Simply seamless: business projects aim to cut down on clutter

It’s an old story in small business circles.

Someone is, say, wielding a paintbrush, getting ready to open a small business on Main Street, when someone else walks up and says: “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

So the would-be entrepreneur puts down his paintbrush and answers that person’s questions. Then someone else comes in with the same message: “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

Then there’s a third. And a fourth. They keep coming in, for days and weeks, up to 80 of them, asking for the same information. So: If you were that hopeful businessperson, would you conclude that they were actually helping?

That, in any event, is the burden that governments are widely held to have imposed on the small businesses they are trying to serve. Meeting government requirements to start a new business is a time-consuming, confusing and inefficient process that often results in duplicating steps for business owners.

And it gets worse, of course, because government regulators do not typically walk in and announce themselves. In many cases, business owners get into trouble, or incur unplanned costs because they’re unaware of regulations, or information sources about them. They don’t know what they don’t know. Now, however, an innovative project carried out by a team from three levels of government has successfully tested a new methodology that promises to help streamline government services to business. There are actually two projects; one has led to the other.

They were both described at a session of this year’s Lac Carling Congress by an enthusiastic team from Industry Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Consumer and Business Services and the Regional Municipality of Halton, Ont. The team came together in mid-2003 at the instigation of Industry Canada, with funding from Treasury Board.

That followed significant work by the Ontario Ministry of Consumer and Business Services, the Canada-Ontario Business Service Centre and Industry Canada to align their respective service-to-business visions and develop common information management standards, which had been presented to Lac Carling 2003. The team began gathering data in the fall of 2003 for what they called the Inter-Jurisdictional Service Mapping Project. The intention was to identify, as a test case, all the licensing and approvals that were required of someone opening a small restaurant in Halton Region.

The restaurant was assumed to be downtown in one of the four urban municipalities within Halton, just west of Toronto: Oakville, Burlington, Halton Hills and Milton.

When the analysis of the service-mapping project was completed at the end of the first quarter of this year, the project team members were dismayed by the results. “Let me paint you a scenario,” Debbie Farr, director of the Integrated Service Delivery Division of the Ministry of Consumer and Business Services, told the Lac Carling audience.

“You are a small entrepreneur. You’ve got a tiny restaurant, a lunch counter. Sitting beside the lunch counter you have the capability for someone to buy a lottery ticket, or cigarettes. You have a liquor licence. “You could have up to 80 licences and permits that you are required to have from the municipal, provincial and federal jurisdictions. Isn’t that a scary thought?” The thought becomes much scarier when multiplied on a national scale. Elise Boisjoly, director-general, government online for Industry Canada, pointed out that approximately 3,400 programs provide regulatory or advisory services to business involving the federal and Ontario governments alone.

“So we can understand why businesses are lost, and having seamless access is extremely important,” Boisjoly said.

The Inter-Jurisdictional Service Mapping Project began to point the way toward seamlessness by applying a methodology called BTEP (Business Transformation Enablement Program) to map the restaurant permits and licences required in Halton Region. The BTEP methodology standardizes the mapping of services, providers and clients across different jurisdictions. It is administered by Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, Chief Information Officer Branch, as a major means of enabling and aligning business transformation initiatives.

BTEP is based on the Zachman Framework for Enterprise Architecture. It provides methods and best practices for business problem assessments, visions, strategies, designs, business cases and plans. The intention, over time, is to customize information and services directly relevant to the business client’s situation through a Web-based service wizard, so the client can identify and manage his or her own relationship with government. The first step in the methodology is to understand which government services affect the client so they can be bundled in a user-friendly way. Being able to map services across jurisdictions in a standard form is critical to achieving efficient service delivery.

As Farr put it, “You cannot put bundles together, you cannot have an appropriate service wizard, if you don’t know what you are offering to clients already, if you don’t know what the landscape is between government and business.” Now that the landscape has been partly mapped in Halton Region, with alignment opportunities identified, the BTEP methodology will be applied on a broader scale in a project called BizPaL (Business Permits and Licences). BizPaL will map the permits and licences required in several business sectors, in three different parts of Canada.

Each project site will involve two jurisdictions, plus the federal government: Halton and Ontario, Kamloops and British Columbia, and Whitehorse and Yukon.

Teams at the three project sites are planning their processes jointly, but each will examine business sectors according to regional priorities. In the Ontario case, the sectors to be mapped, in addition to restaurants, will be construction, day care, bed and breakfast accommodation and transportation. BizPaL is to yield service maps for permits and licences in the three provinces by the end of August.

Meanwhile, the technology experts on the project, including Ralph Blauel, director of technology services for Halton Region, are working to design the service wizard. Blauel said the team plans to issue a request for proposals for a private sector company to build a wizard by the end of 2004 so it can be used by the public at the test sites. “The wizard will be a Web service using XML that links into a participant’s Web site, to lead an entrepreneur through a set of questions, and at the end tell what licences he or she needs, where to get them and how long it takes.”

The team intends to report its progress at Lac Carling 2005. By then, there may be slightly fewer business owners who don’t know what they don’t know about government services.

Lawrence Moule ([email protected]) is co-editor of Municipal Interface, the national professional journal of the Municipal Information Systems Association.

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