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Among IT professionals, open data, has been a topic for more than ten years, but politicians needed a bit longer to warm to the idea of open electronic access to government archives. Following the first successes abroad Switzerland too is becoming active.

With the project Open Government Data (OGD@Bund), open data has arrived at the federal level in Switzerland. Since September 2013, five federal authorities have been providing central access to their data in machine-readable form. The aim is to foster economic growth, create more political transparency and improve the efficiency of the public administration. The Swiss innovation project was implemented by itopia and Liip.

Internationally, it was British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and WWW founder Tim Berners-Lee who gave the starting shot for open data. “What can I do for England at the level of IT?”, Brown is said to have asked Berners-Lee. The inventor of the World Wide Web proposed that Brown’s government should open the public administra tion’s databases to promote innovation. That was back in 2007, but it must already have been in the air because President Barack Obama used his inaugural address in January 2009 to put open data firmly on the political agenda in the USA. This was followed by the first initiatives in Austria, Norway and Italy. Now Switzerland is following suit.

New developments

In Switzerland, Zurich City Council opened the first municipal portal in summer 2012. This followed the establishment of the Swiss chapter of the Open Knowledge Foundation which represents the interests of the Swiss open data community. Although the association website already presents many interesting projects like a simulation of all Swiss rail traffic or a visualization of the City of Zurich budget, the launch of OGD@Bund presents a new dimension.

In addition to the Swiss Federal Archives, the project includes the Federal Statistical Office, the Federal Office of Topography swisstopo, The Federal Office of Metereology MeteoSchweiz and the Swiss National Library. The project is supported by the Swiss Federal Chancellery and Federal IT Steering Unit (FITSU).

Justifying the costs

It is not always easy to justify the expenditure. But there are positive examples from Abroad. In England, the combined publication of cleanliness tests and contagion rates in hospitals helped reduce certain infections by 80 percent.

OGD@Bund is only one of two new Swiss open data highlights. In late 2013, the annual open knowledge conference of the open data movement OKCon was held in Switzerland for the first time. More than 900 people from approximately 45 countries assembled in Geneva, which also serves as United Nations headquarters. That the event was held in the same city as the UN Headquarters, underscored the growing relevance of open data. In technical terms, the Swiss government database already presents a major innovation. Liip improved the software’s multilingual functionality, but the project is forward looking as well. Additional federal institutions as well as cantons, cities and municipalities can now simply link up to the system and make their data available, proving ease of access for any future entities.

According to Liip, this is possible at reasonable cost due to the federal archi tecture of OGD@Bund, and the option is already being used.

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