Interview with Bert Voorbraak

Bert Voorbraak is CIO at the Legal Aid Council. Supply Value interviewed him about his view on IT, the CIO office and his role as CIO to shape the changes facing the Legal Aid Council. Bert has a rich history in IT, gained at Philips, the Tax Authorities, Fortis, University and Hogeschool van Amsterdam and UWV, among others.

The Legal Aid Board is a ZBO under the Ministry of Justice and Security. She is charged with the implementation of the Legal Aid Act (Wbr), the Sworn Interpreters and Translators Act (Wbtv) and the Natural Person Debt Rescheduling Act (Wsnp). This is done by 'the Council' on behalf of the minister. A great social organization that is relatively unknown in the Netherlands.

You started at the Legal Aid Council about three quarters of a year ago to implement a number of changes. What changes does the Legal Aid Council currently face?

The current system of the Legal Aid Act is somewhat older. One of the major pain points that are now emerging here is the salary of the social legal profession compared to the commercial legal profession. The minister and the department have the ambition to spend less money on 'the system', so that more money remains to pay the lawyers. In our jargon this is called a system renewal. In the coming years we will see that we will have to deal with a number of innovations that we have to implement. In addition, we are also faced with a major change internally, we recently implemented a new organizational structure. The old organizational structure had become diffuse, it was no longer always clear who owned what. We have rewritten this with a reorganization plan that clarifies tasks and responsibilities.

What role does IT play in these changes?

An important change that is about to happen within the Legal Aid Council is the old application landscape that needs to be renewed. The first steps have been taken in this regard by renewing the Wsnp and the Wbtv. But the largest part of the IT landscape of the Legal Aid Board (80%) is the landscape on which the Legal Aid Act revolves. That will also be renewed in the coming years, because with this system you can no longer cope with the renewal of the system. The challenge we face in this change is that replacing this landscape will cost a lot of money. In a situation where the details of the new legal aid system are not yet completely clear. So in that political game you try to renew small parts of your landscape.

You are talking about a new organizational structure, how is the CIO office positioned in it? What role does she play in these changes?

The lead and business management should come much more from the customer groups. The CIO office and the IM organization as we call it, should play a more facilitating role in this. We are already getting the first good signs of this. Until now, colleagues in the service sector either did not have a telephone or had very outdated models. In previous years, IM would have said: “It's your turn in 2021”, but now colleagues are knocking on the door of the “IM facilitator” to solve this problem and get a new phone. This shows that that lead and control is moving.

We set up data-oriented working as an integral part of the organization, you can't just leave that to one club."

How is the use of data reflected in this reform? Is data an important asset?

In addition to a new organizational structure and new IT landscape, the use of data is also one of our challenges. We have an enormous amount of data, but we still do not do enough with it. That is why we set up data-oriented working as an integral part of the organization, which you cannot put down to just one organizational unit. From a business perspective, this data must be available and of good quality. The service, in turn, must ensure that the data is also used. This data can be used to predict what the implementation of a change will mean and as such plays an important game in Strategy and Policy. So in the context of system renewal, that is a very important part. In addition, it is again up to the IM department to take on the facilitator role here, so that our colleagues from service or strategy and policy can extract the information they need from the available data. It is up to IM that the data is good and if there is a need for other data, it is up to IM to unlock other data that is needed.

What do these changes mean for your role?

We are now mainly working on the reform plan, what will the IM department of the future look like. In addition, I am working with a colleague from strategy and policy to get the plan for data-oriented working started. I also try to get innovation going so that we as an organization can keep up with new technologies such as Cloud, AI or Machine Learning.

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You are talking about new technologies, how do you see the future of the ICT or IM organization?

We see that the pace of change and the pace at which new technologies are falling over us is increasing sharply. I don't think this can be felt everywhere, but everything will become mobile in some way, in the Cloud. We will be dealing with AI or Machine Learning a lot more. These are all subjects that may not be an issue within the Legal Aid Council at the moment, but which we will be confronted with. I therefore think that as the Legal Aid Council we will make much more of a modernization process, in which we will look more closely at these types of techniques. If you see what is happening now under the pressure of working from home, we talk about telephony in a different way, we talk about meetings, a workplace or meeting each other in a different way. As a result, you are now seeing the first phenomena in which we have to go along with those major innovations. But they also offer great opportunities at the same time. Our challenge is to take a good look at these innovations (both the benefits and the points for attention) and then implement them very well and broadly in our organization.

Do you also expect changes for the role of the CIO in the future?

I certainly expect a change. In the future, it will be less about systems, much more about data and what you can do with data. As a result, the focus will be much more on information provision. Of course, this includes ICT systems, but at a certain point they will be there and it will be more about how information is linked, how data is linked, what is allowed and what is not. You cannot just link all kinds of data from all kinds of systems to which you have access, either internally or externally. In short, the role is very much changing from ICT and applications to information and data; that is mainly the value that will come from Information Provision and from my personal role and ambition as CIO; and that is a Council-wide role. I also see this happening in the Legal Aid system, in which we are part of an ecosystem with many partners; the legal counter, the Judiciary or the NOvA (Dutch Bar Association), for example. These are all partners working together and these systems are not necessarily linked in terms of technology, but much more in terms of data. Ultimately, all those parties should be working on one thing and that is that the citizen who needs it will have access to justice.

“You have to look at what you can do more together than each individual.”

What do you want to pass on to your CIO colleagues?

I think that the coming years will be about sharing knowledge and making organizations work together in an ecosystem. Especially in the public world. We are not competitors but partners. This means that from an IV position you should not play a competitor towards your colleagues. You should look at what you can do more together than each individual. As an example, I experienced a nice issue at the UWV in which we, together with 2 partners, tackled an issue that none of the three of us could have tackled separately. That's how I look to the future: Why would I want to invent things when my colleague already has a solution. The total should close instead of everyone doing the same thing. I see that all parties, including within the Ministry of Justice and Security, are working on the same thing: we are all working on the Cloud and the New Way of Working. I understand the drive that you want to be in control yourself, but at the same time it is also a waste of energy that you are all thinking the same thing. Share this knowledge and information with each other, do it together. Try to help each other in this way based on best practices. I therefore think that the future will be much more in forms of cooperation. Not only within the government world, but I also try very hard to achieve the connection with education and research. I come from an educational institution and would like to engage in a conversation with them much more.

How do chain partners play a role in this?

The same applies to that. I am now trying to work with Het Jurische Loket to see how we can link data together using technology so that we can move forward together. I find it hard to explain to a citizen that he is asked the same questions at the legal counter as with us, where he ends up shortly afterwards. How do we ensure that we put one face on this together?

"If you have such an attitude with the entire chain, then you promote the interests of the ecosystem instead of just the Legal Aid Council, then we are doing well."

How do you ensure that the interests of the various partners in the chain are aligned instead of conflicting interests?

That is certainly an issue. You see that individual organizations really still think too easily from their own pillar. There is not always the idea of getting ahead together. In any case, I always try to keep the higher goal in mind here. I am there primarily for the Legal Aid Council, but in a way that I am also there for the legal system of the citizen as a whole, to make it accessible. The best is of course if these are in line with each other. But if that is not the case, you might have to decide that something is more important for the citizen, the individual interest then has to give way. If you have such an attitude with the entire chain, then you promote the interests of the ecosystem instead of just the Legal Aid Council, then we are doing well. And of course good example is good to follow.