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Free access to non-personal data

From Michael Blum | 01.12.2017

Swiss Post makes non-personal data such as street names or the postcode directory freely accessible on an open data platform.

A company that processes and delivers millions of consignments each day needs to know Switzerland very well. From Aaarbach to Zyma – as an infrastructure service provider, Swiss Post has an enormous amount of data.

Swiss Post recently published an initial set of information of this kind on its own platform set up especially for this purpose: swisspost.ch/open-data. The data consists of the names of locations, municipalities and streets, details of physical access points or postcode directories, for example.

Authorities and companies make their non-personal data available to the general public under the heading “open data”. This helps to increase transparency and innovation while also saving costs. Even the Confederation and the cantons are promoting open data, and have already published several thousand data sets at opendata.swiss. Thanks to intelligent linking, open data of this kind can be of benefit in many areas of life. According to the nature of the data – e.g. purely geographic markers – no conclusions can be drawn about people, and data protection is therefore guaranteed.

As part of a joint project with the Human-IST Institute at the University of Fribourg, Swiss Post investigated the potential applications of an initial set of data during a hackathon at the end of November 2017. The hackathon was organised by Edy Portmann, a professor at the institute.

Participants in the hackathon were given raw building usage figures from Post Real Estate as starting material. What did they do with it?

The hackathon was organized so that participants in interdisciplinary teams could create innovative products by means of data analysis, before substantiating them with corresponding business models. Although the participants came from different backgrounds, after 36 hours the teams had all come up with valid innovation ideas. At the end of the event, the ideas were evaluated by a specialist jury, and prizes awarded. The best ideas will now be pursued by Post Real Estate.

To the layman, the data sources appear very unstructured. Wouldn’t a great deal of effort be needed to create something meaningful from them?

Interesting patterns can be found in raw data by means of analysis. These patterns always represent facts, which means that they provide usable information. By putting the facts acquired into context, conclusions can be drawn and subsequently verified. If they prove correct, new knowledge has been generated. Generating knowledge from unstructured data requires creativity as well as know-how. Although the effort involved is presumed to be considerable, this process is quite legitimate and justifiable – and in fact essential – for product and business model innovation.

Who can actually make use of this type of data? Major IT companies?

This type of data is generally of interest to data analysts and researchers of all kinds, whether they study it on behalf of major companies or start-ups, be it in the private or public sector. As already indicated, it is a matter of implementing creative, innovate ideas which can later mature into new products and business models. As a result, anybody can realize their projects with this data and create something meaningful for society, authorities and/or the economy.

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