Open Data

A Potential Treasure Trove

traffic jam, open data solution. source getty images
Can Open Data ease inner-city traffic jams?
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Open data, or making state information more transparent, could generate billions in revenue and create thousands of new jobs.

  • Facts


    • Germany ranks 10th of 86 countries studied for the Web Foundation’s Open Data Barometer.
    • Berlin has been hesitant about providing access to data.
    • A new study eyes potential for billions in revenue.
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Ten minutes is the average amount of time it takes drivers to find a parking spot in European cities. Parkpocket is a free app designed to shorten the search, by directing users to nearby parking garages where spaces are still available.

To build the app, founder Stefan Bader and his 16-member team use data gathered by German cities. But the results are sobering. The startup only receives data from six of around 60 cities already covered by the app. Hamburg and Cologne are model cities in this regard, said Mr. Bader, and Berlin and Bonn have also provided access to their data.

Experts say Open Data could turn into a market worth billions. Moving apps, daycare finders and weather forecasts for farmers are only a few examples of the potential.

Parkpocket is a profitable business for Mr. Bader, who wants automakers to buy the data and integrate it into their navigation systems.

According to a study, the economic potential of administrative data in Germany could amount to €12-130 billion a year.

The German government sees information as the “raw material of the 21st century.” Still, hardly any progress is being made.

So far, only a fraction of cities and towns have made their data publicly accessible, said Christian Horn of GovData, a platform provided by the IT Planning Council, which government agencies can use to make their data available to the public. Only 10 of Germany’s 16 states participate in the project.

Things are also moving slowly within the federal government, even though Germany’s coalition has taken up the cause. The Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which is affiliated with the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has come out with a study that puts Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière (CDU) under pressure to act.

According to the study, the economic potential of administrative data in Germany could amount to €12-130 billion ($14-147 billion) a year, depending on how offensively lawmakers push the Open Data concept. If Germany pursued a “proactive strategy,” write the authors of the study, some 20,000 new jobs could be created.

Consulting firm Capgemini also conducted a study and reached the same conclusion. Moreover, millions of kilometers of traffic jams could be avoided through better control of the flow of traffic. The foundation has called upon the government to make the issue a priority, one that even deserves the attention of Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and the Chancellery staff.

“The exchange of information will become easier and faster, making better decisions possible.”

Thomas Jarzombek, CDU politician

Germany’s results are moderate on an international scale. According to the Open Data Barometer, a ranking by the non-profit Web Foundation, Germany is in tenth place among the 86 countries studied. The latest version of the barometer will be released on Thursday.

First place goes to Great Britain, where Prime Minister David Cameron is promoting the Open Data project. The United States ranks second, followed Sweden and France in third and fourth place. Sweden, interestingly enough, has had an administrative transparency law on the books since 1776, when computers or even a networked world were on nobody’s minds. The French have enacted a new administrative data transparency law intended to provide an impetus for the business community.

The European Commission is promoting Open Data to increase “the significant potential for new products and services.” The German government emphasizes greater transparency of public activities and more citizen involvement, followed by potential for the economy. Members of the German parliament, the Bundestag, with a focus on digitalization are calling on their fellow lawmakers in all parties to push for progress on the issue.

“The government must systematically open its data inventories as a standard procedure, and to that end we need an Open Data law,” said CDU politician Thomas Jarzombek. The administration also benefits from more data transparency, he added. “The exchange of information will become easier and faster, making better decisions possible.”

Green Party politician Konstantin von Notz sees an Open Data law as an important step “to increase the transparency and legitimization of political decisions, as well as to make it possible to utilize the potential of open data.”

“Government knowledge must be made available on a central platform in the form of machine-readable data,” said Lars Klingbeil, a lawmaker with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD). It would be “an economic stimulus program for innovative digital business models.” Of course, he added, personal data would not be included. Lawmakers have already agreed on the outlines of the new law, “but unfortunately the interior minister is holding things up.”

In fact, the government’s National Action Plan expired at the end of 2015. A continuation of the plan is “intended,” as a spokesman for the Interior Ministry explained. “No further legal provisions” are planned, he added, as it is already possible today to make data available to the public. Implementation is “a process” that will require, most of all, a “cultural shift” in public administration.

There is also pressure coming from Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD), who campaigned for Open Data at a special conference this week. “Open Data carries enormous potential for business, consumers and the administration,” said State Secretary Brigitte Zypries. Open Data, she added, allows for more intelligent decisions, more efficient products and services, and the avoidance of unnecessary costs and risks. “We at the Economy Ministry want to expedite this, and we want to see a continuation of the Open Data National Action Plan.”

But that decision remains in the interior minister’s court.


Daniel Delhaes reports on politics, transport and airlines from Handelsblatt’s Berlin office. Dana Heide is a correspondent for Handelsblatt in Berlin, focusing on energy policies, small and medium-sized companies and innovation. Till Hoppe is Handelsblatt’s foreign policy correspondent in Berlin. To contact the authors:, and



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