In the digitalized knowledge society, e-government is part of the critical infrastructure that helps to determine a country’s prosperity. As the complexity of the division of labor increases in the economy, the efficient handling of administrative formalities is a competitive advantage. The more easily administrative tasks can be performed, the more resources remain for productive uses. The main goal of the administration should therefore be to reduce the transaction costs for the various economic players. Digitization provides the basic tools for increasing efficiency and reorganizing administrative processes.

No “Swiss finish” in Sight – for Now

Switzerland has considerable potential to catch up in electronic administration. According to the World Bank’s” Ease of Doing Business Index“, which compares the hurdles to doing business in various countries, Switzerland does not rank first, despite its high level of innovation and economic performance. Other international comparative studies on e-government confirm the picture.

Everyone has their own little garden – even in e-government: allotment garden colony in Zurich. (Wikimedia Commons)

That is surprising, because Switzerland could have it all: Its infrastructure is excellent, and its citizens’ trust in institutions and satisfaction with the public administrative are relatively high. But such general contentment may have lulled politicians and administrators into inaction.

Admittedly, Switzerland’s federal structure sometimes makes it difficult to introduce digital services nationwide. Swiss cantons and municipalities enjoy immense freedom regarding infrastructure. The often cited “subsidiarity principle“ even promotes individual solutions. When it comes to rolling out digital services, this can seriously limit scalability and keep marginal costs relatively high. To put it bluntly: for the time being, each regional authority is pushing ahead with its own e-government projects – or not at all.

Common Standards are Needed

But the 26 different “experimental laboratories” of Switzerland’s cantons could well end up promoting innovation by allowing different approaches, sharing the most promising concepts and stimulating benchmarking, best practice and, very importantly, cooperation across different levels of government.

However, cooperation and common IT solutions can only work effectively if common standards and interfaces are created and respected – despite federalism. This includes, for example, the basic element of electronic identity. Here, the SwissSignschnell consortium should ensure greater penetration and a wider application range.