Ruud Yap is head of IT and CTO at the Amsterdam Public Library (OBA). Within the organization there is interest in responsible technology because it can give Amsterdammers more control over their digital environment. But a transition to ethical tech is quite a challenge.
In this interview, he talks about the difficulties he faces in his role as purchaser of technology. He also shares the solutions he sees and the role that Tada and the OBA can play in this. For example, the Amsterdam library could build a bridge between developers and citizens to develop user-friendly applications together.
This article mentions Ruud Yap three obstacles he encounters as a purchaser and head of IT department: the knowledge available in the organization, existing infrastructure and user-friendliness. For each point he mentions solutions that can be realized through collaboration within the Tada platform. But he begins his story by explaining why ethical technology applies to the OBA is relevant.
Amsterdammers can decide for themselves
Ruud Yap: As an OBA, we want all Amsterdammers to participate in society, be connected to their own neighborhood, city and the internet and have the opportunity to increase their knowledge and digital skills. This includes the use of ethical technology. In my opinion, this is nicely expressed in the Roadmap Digital Future of the Waag. Much of the way technology works is invisible, but it radically changes us and our society, so that you can experience a sense of powerlessness. Ethical technology makes it possible to gain more control over that change because the effect of technology can be made visible. Amsterdammers can decide for themselves how to use them.
In-house knowledge and skills
At the OBA we have a small back office. That is also the intention, all energy goes to the city of Amsterdam and the Amsterdammers. But that means that we get a lot of knowledge from outside. The knowledge that we have in-house is limited. That determines the choices you make regarding applications and infrastructure. The management burden must remain low. We strive for unburdening as much as possible. That is a dilemma you can run into with ethical technology. Applications that are not widely used in the market require more effort. To give a concrete example: we have now opted for a public cloud provider for our cloud infrastructure. A provider like Microsoft takes care of it and it is easy to attract knowledge and expertise. Because we have limited resources, we want to be unburdened and that it works. That doesn’t mean we can’t innovate. But we always have to weigh this up.
A Tada roadmap
Tada could play a role in this by facilitating collaborations. Suppose we want to develop into an organization that only runs ethical applications. Then we have to draw up a roadmap and move our infrastructure in that direction. This leads to questions such as: what are the alternatives? Where can you find it in the market? What support is available? That is far too big an undertaking for individual organizations to do alone. That’s why you have to work together. A good example is Public Spaces . This is an initiative of more than twenty public institutions with the mission to make the internet a public space again. Among other things, by supporting alternative software ecosystems that are based on public values instead of commerce. Tada could help draft a roadmap. Establish a strategy for organizations to gradually transition to ethical technology. Organizations can then work together. The knowledge and skills that you do not have in-house can then be obtained from the network.
A second challenge we face at the OBA is legacy applications. The existing infrastructure consists of all kinds of solutions that are linked together. Every transition hurts. As a result, you want to keep changes as small as possible. All small pieces have been added to the OBA infrastructure to make new applications possible. The transition to a more ethical infrastructure is a structural change. Ultimately, it affects everything. This makes it a complex operation. So we have to make a choice: are we doing something small? Or do we remove the foundation and start over. Of course, your resources are finite.
Tada as an board ambassador
I find it a difficult question what Tada could mean in this, because it is a business consideration. I can give an example. The library sector has the desire for a collective library system. If we were to switch to a new system with an open architecture, that would mean change for many organizations. These transition costs must be borne. While in our case the transition costs could possibly be borne by the government, this is not the case for many other organizations. The function that Tada could have in this is support in that transition. And I do mean financial.
A second possible role is to prepare it administratively. An ethical step forward may mean two steps back in business. You have to convince people why you would want that. Tada could take on a political administrative ambassadorship. You have to be very honest about the consequences of implementing Tada. A third option for Tada is the network function. As OBA, we are already in a large network with other libraries. But that does not apply to all organizations. Tada could be a network within which those organizations work together.
We certainly want to innovate and change at the OBA. And we also create space for that. But we also have clear questions from the operation that we must provide. For example, accessibility is very important for our services. We must offer user-friendly applications that Amsterdammers can work with. For example, we have public computers that are used by Amsterdammers. It contains the Microsoft Office suite. You could switch to Libre Office. But in terms of interface it works differently and sometimes less accessible emotionally. And there are more examples of software that is less user-friendly or is perceived as less user-friendly. On the other hand, for example, our Makeplaces. You can experiment there. That is where it is often good when things go wrong or when challenges are created because that is what you learn from.
The library as a bridge between citizen and developer
A toolkit of alternatives would be useful. It is also possible to look at how they score on user-friendliness. We could do something about this together with Tada. From the OBA we could enter into discussions with entrepreneurs. Perhaps the need for a low threshold is not obvious to them. The perspective from the OBA can be helpful because we are located throughout the city and are there for all Amsterdammers. Entrepreneurs could validate their work together with the OBA. We can create a podium in the neighborhood to test user-friendliness together with citizens. I would love that.
We are already doing that with it Chief Technology Office Amsterdam in the oba.design lab. We develop new services with new technology. We can collect feedback with people from the neighborhood and colleagues from the branches: What kind of interaction does this produce? What good is this to Amsterdammers? With the OBA branch network we are in every district. We can provide a physical or digital stage to try out ideas. It is an environment in which you can experiment in the real world. This is something we would like to contribute to the Tada network.
This article is part of a series about the future of Tada . The Tada platform investigates the obstacles to the implementation of responsible data applications. It wants to bring parties from the Tada network together to find solutions together. In this article Ruud Yap shares his vision as a buyer. In an earlier article tells Tom van Arman about the challenges and opportunities from the perspective of the ethical entrepreneur.