Peter van Thienen new Chief Information Officer at KWR

‘The human factor is decisive for the success of hydroinformatics solutions’

Peter van Thienen is KWR’s new Chief Information Officer (CIO). Van Thienen is currently finalising KWR’s new hydroinformatics vision, with the goal among others of contributing to a stronger ‘enabling environment’. An environment in which researchers from different disciplines share their knowledge more easily and learn from each other’s experience. End-users also become more closely involved in the development of hydroinformatics solutions, because ‘the human factor is decisive for the success of hydroinformatics solutions’. Van Thienen stresses that the drinking water sector has to learn how to think about questions more probabilistically and less deterministically: that is, proceed more on the basis of the outcome probabilities and less of (apparent) certainties, when facing the challenges of the future. Hydroinformatics offers the tools needed to this end.

KWR's new CIO Peter van Thienen.

KWR’s new CIO Peter van Thienen.

Peter van Thienen took over the function of Chief Information Officer at KWR on 1 May. He was handed the baton by Christos Makropoulos, who is now full-time Professor of Hydroinformatics and Smart Water Systems at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), but will remain associated with KWR as a visiting professor. ‘Over the almost ten years that Peter has been at KWR, he has participated in building up an impressive portfolio of hydroinformatics projects,’ says Dragan Savic, KWR’s CEO. ‘He has also played a leading role in the development of our new hydroinformatics vision. In Peter, we have undoubtedly found the right CIO for our organisation.’

Informed decisions

Van Thienen has embraced his new function with enthusiasm. ‘The application of information technology in the water world offers huge possibilities and challenges. Academics speak of hydroinformatics, while the industry speaks of smart water, but they’re both essentially talking about the same thing: by combining water research and information technology, we can use data and models to generate knowledge to support informed decisions – from operating individual treatment plants to preventing wet feet in the city. It is an honour for me to have the opportunity to further develop this field of work at KWR in the years ahead.’

The human factor is essential for the success of hydroinformatics

‘Over the last four years, Christos Makropoulos has worked hard in the areas of resilient systems and cybersecurity. He co-defined and acquired important European projects, such as STOP-IT as well as FIWARE4WATER which begins in June. I’m very keen to build upon what has been achieved over the last few years,’ says Van Thienen. ‘KWR has developed an attractive portfolio, which shows how much expertise we already have in-house in areas like simulation and optimisation, data mining and forecasts. This should be conveyed more prominently to the outside world, which would also help bring together experts and users in the water world. I am firmly convinced that the human factor is decisive for the success of hydroinformatics projects. To generate usable results, and to take full advantage of the possibilities offered by hydroinformatics, you have to bring together people who have domain knowledge and experience with people who have hydroinformatics expertise.’

Vision and enabling environment

Knowledge of current developments in information technology is a key prerequisite in giving effective shape to hydroinformatics. For this reason Van Thienen and his colleagues will be regularly looking over their own water sector fence to ‘sniff out’ knowledge elsewhere – concerning the use of sensors and ICT for instance. But, at the moment, the top of Van Thienen’s agenda is occupied by the task of finalising the new hydroinformatics vision to guide research in the field within KWR. A task that Van Thienen is tackling with a group of colleagues: ‘A KWR-wide vision will help us strengthen the conditions for hydroinformatics research and better integrate the efforts within the organisation. We can get a lot more done in an enabling environment, in which we share our knowledge and experience efficiently,’ he adds. ‘This will put us in the position of designing our software even better for specific questions, for the water utilities for example. We will also share and discuss this vision within the Joint Research Programme with the water utilities, to ensure, again, that we bring together the right people to develop customised hydroinformatics solutions.’


Van Thienen presenting during the ‘KNW Voorjaarscongres’.

Probabilities instead of (apparent) certainties

When he looks ahead to the future of hydroinformatics, Van Thienen concludes that his field needs a kind of paradigm shift to bring about the optimal application of hydroinformatics. ‘In the water world, we still have a strong deterministic mindset; we presume underlying regularities without taking uncertainties into consideration. We have to get used to approaching problems in a more probabilistic manner, to think in terms of the probability of events instead of ‘certainties’, which in reality are often no more than apparent certainties. Only then will we be properly prepared for the challenges of the future. The forecasting possibilities of hydroinformatics will play a crucial role here. This kind of thinking is already commonplace in climate research; this is the path we in the water sector must also take.’