Coordinating agency for Federal geographical information

The Problem

Up to 80% of all decisions affecting citizen are linked to geographical information (Coopers and Lybrand 1996). Geographical information is especially in demand in the run-up to referendums (for example, the locations of nuclear power stations, nature conservation areas, traffic and transport, etc.). Worldwide several initiatives are initiated by different nations to establish a single point of entry to all spatial data of public administration. Before ch, it was difficult or impossible to get hold of most federal geospatial data for public authorities, experts and the broad public. No single point of entry for federal geodata existed: access was sometimes possible in one of over 20 and not linked map viewing application, hidden within the Swiss federal web presence, with a wide range of quantity and quality standards.
In Switzerland the Act on Federal Geoinformation regulates the access to public data. This act came into force on 1st July 2008. It provides the legal framework, for all activities relating to information about basic geodata of federal law and its exchange and use. “The purpose of this Act is to ensure that geodata relating to the territory of the Swiss Confederation is made available to the Federal, Cantonal and municipal authorities, to industry and commerce, to academic and scientific institutions and to society at large, for the broadest possible use, in a sustainable, up-to-date, rapid and easy way, with the required quality and at reasonable cost.” (Art. 1). The data contained in aerial photographs, maps and plans as well as further spatially referenced data must made available at a good level of quality and at reasonable cost, in printed form, over the Internet or on mobile devices. Uniform standards were required, in data capture as well as in the modeling and archiving of data and metadata.
A major economic benefit can be achieved with the establishment of in Switzerland. Advocating the use of spatial data is improving the value of this still unexploited resource. Furthermore, the federal administration benefits of the availability of fundamental information for decision-making, planning and improving efficiency of governmental processes: data production can be accelerated and data exchange processes simplified. Moreover, the reputation of government can be leveraged and even higher tax revenues can be achieved. Scientific studies have shown that providing easy and inexpensive access to geospatial data has a multiplicative effect of 1:4 between public investment and added value to private market related to spatial data. With around 230 million Swiss Francs annual investment by federal and cantonal authorities, this corresponds to a theoretical market potential of around 1 billion francs. A 2008 market analysis has shown that for the geospatial market of Switzerland this ratio with a volume of 500 million francs a year is only at about 1:2 before the Federal Geoinformation Act became into force.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution) is the implementation and the portal to the federal spatial data infrastructure (FSDI) according to the Federal Act on Geoinformation. For the first time, federal spatial data can be accessed over central platform, main features are: Multilingual (five languages), fast and user friendly interface, single point of entry for all spatial data portals of the federal authorities of Switzerland, high performance of information retrieval, even at high loads. This could be achieved by a novel combination of an open source software framework with an innovative cloud computing architecture resulting in an attractive cost / benefit ratio. Furthermore, was an early innovator in Switzerland using cloud computing as infrastructure solution for authorities. With services as google maps, the benchmark regarding usability and performance for accessing spatial data was set. No off the shelf product was available with which it would be possible to hold up 100 data records at reasonable costs on the existing federal infrastructure: with an open source and open standards policy, a software framework could be brought to readiness for market within just 3 months of time. Our choice had an impact on other portals worldwide and has been now reused several times. Based on the success of, a public private partnership, with international members, was initiated by to extent the existing open source mapping framework to support mobile devices / Smartphones.
Level of public perception and acceptance is a key performance index: The media campaign resulted in broad coverage by the Swiss press, print and web and made it even to the headlines of key newspapers. The feedback of citizen and key stakeholders regarding is very positive: over 3000 mails of happy citizens since the launch on 8/2010 and daily average visitor rate of 10000 unique visitors is the proof of acceptance. With offering an e-mail helpdesk, Q&A section and the use of social media, communications with society is now two ways and near realtime: direct interaction with the groups of interest results in further services and faster realization of public needs. Existing spatial portals of the federal administration receive up to five times more visitors since the launch of since they are now linked. The choice for cloud computing has been proven right: during the media campaign, the number of visitors increased by factor 20 within 2 hours to 30000 unique visitors per day without downtime due to server overload. Awards: has been nominated for the Swiss Open Source Awards 2010 and won the quality competition "Excellency in public administration" 2010 in the category "eGovernment" and the EUROGI / ESDI-Net Award 2011 in the category technology.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
The Coordinating Agency (GCG) as contracting body of is empowered to issue directives to departments of the federal administration (under the Geoinformation Ordinance) and has the following responsibilities (under GeoIV Art. 48): Coordination of the activities of the federal administration; Development of federal strategies; Participation in the development of technical standards; Operation of a competence centre and advising Cantonal bodies. Therefore, GCG was actively proposing the solution for the Federal Act on Geoinformation as shown with and is accountable for it. Responsible for realization of the project as service provider was COGIS, a division of the federal department of topography, swisstopo. COGIS, which is under the strategic leadership and management of GCG, implements and operates since 2000 eServices for the federal administration. COGIS therefore designed, built, implemented and operates the initiative with the help of a various external companies related to software development, marketing, designing and internet / CloudComputing hosting. Stakeholders, in our case users and data providers, are all other federal agencies such as Swiss Federal Offices of /for Topography, Energy, Communications, Spatial Development, Roads Office, Environment, Transport and Civil Aviation to name a few. Other public organizations as stakeholder were involved: the cantons (represented by the CCGEO (Conference of State Centers for Geodata Coordination and GIS), CSCC (Conference of the Cantonal Surveying Authorities) and CPC (Cantonal Planners Conference) and local communities. Close collaboration with the national program e-geo and were maintained. Important customers are as well NGOs such as Switzerland Mobility Foundation and Switzerland Tourism Organization, private or semiprivate organizations such as MeteoSwiss and the biggest transport company SBB (railway). Moreover, citizens are key stakeholders and customer of the portal as well all EDU bodies on the different levels as well private industry.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
Key objective was the design, built and operate a spatial data infrastructure (SDI) for the federal government as described in the Act on Federal Geoinformation. To achieve this within the given restrictions and constraints (financial resources, time and personal resources) the following four strategies were consequently applied in this ICT and innovation imitative:
OpenSource: The whole software stack of the Swiss federal SDI is based on open source software (OSS): from Operation System (OS) to application level. Only free and open source components were integrated or developed. This way COGIS could minimize initial costs and operational costs, ensure innovation (time to market), since the release cycle of web mapping technologies and therefore corresponding time to ROI’s on software development is quite short. Furthermore, we could reuse and share components and functions in an environment with a high pace regarding innovation. The SDI components including all services can installed unlimited times on different platforms: no vendor lock in and fiddling with licenses are on of the key benefits of OSS.
OpenStandards: The use of open standards by COGIS guaranteed access to data and data services and ensured therefore the dissemination of geodata. This could be particularly achieved with the use of OSS.
OpenAccess: Access is where all content is going or in other words: content has no value if it can not be accessed. Wherever the law is allowing free access to data, the data owner was encouraged to do so. Data access was made easier by COGIS on the one hand through open data services and on the other hand with providing an open application programming interface. Both leveraged the use of federal data, which is fostered as well by the Swiss e-government initiative. On the communication level, the heavy use of social media channels such as twitter, and RSS ensured an open and fast two way communication with all participants from gov agency to citizen and the media.
CloudComputing: Form the beginning of the project of the infrastructure team as well the data management team was integrated in the decision process. Thanks to this fact. it became clear, that on application and OS level short release and life cycles are key for and in the nature of web 2.0 solutions and at the same grant innovation in this field. The responsible team for infrastructure and operation had the requirement to build a highly scalable, performant and cost effective system solution. Due to the fact that those requirements were communicated in an early stage of the project, enough time was available to set up an automated infrastructure solution. The result was the first time use of the cloud computing model (IaaS infrastructure as a service) in the Swiss government. Thanks to IaaS, time consuming purchase of hardware was obsolete and the resources could focus on the automatic provisioning and realization of SDI architecture. Nowadays, COGIS as service provider is capable to scale its number of servers by the factor of ten in less than an hour. Short response time even at high usage intensity can be guaranteed and had no downtime even during massive number of visitors during several media campaigns.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
Realization Unit 1 (RU1) of was developed from Oct 2008 onward and put into operation mode on Jan 2010. In the initialization phase, the three key system elements (projects) Content Management System (CMS, the Portal), data viewer (web mapping interface) and the spatial data infrastructure (SDI) were identified and subdivided in different work packages. An incremental phase model was chosen to allow parallel realization and early testing of interfaces. With a prototype, key stakeholders were involved from the beginning into the different projects and the concept phase started: project aims were set and technical solutions determined. The open access, open standards and OSS strategy defined, as well CloudComputing model selected for the infrastructure solution. In the realization phase, the three components and the corresponding interfaces were built and tested iteratively and then validated in a productive environment in the introduction phase. The last milestone in RU1 was the going public with a media release.
RU2 started on Dec 2010 and will be fully operational by the end of 2011. It consists mainly of a mobile version, expert tools to interact with the map (measure, draw, connect external data sources) and the implementation of user requests gathered during the first months of operation of RU1. During the concept phase a mobile prototype was launched and made available to the public to test user acceptance, in the realization phase, a code sprint for the OpenSource community was organized and accomplished and the final OSS framework tested. Parallel to this, expert tools were built tested and deployed to ensure a short time to market. is now operational as a device and browser independent solution since Sep 2011. Communication was done by a media release and social media channels.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
Four main obstacles (restrictions and limitations) can be identified: Time, budget, human resources and political obstacles.
Time: The Geoinformation act came into force on July 2008. The project steering committee wanted to have FSDI portal for the public available in a first version within one year. This time constraint was reducing options but also an opportunity to focus on the key deliverables: map viewing for the broad public. Stringent project management with fixed milestones ensured that although the limited time and budget this main goal was achieved.
Budget: As shown below, budget was quite small compared to other international governmental SDI initiatives. Project budget for RU1 was sponsored by Swiss Federal Office of Topography swisstopo, and therefore prone to any budget cuts in the project phase. Investments had to be done therefore quickly; otherwise unused budget could get withdrawn after half or project runtime. Second, direct investments over 50K SFR had to go through a public bidding process which usually takes several months of administrative work. Therefore investments to develop a map viewer with similar usability and performance as google maps had to be achieved with less than 50K SFR. Hence the choice of OSS with the combination of CloudComputing for infrastructure was essential to boost innovation and shorten time to market. A well documented specification document clearly defined the deliverables and contractors could estimate with a high precision the involved work.
Personal resources were scarce: they had to be withdrawn from the daily operative business within a matrix organization. Line managers on the one hand had to be convinced to release manpower for as well on the other hand employees had to be motivated to work as committed project member for the SDI. This was achieved by teambuilding events, an open communication by means of social media, accurate and timely resource planning and introduction of modern AGILE project management methods. Capacity shortcuts were overcome by externalizing subtasks and introduction of daily SCRUM meetings. Parallelizing the execution of the different work packages ensured delivery on time
Political obstacles: Not all stakeholders were supporting the project from beginning due to different reasons. Key action here was to integrate them into the project steering committee and therefore actively involve them into the decision process. A positive identification of those key stakeholders with could be achieved. Monthly regular reporting to the committee regarding the progress of the project, introduction of social media as two way communication channel, talks at conferences and lobbying in existing programs covering e-government and geo initiatives on local national and international level increased the acceptance of .

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized (part of FSDI)
Project RU1 CAPEX 2009/2010
- Total hours : 2300 h
- Total nonpersonnel-costs : 42'000 SFR
Project RU2 CAPEX 2011
- Total hours : 1000 h
- Total nonpersonnel-costs : 90'000 SFR

OPEX 2010 / 2011:
- Total hours : 1.5FTE /month
- Total nonpersonnel-costs : 10'000 SFR/month

Finance resources were acquired in RU1 by swisstopo, which was coming up with the initial- funding. During RU1, the spatial infrastructure program go4geo was established by GCS which is funding now operation and RU2 of Go4geo itself is funded by an IT, Communication and Technology credit until 2015 by the Federal Strategy Unit for IT.
Technical resources: As mentioned in b) the cloud computing infrastructure model allows nearly infinity scalability of computing resources. During normal operation, number of servers consists: of 2 proxy cache (shared with other portals), a test, integration and production server, and a CMS server and in average 10 servers to generate the static map tiles.
Human resources: as mentioned in c) internal manpower had to be acquired internally from a matrix organization and externally by subcontractors. For operation 1.5FTE are allocated by COGIS for
Key benefits: Since the technical resources are mainly based on a cloud computing solution, a pay as you pricing model allows an accurate and realtime estimate for cost used in project and future operation. The infinite scalability and availability of resources guarantee a short time to market of technical solutions in the project phase and sustainability during operation. Human resources can be reused in other FSDI projects within federal agencies for spatial portals, since the FSDI operates as a central hub to store and distribute data. Moreover, thanks to open source software and the use open standards, training costs of employees can be minimized since we operate on the least common denominator.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
Sustainability is granted for all key aspects. From a financial perspective OSS, Open Standards, Open Access and cloud computing guarantee low cost regarding future extension of the functions as well as for operation. Investing in the OpenSource community strengthen the social and economic sustainability by fostering the knowledge of web mapping software. At the same time, a vendor lock in to a specific software provider with its own standards regarding formats and interfaces could be overcome.
Replication possibilities are high and replication of solution is already done several times on national and international level. This is due to the fact, that OSS allows the reuse and actually actively pushes the reuse of the solution with an extensive documentation, communication initiatives and access to the sources as shown in Here are a few examples which fully take advantage of the solution
● The Geoportal of Luxembourg
● The Geoportal of canton Neuenburg
● The federal office for the environment and for the spatial development http: //
● Swiss mobility /Swiss Tourism map portal such as http: //
to name only a few.
Furthermore, a working/interest group was setup up to steer and coordinate further development of the initiated SDI solution. Members are international and national governmental agencies and NGOs, communities and private companies.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
Lessons learned:
1. OpenSource Software: no license cost, short time to market, scalable, innovative, user driven, and cost /benefit effective
2. Open Standards: interoperability with existing and future solutions guaranteed
3. Open Access: Access is where all content (data) is going. Where ever possible data, data services and application programming interface including sources were made public available
a. Map Viewer
b. Map Service
c. API under
d. Mobile support and
e. Source Code of all components: (login available fro free on request)
f. Communication:
4. Cloud Computing: scalability & agility, cost effectiveness, automation, boost innovation
5. Active communication and coordination addressing all stakeholders in the project and operation phase are key factors for success, including Social Media.

● Award Excellence in Public Administration 2010:
● Award EUROGI / ESDI-Net 2011 in the category technology:
● Nomination for OSS Awards 2010:
● Diploma for participating in
● Amazon web service (AWS) Case Study: swisstopo:
● User statistics: 10’000 unique visitors/day (one of the most visited websites of Swiss governments within 2 years!)
● Over 150 datasets of various gov agencies ….and growing

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Coordinating agency for Federal geographical information
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   David Oesch
Title:   Dr.  
Telephone/ Fax:   +41 31 963 23 15
Institution's / Project's Website:
Address:   Swiss Federal Office of Topography, Seftigenstrasse 264
Postal Code:   3084
City:   Wabern
State/Province:   BE
Country:   Switzerland

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