Hi Christophe, let’s kick off!
As you get older, it becomes harder to introduce yourself. But let me give it a try.
I’m Christophe, and in hindsight, my main focus has always been data, although that’s a rather abstract term. I actually studied psychology with a minor in occupational psychology. Later, I pursued a Master of science degree in statistics. On the one hand, because I found statistics fascinating and, on the other hand, because it offered better job perspectives.
That led me to gain work experience at the Belgian government, which turned out to be a bit limiting for my creative urges and initiatives. In 2008, I participated in a creativity class (FlandersDC & Vlerick) and started TEDxFlanders. Over the years, I organized four or five major events and around forty salons until 2015.
I joined Cronos as a data scientist, which sounded more exciting than being called a statistician. My longest assignment here was fraud detection for RSZ. Later, a headhunter recruited me, and I ended up at another company, working in data science and AI.
Around 2018, I read the GDPR legislation, which had just come into effect. I found it super interesting to think about how we could actively enforce those regulations. I wrote a whitepaper on personal data and data management. While researching whether others were working on similar topics, I came across Solid, pitched the idea at my former employer and organized a first event around it. The topic kept growing on me and that’s how I ended up talking to Cronos and pitched the idea there as well. Within De Cronos Groep, I founded Konsolidate (part of Oeco and Raccoons), a startup focused on Solid. Konsolidate helped set up the Solid data vaults software for the Flemish data utility company. Unfortunately, even though Flanders is spearheading this technology, the market didn’t grow as quickly as expected. Nowadays we see the Netherlands, England and Germany embracing Solid.
You mentioned ‘data’ is a rather abstract concept, but at MbarQ it all comes together?
MbarQ is about making companies data driven as it is a necessity for digitization and growth. There are quite some trends going on in the current world of data.
MbarQ is about making companies data driven as it is a necessity for digitization and growth. There are quite some trends going on in the current world of data.Christophe Cop
First, there is the trend I map to what Solid and the EU are trying to achieve: interoperability and personal data control. This implies semantic data.
All data can be represented as semantic data, which is a good way to describe it for both computers and humans to understand. Semantic data is linked data, and that means it can link with all the data that is in the same format (and can link to any type of data available online). Just like Solid pods (personal data vaults), data within a company should be interlinked.
The European Union continues to make data (and AI) regulations. These regulations take personal data protection very seriously, while enabling growth of the European Data Economy. Companies and organizations must not only be aware of, but also comply with, these laws. They represent core European values and can help, rather than impede, economic growth if taken seriously.
Second, GPT and LLM came onto the market, and are taking the world by storm. I dived into understanding how it works, what it is and -most of all- what it is not. What GPT lacks is ‘ground truth,’ and this is where semantic data should come into play to supplement what GPT lacks: a knowledge graph.
Aside from a concrete assignment for RSZ, I like to combine these two trends together with business oriented solutions. It aligns with my professional background of data processing and finding ways to bring different components together to drive progress and gain insights at various levels. The world is changing rapidly, especially in the fields of AI and data, and people, particularly those at the C-level, need to keep up.
How would you describe yourself in one word?
Fun fact: My scout totem was “clever wombat,” but that’s two words. One word that characterizes me is “curiosity.” My personal mission is to understand the world as best as I can, and data is a crucial part of that.
How will you approach your role as a Data/AI Expert and Project Lead at MbarQ
There is currently the specific assignment I mentioned before, and on the other hand, a role in the data evangelizing part. It involves listening to the customer, understanding their issues, goals, needs, KPIs, reforms, tooling, automation, and everything else that needs to be clarified to determine which processes can be used to achieve the desired results. There is a translation involved from the business problem to the technical solution and vice versa. And, of course, that needs to be communicated back to the customer as well.
That is the process in which I will be involved. Using my hands-on experience and managing data scientists, I work in the fields of data, AI, and analytics. It’s about working together to solve problems, which leans more toward project management. In that respect I will be taking on a coordinating and guiding role that involves translating MbarQ’s vision on data and AI into action.
“Using my hands-on experience and managing data scientists, I work in the fields of data, AI, and analytics. It’s about working together to solve problems, which leans more toward project management.”
For RSZ specifically, it will involve change management, looking at the HR aspect and the fundamental impact on work processes. It also involves determining how new tools can be better utilized, considering aspects that make the transition easier for them. All that data needs to be integrated into the human cognitive process, with the machine assisting and guiding rather than taking over.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I like tending my mini rooftop garden, growing fruits, vegetables and herbs. I also enjoy playing board games and D&D (Dungeons and Dragons, red.) with friends.
Looking back at your application process, how did it go?
Since it’s a shift between Cronos companies, it was different from other processes I went through in the past. HR personnel and coaches assisted me in contacting and speaking with various companies within Cronos. I also applied for an external company. After a month of interviews and talks, I narrowed down my options to three remaining companies, and after careful consideration, Mbarq seemed to be the best fit.
If you had to describe MbarQ to someone who doesn’t know about it, for instance a potential new employee or client, how would you do it?
MbarQ is mainly focused on the Microsoft stack. The idea is that data science, AI, and data analysis are not as distant or exotic as one might think. People often panic when they’re confronted with new tech such as – in this case – artificial intelligence, but it’s actually quite concrete. MbarQ approaches it from a business perspective, using ready-made building blocks to quickly bring business value by leveraging data science and AI solutions.
People often panic when they’re confronted with new tech such as – in this case – artificial intelligence, but it’s actually quite concrete.Christophe Cop
When a company comes to us, we first want to listen and understand what’s in it for them, using AI-tools. With ChatGPT, for instance, we want to show them how something amazing has been created and that they need to consider starting to use it today, because it can be a gigantic benefit. It’s so powerful that falling behind would be a risk for the company. It’s still mind-boggling to me that Chat-GPT has a tested verbal IQ of 155. It demonstrates a profound understanding of language and its underlying structures. It is a step toward AGI and, possibly, AI with consciousness and reflection. So we can’t let ourselves be surprised. I think it’s necessary for C-level executives to understand and realize this.
Alright, final question: Why should someone work for MbarQ?
It depends on the level of entry. I’m always thinking about the skills and competencies we have and the ones we need, especially in small businesses. Then it’s a matter of finding the right person to fill in those critical gaps. They need to be motivated to want to do those things. Thus far, I can’t say that the people at MbarQ are better or worse than other colleagues I’ve had in the past. We have some great people here. In the end iIt’s about what you want to do and what you’re capable of doing. If that fits with what we are looking for at MbarQ, you should definitely consider joining us.
And, of course, flexibility is important too. Being able to adapt is part of the mission of Mbarq, being aware of what is concrete now and what will be concrete tomorrow, keeping our finger on the pulse. That curiosity to learn is crucial.
Finally, separating data from applications, making data effectively linkable and self-describing at the highest possible quality level, is what we do, or rather, what I believe we should do if we don’t do it already. Then, place that data where it belongs, whether that’s with the company or with the individual.
When considering the EU data economy, you should consider: How do we connect that data? My company’s data may be useful for another company’s data. We should be able to reuse it. The fluidity of usage and reuse is crucial. Access control is important too. This world is not all about open data, but should we want to keep our own company data completely closed? There is plenty of possible re-use (and thus commercial opportunity as well). An organization must understand its data: how it is used and documented, and what data it requires. Also, as a data producer, consider what can be shared with third parties. Just like the flow of information or neurons in the brain. This is part of the European data vision and data economy, which goes beyond what is currently happening. The cool thing is that ChatGPT can help companies with that.
So yeah, basically, we’re pretty cool.
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