Getting answers about professional licensing in Florida used to be a game of chance. Odds were 3-1 no one would answer when you called the state's Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR). Even when connected with the department, callers often discovered they dialed the wrong division. After several transfers to reach the right office, chances were slim they would receive needed information right away.

"People would ask a simple question, and employees would have to go to five different places to try to piece together the answer," said Kim Binkley-Seyer, Florida's secretary of business and professional regulation.

The department stored licensing data in 74 separate computer systems, some 20 years old, none of which linked together. This fragmentation spawned a customer-service nightmare; it was no dream for internal operations either.

If applications for certain licenses suddenly spiked, for example, the department had no idea. "When you're operating in that manner, you don't have the management tools to respond to how times are changing or how volumes might be changing," Binkley-Seyer observed.

Today, the DBPR acts as a single organization. It is backed by an enterprise-wide information system that handles all license-related transactions. This change enables the department to better manage its business and enforce its regulations. The new system saves money for the DBPR and serves licensees more efficiently with Web and phone-based services. It also helps consumers make informed decisions when hiring contractors or purchasing other licensed services.

Solutions, Not Specs

When the DBPR set out to build a new licensing system, it didn't simply offer bidders a list of specifications. "We went out looking for a solution," asking vendors to propose how to meet the needs of all department business areas, Binkley-Seyer said. There was one firm requirement: The solution must employ the LicenseEase software package from Versa Systems already in use in Florida's Department of Health. "We were doing this to lay an enterprise approach for state government," with an eye toward supporting a variety of functions on a common platform, Binkley-Seyer said.

In February 2001, the DBPR awarded a contract to Accenture in Reston, Va. The agreement included $16 million to design and build a single, statewide licensing system, and $14 million for application hosting services and system support. A benefit sharing plan linking a portion of Accenture's revenues to the savings the system yields for the state, was also included.

To ensure the new system pleased all stakeholders, the project team included all DBPR divisions in its work. "We got them involved early in the project, kept them involved throughout the design and development, and made sure their specifics were being addressed," said Steven Mankoff, Accenture's engagement partner in charge of the Florida project.

But meeting each division's business needs didn't necessarily mean preserving traditional practices, Binkley-Seyer said. "It doesn't matter where we were. Where do we need to be? What information do we really need to be capturing, and how do we really need to use that information?" she said.

Rethinking the Organization

Beyond building a new information system, Accenture worked with the DBPR to redesign the organization's business processes. Previously, each division administered its own license applications. Now a Central Intake Unit handles the vast majority, Mankoff said.

"In the past, if I wanted to apply for a real estate license as well as a construction license, I'd have to do two applications," Mankoff said. "Now, I can do both together, and I can deal with the same people."

The DBPR also revamped its inspection procedures. Instead of sending one inspector from the Division of Hotels and Restaurants to a hotel, and sending a second from the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco, it now sends one person to collect information for both divisions.

Merrill Douglas  |  Contributing Writer