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  • How Maryland built a one-stop business registration solution

    By Janet Grard |

    Government agencies increasingly are looking for ways to create streamlined, more citizen-focused digital government. One way to achieve this goal is to get multiple agencies that serve the same constituent base around a table to agree on how consolidating certain services could better meet customers’ needs and expectations.

    Maryland, under Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration, follows this practice, and the results provide a best-practice example the federal government can emulate. By encouraging multiagency collaboration, the state:

    • Increased online service adoption.
    • Strengthened its economy by simplifying the process of starting and growing a business.
    • Created end-user efficiencies and slashed processing times.
    • Supported the administration’s goal of making business-to-government interactions easier.


     Toppling traditional silos 

    While Maryland had always encouraged startups, the business registration process was difficult and frustrating. Business owners had to spend precious hours going from state agency to state agency filling out forms -- sometimes submitting the same information to another department -- and ultimately waiting up to 10 weeks to receive their final registration documents.

    Supported by the Department of Information Technology, the departments of Assessments and Taxation, Commerce, Labor Licensing and Regulation, along with the Comptroller of Maryland, held a series of meetings to discuss ways to streamline the processes new business owners were required to complete in order to conduct business in the state. The agencies recognized overlaps in their procedures, realizing it could take months -- even up to a year -- to start a business.

    Because domestic LLCs and corporate new business entities had the most filings, the agencies decided to streamline these business registrations first. Sole proprietors and general partnerships that needed a quick way to file charter documents also were primary targets. The agencies agreed to combine their new business registration processes into a one-stop portal.

    Several best practices led to a successful launch of the new online portal in approximately six months:

    Define success first. Have a vision for what the project should accomplish and engage responsible partners to help achieve those goals.

    Make it citizen-centric. Focus on serving the customer well and all else will fall into place.

    Lean on support from the top. Support from the highest levels of the administration can help overcome big hurdles, such as the cultural resistance that often accompanies change.

    Get a little help from your friends. When approaching a project with this broad a scope, it may help to rely on assistance from a private-sector digital government provider. Through a variety of funding and partnership options, government can have a one-stop business portal developed without incurring any upfront costs.

    Eat the elephant a bite at a time. Setting several smaller milestones can be more achievable than chasing after one gigantic goal. Deciding to tackle business registration first, with the goal of adding new functionalities each quarter after that, helped keep the initiative on track.

    Go mobile. Acknowledging the growing number of people who prefer to interact with government via their smartphones or tablets, make processes accessible from mobile devices as well as on desktops or laptops.


    One seamless experience 

    Branded “Maryland Business Express,” the online portal condenses business registration processes into a single, online sign-on with four simple steps.

    Today, business owners enter universal business data about their companies only once, and the data automatically populates across all other agency forms that require the same information. From this single portal, an entrepreneur can register a business, quickly search for and register trade names and establish tax accounts.

    Marketing the new business one-stop service included direct mail pieces in personal property tax notices sent to existing businesses, and, to alert new businesses, presentations were delivered to numerous business groups. In addition, a social media campaign was launched, and a partnership with the Small Business Administration was established through the Department of Commerce.


    Creating a fan base

    The award-winning portal cut business registration processing time from 10 weeks to one day and developed a large following:

    • Overall, online business filings increased from 17 percent in 2013 to 52 percent as of June 30, 2016, representing a significant year-over-year increase.
    • Now more than half (52 percent) of businesses that register with the state of Maryland do so online. More than 70 percent of sole proprietors file online.
    • The convenience of 24/7 accessibility appeals to business owners. Nearly 40 percent of filings occur outside of normal business hours.
    • Even with the small screens of mobile devices, 15 percent of all portal users register their businesses via a mobile device.
    • Ninety-seven percent of Business Express customers say they would recommend the service to other Maryland business owners.

    Maryland’s success isn’t an isolated case. The process and technology used to help us operate more efficiently across multiple departments is highly adaptable to the federal level, and offers a proven solution to better serve tax-paying constituents.

    Content was originally published in Government Computer News. 

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