Wouter Kolk: ‘Regional data agreement beyond legal guidelines’

Digitization in the Amsterdam region is increasing and so is the amount of available data. This has positive consequences, but also requires vigilance. Wouter Kolk, member of our Board and CEO at Ahold Delhaize Europe & Indonesia, thinks the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area would benefit from a strong regional data agreement.

Responsible and sustainable digitization is an important condition for the smart, green and healthy future of the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area. Smart data use provides insight into goods flows in the region, enabling us to organize our logistics in a smarter way. With data, we can also better monitor health in the region and recognize patterns, so that we can fine-tune our policy.

However, we must not only handle data smartly, but also responsibly. The metropolitan region is obliged to be a frontrunner in this, says Wouter Kolk. “In the first place, residents of the region have the right to know how organizations handle their data. In addition, we as a region have traditionally had a progressive mindset. We are usually ahead of the pack — also because many tech companies are located here. The rules for data use are being tightened all over the world, but that should not be our main motivation. We have to think about what we want with data based on the values of our region.”

Starting point data agreement

Running ahead of the troops is possible, for example, with the regional data agreement the Board is already working on. That agreement focuses on, among other things, equal treatment, insight into the algorithms, freedom of choice and sustainability. Kolk is a strong supporter of such an agreement, but also sees some challenges for its conclusion. “The signatory parties must agree on these guidelines that should go beyond what the law prescribes.”

According to Kolk, a good starting point would be to look at what large companies in the region have already set up in this area. “For example, Ahold Delhaize has drawn up a data protection policy, which contains valid principles. With these principles as a starting point, our brands around the world can then shape the way they want to deal with data. The municipality, the port, KLM and tech companies probably already have something on paper. We should be able to arrive at a first draft in a few working sessions with these parties.”

Not a paper tiger

“I don’t want to say that our approach is perfect,” says Kolk with a modest smile. “But it does contain some things that could be interesting for a regional data agreement. For example, the document fits the values of our company. For a regional data agreement, we have to consider the values of the metropolitan region. In addition, transparency is an important guideline: that you show what you do and that you do what you show. And also that you use algorithms that are without prejudice.”

Ahold Delhaize has also built in checks & balances for its data policy, so that it’s not merely a paper tiger. “A data agreement should come with accountability. It needn’t be a legislative thing, but I do think we should check how companies are doing from time to time.”

Benefits of smart data use

Companies that handle data with care and show their customers and other parties, are better able to make the most of those data. For example, because they gain more trust from consumers. In 2020, Deloitte and Ahold Delhaize commissioned a survey among 15,000 consumers in Europe. This showed that consumers are willing to share more data if it is clear how companies deal with that data and how data can benefit them as consumers.

Smart and responsible handling of data not only leads to better relationships with customers. It can also contribute to the smart, green and healthy region that the Board and its partners are working hard on. Kolk: “Of course you can use that data to better serve consumers. There is also a lot of social value in the data. That is also a reason for me personally to be so involved with it. For example, we are already using data to organize our logistics flows more efficiently. We make data-fueled predictions, based on what customers have bought from us. This allows us to reduce food waste enormously, because we can better match supply and demand.”

Safer society

Once the data agreement would be in place, other organizations in the region could sign it or use it as inspiration. “Not all organizations have the resources we have as a company to properly design such a policy,” explains Kolk. “A data agreement would offer us as a region the opportunity to be a forerunner. The document can also serve as inspiration for the data policy of many companies. It helps them remove uncertainties and lets them be ‘in control’ over their data. With the help of that data agreement, companies can contribute in a relatively simple way to a safer society, with responsible data use.”

Text: Mirjam Streefkerk

More Board Talk

The interview with Wouter Kolk is part 13 of the Board Talk series. In this series we talk with Board members about the biggest challenges for the Amsterdam metropolis. A region which offers healthy, sustainable living, responsible digitalisation and meaningful work for everyone. These are also the most important themes for the Amsterdam Economic Board. Read more interviews in the Board Talk series.

21 December 2021

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