Photo: Jurjen Poeles/WUR

Foreword by Luc Boelhouwer

‘Data management is not just something for the IT department’

Students and researchers need to realize that their data has a value, not just for them personally but for the entire academic field. The importance of sound data management is the subject of this third issue of the online magazine WUR is serious about Data.

Luc Boelhouwer, head of Information Management (and Chief Information Security Officer). Photo: Guy Ackermans

I had only just started as WUR’s head of Information Management (and Chief Information Security Officer) when the hack at Maastricht University became headline news. A virus had spread unnoticed through all its data systems via emails and hijacked its information. Of course, our IT environment is not the same as Maastricht’s so we are not at risk of exactly the same thing happening, but something similar is possible and the damage would be immense.

‘We are being overtaken by events. We have to make faster progress’

We are only a couple of months later and thanks to the coronavirus we are having to deal with a switch en masse to working from home and online teaching. Because of that transition, we have made digital collaboration tools available at a faster rate than normal, so we will be paying close attention to data security and data management issues. Both developments show that data management and in particular the need to keep our data secure are becoming ever more important. That is why we are working on a plan to accelerate our data security because we risk being overtaken by events. We have to make faster progress.

Awareness

There are several elements to this. One is IT developments such as the two-factor authentication that we will be rolling out across the university, and which you can read more about in this magazine. But the most important aspect is awareness. Dealing with your data correctly is not just an issue for the IT department, it concerns all of us: students, directors, researchers and other staff. It is people who open phishing emails and give hackers access to our systems. There is a danger then that privacy-sensitive information and important research data end up in the public domain or are manipulated. And that puts the reliability and credibility of our university at risk.

‘The data management plan is just going to feel like yet more paperwork’

But it is not just data protection that is important. My role as the head of Information Management is to advise the organization and encourage people to think about the value of their data and how they could make their research data more accessible for others. Continuity in the research we do here is important: if a researcher leaves, their data plus information about the context must remain available. In the few weeks I have been here, it has become clear to me that this is an area requiring attention. Many teams and employees are working on this already, for example Wageningen Data Competence Center and WUR Library, but the cohesion could be improved. The introduction of the data stewards is one example of how to achieve a more coherent approach.

Difficult

I realize that it is difficult for scientists to think about a research data management plan in advance: you just want to get started with your study. As a researcher, you don’t want to be restricted by having to think about the retention periods for privacy-sensitive data, the data structure, your metadata or the tools you could use. The data management plan is just going to feel like yet more paperwork.

So we want to help everyone do this and show them how important that work is, especially after they have completed their research. I also want to stress that this is not just an issue for IT, it’s an issue for everyone. So please take a proactive stance rather than a wait-and-see attitude. That will let us remain an open and reliable science institution.

Enjoy the magazine!

Luc Boelhouwer Head of Information Management at WUR

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