They are underfunded and understaffed. When it comes to state government, they get no respect. They are the agencies and boards that process licenses for beauticians, doctors, teachers, nurses, barbers and dozens of other professions regulated by state government.

In Florida, nearly 900,000 professionals and businesses must register, renew and pay for a variety of licenses at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation every year. Its a time-consuming task for both professional and state worker that can take weeks to produce a single license. A simple query by a caller can result in multiple phone transfers before he or she gets an answer. By anyones standards, its a bureaucracy ripe for automation and change.

And thats just whats happening as the department overhauls its entire business process and brings it into the Internet Age. Starting this fall, the first of 150 different licenses and permits will move online where licensees will be able to apply for, pay for and receive a license, as well as take advantage of a host of other services. Instead of waiting weeks for a license, they will receive them as soon as the transaction is completed, day or night. A dedicated call center will field all questions and customer relationship management software will provide aid to those who need help while online.

"Were in the business of regulating professions in the state of Florida, and we need to be more professional than anybody we regulate," said department Secretary Kim Binkley-Seyer, as she explained why the department was undertaking such a mammoth transformation. "Its a big customer-service project and were just doing what the private sector did a long time ago."

Faster Licenses, Less Paper

Florida joins a growing number of states that have decided to overhaul their entire licensing system to take advantage of a range of new technologies. The payoff can be huge in terms of customer service, if not productivity. Most professional licensing applications take weeks to complete and involve a lot of documentation. If done correctly, e-licensing not only gives professionals a faster and easier way to apply and pay for a license, but it streamlines the backend process so that paper handling can be reduced while workflow improvements enhance productivity.

In Florida, workers will also spend less time answering routine questions. All incoming calls will be directed to a dedicated call center where trained operators will handle the majority of queries. This frees up the departments limited staff to focus on priority tasks. "The system helps us to dedicate our resources to our core mission, which is improved and increased inspection and auditing compliance," said Binkley-Seyer.

Accenture is developing Floridas $16 million system, which will use BellSouths eCenter hosting and call-center services for phone queries. The e-licensing system will run on a Microsoft platform and will use Versa Management Systems LicenseEase licensing and permitting software, as well as business application software from Siebel Systems. Online payment services will enable the state to speed up collection of the $75 million in annual fees it collects for professional and business licenses.

Across the country in California, a relatively new e-licensing system for registered nurses has racked up kudos for customer service since its launch in January. One of the first transactional services to show up on the states revamped "My California" portal, the Online Professional Licensing Project has had limited exposure so far, but has registered a 95 percent approval rating among users, according to Susan Hogg, office chief for Californias eBusiness Center.

"Weve had nurses write and tell us they used to fly to Sacramento to renew their licenses and now they can do the same online from home," Hogg said.

Although those extreme cases are rare, most of the 286,000 nurses in the state will find the system extremely beneficial as word about its

Tod Newcombe  |  Features Editor