May 14, 2012 By Sarah Rich
Starting a new business often requires filling out a series of forms, which can be a cumbersome task if it involves going through multiple channels to collect the necessary paperwork. To streamline the process, Kansas and its vendor partner developed a website that puts the necessary resources in one spot for potential business owners.
According to officials, the website has potential to someday provide the state with a “single sign-on” capability, minimizing the number of times a user must provide certain information.
The website, Kansas Business Center launched in 2009, but last month the site was linked to Kansas.gov (developed through a partnership with NIC USA). The one-stop website is intended for individuals who are looking to find and complete the paperwork required by the state for starting a new business. Contributions to the site’s development came from 11 state agencies and partners.
Depending on the type of business, individuals must submit an array of registration forms, permits and license applications — seeking those documents from various state agencies. For opening restaurants, the state requires submission of information to a total of 11 state entities, said Jim Hollingsworth, executive director of Information Network of Kansas.
Hollingsworth said before the business one-stop, the necessary channels for the paperwork were very siloed. Often individuals would start the process and leave it incomplete without realizing it. Entities looking to start a restaurant, in the past, had to go through the Secretary of State to register the name of the restaurant, and had to go through the Department of Revenue to get tax registration, among other steps.
“There was no communication to the other agencies,” Hollingsworth said. “Like the Department of Agriculture, who is responsible for the inspection.”
In addition to pooling resources into a single location, Kansas Business Center provides assistance to anyone who may have questions about the process and requirements. The queries can be sent to referral coordinators through the site’s various communication channels. The referral coordinators respond to emails, phone calls and instant messages — two-thirds of which are early stage and seeking registrations, licenses and permitting questions in the system.
The referral help system, called NetWork Kansas, provides free live chat capability through the Kansas Business Center, which helps individuals starting up businesses with a more successful launch, said Erik Pedersen, associate director of NetWork Kansas.
According to Shane Myers, the general manager of Kansas.gov, NetWork Kansas coordinators have conducted more than 4,200 phone calls and more than 750 online chats since the site’s launch in 2009.
While users currently still have to reach out to the different agencies separately to complete their necessary paperwork, Hollingsworth said he state is hoping in the future to develop a more “enterprise approach” on the site for helping users start a business.
The state would like to create a single process involving all 11 agencies in the collaboration, starting with a front-end interview process that would initially ask the individual what type of business he or she would like to open, Hollingsworth said. From there, the system would determine which forms would be required for that type of business and prompt the user with the paperwork needed to get started.
Through a centralized profile, the site could populate the agencies back in from the single profile — much like a single sign-on — so that users wouldn’t have to fill out their same information multiple times. Because many applicants receive assistance from certified public accountants to fill out their forms, the state would like to provide a dashboard for those accountants.
Making the centralized profile a reality will be somewhat challenging, Hollingsworth said, due to complexities that come with coordinating so many different agencies.
But as the sluggish economy continues to affect the Kansas job market, Hollingsworth said the site is seeing more usage — and demand for centralized profiles.
“There’s a tremendous amount of heavy lifting in front of us for being able to integrate these back-end systems that were developed on their own,” Hollingsworth said. “So it’s a lot of work ahead of us.”
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