Sciences founded the campus in Heerlen. Within ten years it is set to generate 100 million euros in turnover and create two thousand jobs. The campus is already home to the Business Intelligence and Smart Services (BISS) research centre, established in collaboration between the knowledge centres with UM as the driving force.

Exactly what ‘smart services’ involves does not become clear during the official programme – partly because it is uncharted territory. This is what Henk Kamp, minister of Economic Affairs, means when he describes the campus as an ‘experimental garden’. Not long after this he officially opens the campus, flanked by Prince Constantijn, ambassador of the Dutch startup agenda.

The opening was preceded by a long series of presentations and comments by CEOs, dignitaries and administrators, including UM president Martin Paul and rector Rianne Letschert. They are presented by former hockey coach Tom van het Hek, who now and then wades into the hall with a microphone to hear what other attendees have to say.

That same day, a number of press releases appear with the latest news. Not only will KPN be involved with the campus; the statistics agency CBS also announces that in late September it will open a new big-data centre in which the Smart Services Campus will play a major role. And in further news: companies will join forces on the campus to invest in data development for artificial intelligence, climate change and blockchain (a technology used to ensure the reliability of online transactions).

But what exactly is going to happen now? According to the BISS annual report, forwarded a day earlier by BISS director Professor Rudolph Müller, researchers will be involved in, among other things, ‘customer experience’. How can you improve clients’ experiences with new products and technologies? Or take the automated assistants that are appearing with increasing frequency on websites: can the communication techniques that humans use to create trust be integrated into these interfaces, and if so, how will they be perceived by customers?

As for what Mandela has to do with smart services – that remains a mystery.

BISS

The research centre will host more than twenty researchers, half of them funded by the School of Business and Economics. In addition, it will offer four study programmes, two of which will kick off in September 2017: the master’s in Informatics and Business Intelligence/Analytics.

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