Top 10 Benelux stories of 2023

As regions go, Benelux is a small one, but the lack of people has not stopped it pioneering the information technology sector.

In this top 10, we feature articles about quantum computing Belgian-style, as well as Dutch plans for its own GPT-NL.

But with all this leading-edge technology research and development comes challenges. One of these is gleaning a large enough IT workforce from a relatively small population. This is particularly the case in the Netherlands.

In this annual review, we feature an article about the challenging position the country finds itself in, in terms of the number of IT professionals it has, and how the government is trying to address this challenge.

But the answer could be staring the Dutch government and organisations in the face. In this review, we look at an attempt to get more girls into the IT profession.

We also hear about life in the Benelux from two of the region’s CIOs.

Here are Computer Weekly’s top 10 Benelux stories of 2023.

The Netherlands is set to develop its own open language model, GPT-NL, in an important step towards the transparent, fair and testable use of artificial intelligence (AI). The model will be developed by independent research organisation TNO, the Netherlands Forensic Institute and SURF, a cooperative association of Dutch educational and research institutions in which the members combine their strengths.

Shana Massar, engineer in the quantum computing programme at Imec, states: “The goal of quantum computers is not to replace our already known classical computers for performing our daily tasks. We need quantum computers for a very particular set of problems, problems that have a high degree of complexity.”

“Netherlands Organisation for Applied Science Research [TNO] is the innovation engine in the Netherlands,” says Peter Werkhoven, chief scientist at TNO and professor at Utrecht University. “We turn great science into great applications. We were established by law in 1932, and we solve societal and economic challenges through innovation. Our role in the value chain is to spot promising academic research and bring it to a level where it can be used by industry and government.”

The Dutch gender diversity expertise centre for science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), VHTO, organised the first Girls’ Day 13 years ago to introduce girls to these subjects at a young age and address the severe underrepresentation of women in the IT sector. This is a specific day each year on which girls aged between 10 and 15 visit companies in STEM and IT.

Partially funded by grants from the European Commission, Belgian research and technology organisation Imec recently completed work that demonstrates powerful new concepts that can now be used by manufacturers to speed up data networks. The aim of the research project was to reduce costs, improve yield and lower power consumption. Now, the fruits of the work are expected to be used over short distances to speed up datacentres – and then over greater distances for applications related to 5G. 

The Dutch child benefits scandal showed the devastation that algorithms can cause, which is why the Netherlands government wants to ensure citizens can keep control of their digital lives and trust the digital world. Alexandra van Huffelen, state secretary for digitisation, has written to the House of Representatives that it is essential to have algorithms on the market that respect human rights.

The diversity of Dutch multinational SHV Holdings attracted Richard Ventre to its group CIO role and presented him with the challenge of supporting different business strategies and digital transformation needs. SHV Group operates in a diverse range of industries, with six operating companies, including retail brand Macro, along with heavy lifting, engineering, animal feed, financial services and energy businesses.

For the time being, most of the world’s AI infrastructure is in the US. But Gcore hopes to change that – or at least move things in that direction. The company is working hard to revolutionise European innovation in AI, at both training and inferencing phases. Support for training starts with the Gcore Generative AI Cluster, which was announced in October 2023.

The Dutch government is allocating €123m to take existing collaborations between vocational education and industry a step further. With this, the government wants to tackle the labour shortage in engineering and ICT so that the Netherlands can continue to focus on the energy and digital transition.

Mars needs a digital transformation and needs to do it now – not only on a local level, but also globally, according to Marijn Grevink, leader of digital transformation at Mars in Veghel in the Netherlands. With $40bn in annual sales, Mars Incorporated is one of the biggest family-owned companies in the world.


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