With the advent of
the Internet, low-priced computing devices, and the increasing availability of broadband access in
offices and households in the late 1990s, governments all over the world started to discuss how to harness information and communication technology (ICT) to enhance governmental operations and transform public
services, and thus their relationship to citizens and businesses. Emulating the preceding radical revolution in banking and commerce, which led to an ‘e-everything’ phenomenon across all sectors of the
economy (Cronin 2000), the new catchword ‘e-government’ emerged at the turn of the millennium to characterize the onset of digitalizing governments, as well as to describe a new mindset of technology-inspired, forward-looking, and entrepreneurial
At about this time, the European Commission (EC) set out the Lisbon Strategy 2000—later succeeded by the Europe 2020 strategy in 2010—which formulated the first strategic
objectives related to the use of innovation in general and ICT in particular for boosting economic progress throughout Europe. This strategic memorandum also paved the way for more detailed e-government action plans—known under different designations over the years, such as the eEurope (Europe Commission 2001), i2010 (Europe Commission 2006), or simply the e-government action plan—the first of which was published only a year later (see Fig. 10.1).
Though not a member of the European Union (EU), the Swiss government’s strategic
objectives related to e-government have been very much aligned with the EC’s strategy. As it was confronted with rapid technological and societal changes at the end of the millennium, the
Swiss Federal Council launched a working group in 1997. The
goal was to devise a strategic plan and establish
priorities with respect to the emerging
information society, as well as reallocate the responsibilities for overseeing and
coordinating ICT efforts at the federal level.
Based on these working group discussions, the
Federal Council mandated a complete reorganization of federal ICT efforts, which led to establishing a new federal steering unit (FITSU)Footnote 1 in 1999. It was responsible for overall ICT program management, and a first federal ICT strategy was set out in 2000. This strategy included preparing two ‘lighthouse’ projects, an online platform for citizens and businesses known as a ‘virtual counter’, which went live in 2005,Footnote 2 and a multi-site ‘e-voting’ project. The latter was set up in 2003 in the
cantons of Geneva, Neuchâtel, and Zurich to experiment and obtain experience with
electronic voting systems, though access to it was limited to Swiss expatriates.
FITSU launched two additional
initiatives in 2002. The first was meant to increase interoperability and foster collaboration between the
Confederation, the cantons, and the
communities. To this end, the non-profit eCH associationFootnote 3 was founded. Consisting of volunteers from all levels of
government, industry, and academia, organized in dedicated chapters or sections, and run on a militia basis—a principle and notion firmly rooted in Swiss identity and mentality—eCH defines technical and non-technical standards and promulgates exemplary process models as well as data to make the
implementation of e-government
services easier. The second, the eVanti project (Didisheim and Belle 2004) (from the Italian word “avanti”, meaning “forward”) sought to create a common platform for information exchange between stakeholders, to increase the visibility of successful e-government projects, and to measure how far along existing digital
services were. This effort bore some similarity to the Good practice framework for e-government (European Commission 2007) established in 2002 by the EC.
Despite these early efforts and an above-average broadband Internet availability, Switzerland ranked at the bottom of the list of countries assessed in the 2005 EU e-government benchmark. This low
ranking led to a reconsideration of strategic
objectives several years later and led to crafting a new E-government Strategy Switzerland 2007–2015. This strategy had three
goals: first, the most important administrative procedures between businesses and the authorities henceforth should be conducted electronically; second, frequent or complex administrative procedures between citizens and the authorities should be digitalized as well; and lastly, all governmental authorities should modernize their business processes and deal with each other using contemporary electronic channels. To advance the last of these, the Federal Council created a framework agreement on e-government cooperation in 2008
(Federal Council 2007), which clarified the financing, organization, tasks, and responsibilities of the different bodies within the Swiss e-government ecosystem.
While the Swiss authorities at the end of the decade were still occupied with projects such as GEschäftsVERwaltung (GEVER),Footnote 4 meant to re-engineer internal processes and managing the transition from paper-based to
electronic styles of working, the EU e-government
community—inspired by the targets defined at the Malmö Ministerial Declaration of 2009—had shifted its focus toward a more citizen-centered design, production, and delivery of online services. Accordingly, the EU e-Government Action Plan (2011–2015) (European Commission 2010) emphasized the increased mobility of citizens and their need for empowerment. For instance, the accessibility of public information could be improved by establishing a more user-friendly
service delivery through social networking and collaborative tools. Open standards and a service-orientation could further improve the interoperability of existing
services and initiate deliberations about the necessary legal and technical preconditions for cross-border services.
Yet because the country neglected to emphasize the central place of the citizen, along with the inward-looking orientation of Swiss governmental authorities, the Swiss e-government
community was dealt a fresh shock in 2009, when Switzerland was again ranked at the bottom end in the EU e-government benchmark.