Open Data as a first step towards building a national data infrastructure

In order for government data to develop its potential benefits for the economy and society, it must be made available comprehensively and systematically. Of particular interest are basic registers and geodata for locating these entities. Together with other government data on topics such as transport, energy or healthcare, these form an intangible infrastructure whose coherence, quality and availability determine the successful development of a data economy. Just as public rail and road infrastructures have enabled the development of the industrial society, the knowledge society needs a national data infrastructure – Open Data is the first step on this path. Data is not “oil Although data is repeatedly referred to as the “petroleum” of the 21st century, this metaphor is wrong. Unlike oil, data can be used as an infrastructure resource – comparable to a lighthouse – without rivalry. The arbitrary copyability of digital data allows it to be used without preventing anyone else from sharing it. Moreover, data is an investment good that can be used to create services and end products and can be used for any number of different purposes (OECD 2014: 24). In its report “Data- driven Innovation for Growth and Well- being”, the OECD concludes that data is an important resource that can lead to new knowledge, products, processes and markets, and refers to this trend as data-based innovation (ibid. p. 4). Data can serve, on the one hand, as an infrastructural resource that can in principle be used by an unlimited number of users for an unlimited number of purposes for services and end products, and, on the other hand, as an input for analysis that allows new insights and automated decisions. Creating value with data Data-driven innovation is not a linear process; feedback loops as well as recurring phases of value creation are part of the process (see Figure 1). Today, however, the value chain of data from the first collection to the statement in statistics is still a long sequence of media discontinuities. Different requirements and systems complicate the process of creating or processing data, information and content. This not only slows down the process, but also reduces the quality of the data and unnecessarily complicates their interpretation.


Fig. 1: The Data Value Cycle (OECD 2014: 23)

The positive impact of data-based innovation is not limited to the ICT sector. The activities of financial service providers and companies in the business and professional services sectors are extremely data-intensive, so these companies will invest even more in the development of data-based innovations in the future. In addition, the OECD sees opportunities for data-based innovations in the health and education sectors as well as in public administration, which can have a major impact in a relatively short time (ibid. p. 5). Data governance In order to promote data-based innovation, strategic control and coordination of the Confederation’s data production, data publication and data use across the organisational boundaries of the administration (“data governance”) is needed. In order for data to be used as an infrastructure resource, suitable framework conditions are needed for access to the data as well as for sharing and interoperability of the data. For the regulation of data access, a spectrum opens up from closed data, which is only accessible to the data owner, to open data, to which the public has access without restrictions. Various options also open up for the further use of the data, from the prevention of any further use to free further use without any restriction (“public domain”). The most important obstacle to the free flow of data between potential users are data silos. Especially within large companies and in public administration, these hinder the free flow of data across organisational boundaries. Therefore, data governance must also regulate in particular the networking and integration of data stocks within an organisation. Linked Data is an important technical approach to meet this requirement for the networking and integration of data stocks across organisational boundaries. The Good Basic Data for Everyone programme in Denmark is a good example of the successful development of a national data infrastructure. The basic assumption is that opening up high-quality data as an infrastructure enables public authorities to better fulfil their core business across organisations. In addition, data liberalisation is seen as an innovation driver in Denmark. In the UK, a similar programme called the National Information Infrastructure has been underway since 2013. Starting point Open Data For a few years now, individual federal offices, cantons and cities in Switzerland have begun to make government data available to the public as open data for free use. This is gratifying and de facto a first step on the way to a national data infrastructure. But it is far from sufficient. In order for government data to effectively unfold its enormous potential benefits for the economy, society and culture, it must be made available comprehensively and systematically. Of particular interest are those basic data that are permanently used in all areas of life in the knowledge society: Registers on persons, companies and buildings, addresses as well as geodata for the localisation of these entities.

“Typically, Key Registers hold essential and frequently used public sector information pertaining to persons, companies, land, buildings and other ‘infrastructural’ elements critical to the proper functioning of government. The rationale for establishing a System of Key Registers is the notion that it is in fact infrastructure that is indispensable for fulfilling governmental policy ambitions and societal needs in the context of the evolving (digital) relationship between a government and its citizens and companies” (de Vries/ Pijpker 2013: 4).

Together with other public sector data, e.g. from transport, energy, health, public finances or weather, these basic data form an intangible infrastructure whose coherence, quality and availability determine the successful development of a data economy and culture. Vision National Data Infrastructure Switzerland The EU Commission sees the realisation of a digital single market as a political priority. From its perspective, infrastructure – including data infrastructure – is also a key prerequisite for exploiting the potential of the digital economy. If Switzerland wants to exploit the potential of data-based innovations for economic growth and social well-being in the coming years, then the opening up and networking of the public administration’s and the entire public sector’s data resources, which have so far been isolated in individual silos, is a mandatory prerequisite. Starting with the basic registers for companies, buildings and persons, as well as geographic base data, the national data infrastructure must encompass all data sets from areas such as health, energy, transport, education, etc. that are relevant for the functioning of Switzerland. These data sets should no longer be regarded as isolated installations, but as parts of an overarching intangible infrastructure that enables the development of data-based services and the extraction of relevant knowledge about Switzerland. This infrastructure must make access to the data via online data catalogues, download services, API, etc. as open and simple as possible and only restrict it where legal requirements such as the protection of privacy make it mandatory. In addition to the basic data and data from various economic, administrative and scientific areas, the data infrastructure also includes directories of the data holdings, reference data, terminologies and other tools for indexing the data.


Fig. 2: National data infrastructure

The national data infrastructure is designed to enable the creation of data-based services and applications across different application areas with minimal effort. It is a platform and engine for cross-organisational cooperation and data-based innovations.


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AUTHOR: Alessia Neuroni

Alessia Neuroni is head of the Institute Public Sector Transformation at BFH Wirtschaft. She is responsible for Big and Open Data at the BFH Center Digital Society. Her thematic focus is on data governance and leadership of cross-agency innovation projects.

AUTHOR: André Golliez

President and Swiss Data Alliance

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