Christian Bemmerl is a digital transformation officer at byte – the Bavarian Agency for Digital Affairs – where he is responsible for setting up the Bavarian Open Data portal.

Open Data portals serve municipalities to publish data – and thus on the one hand to comply with legal obligations, and on the other hand to make the data available for various uses in the local contexts. Over the last few months, byte – Bayrische Agentur für Digitales has developed an Open Data portal for the Free State of Bavaria in collaboration with the Bavarian State Ministry of Digital Affairs, Fraunhofer FOKUS and DKSR, which is now available to all cities and municipalities in Bavaria to make their data available. How do municipalities benefit when they use the state portal? How did the development process work? And how exactly can the data ultimately be used in very real urban and municipal design? Dr. Christian Bemmerl, Digital Transformation Officer at byte, talked about this with DKSR Communications Manager Anne-Marie Pellegrin.

Hi Christian, nice to have you here! Please introduce yourself briefly: What do you do at byte – and how did you get involved?

In terms of my education, I’m more of an exotic. Originally, I studied theology and did my doctorate there. But I have always been an IT nerd: Before joining byte, I worked for an IT service provider for the German Chambers of Crafts. I became aware of byte itself through the activities of Bavarian Digital Minister Judith Gerlach on Instagram. I’m now the project manager for open data here and was able to help build up the team within this framework. I’m very happy to be able to work on open data with such great people – it’s really fun.

With the portal for Bavaria, you’re definitely bringing a lot of momentum to the topic of open data. And rightly so – after all, open data can be used for a variety of purposes and applications. Can you tell us a bit about what these are?

A single answer to this question is difficult, because many different use cases can be developed from many different data. Publishing through the Open Data platform is primarily for use by expert audiences such as academia, the media, or businesses. For use by municipalities themselves, there are some use cases that work well: existing apps such as tourism apps, through which open data can be used to query bicycle routes, for example. If tourism offerings are improved in this way, hotels or restaurants can reap economic benefits. Another example is digital applications that use data from tree registers to show citizens where trees need to be watered and thus actively involve citizens in urban maintenance. Satellite data on drought, for example, can also help municipalities understand issues and make better decisions or measures for environmental protection.

What data could add the most value through the data portal?

We are happy about any data set we can connect! The economic added value or impact of certain data is usually not exactly predictable. However, the reusability of data, i.e. the use of the same data sets for different applications, plays a major role. This is the case, for example, with geodata that can be used for navigation systems or city maps. It is particularly important to us to be able to offer data of a high quality. This includes compliance with metadata standards: This means that uploaded data sets are well described with information, the metadata, in order to be quickly findable and assignable. For now, we want to focus on getting this right – so that the data is reliable and easy to use.

How did the development of the portal proceed? Were there any stumbling blocks that you encountered yourselves?

A Bavarian data portal has to be there for different users. This ranges from municipalities to ministries and downstream authorities to research and industry. That’s why we first analyzed the situation in Bavaria: What already exists? In which directions can we go and pick up as many people as possible in order to make the whole thing fit for the future? To this end, we also set up a team from the outset that can advise on how to deal with the topic of open data in a sustainable manner. Other topics were the possibility of long-term expansion and scalability. We were very pleased to see that the whole thing worked out so quickly – even if we sometimes had to adjust the direction a bit in between.

Was there anything about the collaboration with Fraunhofer FOKUS and DKSR that you particularly liked?

The fact that we all pulled together. We determined together that we would work in a very user-centric way to ensure the usability of the solution in the end, while bringing all the ideas together well. It was an agile team of client and service provider focused on making the plans a reality.

Where do you see the biggest challenges in using the portal as a municipality?

One challenge so far has been having to launch our own portal as a municipality: We are now countering this with the Bavarian data portal. Apart from that, there are always hurdles to getting started in a subject that you have had little to do with up to now. After all, there are no positions in municipalities for open data, as there are for data protection, for example. One challenge for data publication in this context is also to establish communication between municipalities and service providers – on the one hand, with regard to the technology, and on the other, with regard to a common basic understanding of open data. There are often also reservations, for example with regard to data protection – but this is usually not a problem at all, since open data does not involve personal or business-related data. For publication, different departments with different knowledge have to be involved and picked up: This requires communication and organization.

Where do we go from here?

For byte and the Bavarian Digital Ministry as project partners, the focus is on user-friendliness and human-centeredness. That’s why we will continue to develop the front end so that the portal is simple, trustworthy and connected. The interface should ensure that any user interested in open data feels comfortable there and can quickly find the data they need on a particular topic – and perhaps even more than they were looking for. The goal is also to bring the portal to the wider community.

In order to create a central point of contact for open data in Bavaria, the digital plan provides for the establishment of an open data platform as well as an open data office. In this context, too, we will be there as a partner for municipalities when it comes to getting started in the topic and getting help for it.

Is there any advice you can give municipalities for publishing data and using the Bavarian Open Data Portal?

You don’t have to have a master plan to get started: It’s enough to get access to the portal first. You can start with a single dataset and learn a lot from it, working with experts like the geodata team. The technology is usually not the problem. To get started in the world of Open Data, it helps to exchange ideas with others and get closer to the topic. In the area of Open Data, there are many groups and events that can provide support. It should first be worked out what the exact actual need is, then a solution can be worked out step by step. It is definitely worth taking the path toward open data with courage and thus creating added value for everyone.

Thank you very much for the nice conversation!

States, cities and municipalities can use the data management system piveau in cooperation with DKSR to set up their own data portals and publish data in accordance with legal obligations – more about this on our website. Using open data creates numerous opportunities to make cities and communities more citizen-centric and sustainable.

Learn more about the potential added value of data in your municipality in a joint workshop with us – or contact us directly for a no-obligation discussion to find out how we can help you use data!