Working smarter with data
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The expert - Working smarter with data

How can we work more sustainably, smarter and healthier? In this edition, Frank Blaauw shares his expertise on what an organization needs to be truly data-driven. Frank is a Ph.D. computer scientist and founder of Researchable, a software development and data company that helps organizations innovate through data and data-intensive software applications.

More and more organizations want to do more with data and get everything out of it. But what do you need to really use data for better decision-making and insights? In any case, a solid foundation and a good infrastructure, says expert and founder of Researchable Frank Blaauw.

He feels like a fish out of water. The energy and enthusiasm are almost palpable. 'It's just a fantastic field,' says Frank Blaauw. 'You can think about complex problems while doing something very practical at the same time. I don't think I can do better anywhere intellectually.' Frank, a PhD in computer science, is founder of Researchable, a software development and data company that helps organizations do more with data and technology. Or more precisely, the Groningen-based company is an expert in unlocking, analyzing and combining large amounts of data.

Automate and scale up

Sure, things are moving at lightning speed with developments around data science and artificial intelligence (AI). It never stands still and so more and more is possible with data. Yet many organizations are still leaving opportunities unexploited. Frank also saw this when, after his master's and PhD Software Engineering & Distributed Systems at the RUG, he was doing his post-doctoral research. First at the Faculty of Psychiatry and later at Developmental Psychology. 'I noticed that a lot of researchers wanted to do a lot with data. However, they often lacked the right tools and knowledge to automate and scale up their data collection and analysis. That, of course, is a shame. I was convinced that a computer scientist could add a lot of value to social studies. Especially as larger and larger data issues arose there. Hence, I started Researchable in 2018.

Sports Data Valley

Frank began as a freelancer and in that initial phase worked exclusively for clients from the university world. Until in 2019 Sport Data Valley, the largest national platform for data analysis and research on sports and exercise, came along. Sport Data Valley wanted one large scalable data platform where recreational athletes, coaches, companies and researchers, among others, could securely manage, administer and share their sports data. 'That Researchable was ultimately chosen as the best from a shortlist of reputable parties felt like a big win,' Frank laughs. 'But it also meant, because this was a very large project, that I had to hire people and Researchable suddenly became a real company.

The Sport Data Valley platform went live in September 2020, and we are still busy developing it. The standard processes such as uploading the data, managing it and the social network are hugely interesting. But what makes it especially attractive to us is realizing integrations with apps like Garmin, Strava and Polar. That you get data from there and then you can synchronize it as well. That's what we like and what we're good at.'

Analytical components

Researchable now has eleven employees and clients include Vitens, UMCG, Leiden University, the Ministry of Defense and the University of Twente. 'Our expertise lies at the intersection of software and data science,' Frank explains. 'With the focus on software - and data engineering, we try to be a spider in the web for clients. In practice, this means that we enter into an in-depth collaboration with organizations based on a people-oriented approach to technology. The latter is important because technology is a means to an end. We specialize in developing applications with analytical components, such as machine learning. But in the end, it's always about people. We often develop digital solutions with data scientists or decision makers as end users. The analytical components support them in making connections and extracting knowledge and insights from the data. So on the one hand, we make sure that all the data ends up in the right place and on the other hand, we build a platform where large-scale data analyses and algorithms can be run later.'

I was convinced that a computer scientist could add a lot of value to social studies.
Frank Blaauw, Researchable

Smart Industry

Since a few years Researchable is one of the solution providers connected to the Smart Industry Hub North, an initiative, of which NOM is leader, that inspires and supports the northern manufacturing and process industry in the field of digitalization and Smart Industry. 'I believe that in the manufacturing and process industry, too many companies are still not working in a data-driven manner enough,' Frank clarifies the choice made at the time. 'While those are precisely the places to do something with data. I understand, of course, that for some manufacturing and process companies it is also quite complicated. Often there is no insight at all into all the available data and the possibilities of doing smart things with it. Before you actually start working with techniques like artificial intelligence, there is already a huge gain to be made there. The manufacturing and process industry benefits greatly from quick wins and small steps forward. That way, costs are limited and by already showing the benefits of insights and data in the short term, you also get the entire organization more easily on board in the transformation to a factory of the future.'