Verksamt.se - Swedish Business Link to Government (Verksamt)

Verksamt.se - the Swedish Business Link to Government
Verksamt.se, the Swedish Business Link to Government, provides a comprehensive single-point for entrepreneurs and enterprises to access relevant and official e-services and information from the three public authorities - the Swedish Companies Registration Office (Bolagsverket), the Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket) and the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth (Tillväxtverket). The contents not only from the three partners but from many relevant official sources, around 70 Swedish public authorities, are available and presented in a user centric way.

This initiative takes the service for entrepreneurs and enterprises to a new and higher level as it develops, improves, joins and replaces two existing e-services; Företagarguiden and foretagsregistrering.se. Verksamt.se joins the guidance- and information parts with the e-services for filing and registration procedures for company registration and tax registrations. And it introduces a new tool to create a business plan, were information can be transferred and re-used in other e-services.

By developing the portal from the users' perspective through mapping the processes of starting and running a business and using focus groups verksamt.se simplifies the processes of starting-up and running a business by providing new tools and relevant information in a structured, easy to use and easy to access way. The evaluation of the benefits has been done carefully. Regardless of this the evaluation shows that the investment with a very good margin is profitable.

Verksamt.se is part of a unique collaboration initiative among public authorities in Sweden which consists of a broader and channel independent scope for better information and services to entrepreneurs and enterprises.

Lack of information wasn't the problem before verksamt.se; the problem lay in the lack of structured, targeted and cohesive information. It was a muddle that grew every day, but through the collaboration between the government authorities a new clear path is in place.

 Impact

  • New federated architecture paves way for further joint e-services.
  • A massive user base as already - up to 40 % of the target group uses the e-services for registration - and soon to be 50-60%
  • An effective common tool in place for civil servants, business advisers and other helping entrepreneurs in 200 new local service offices and elsewhere.
  • Verksamt.se increases the effectiveness and cost savings of civil service.
  • Verksamt.se results in Swedish entrepreneurs being winners both in their capacity as entrepreneurs and as citizens (tax payers).

 Lessons learnt

  • Involvement of many partners is both inspiring and fun, even though sometimes difficult but necessary for the end result.
  • User-centric development needs capacity to handle and find out also the unknown needs of the users.
  • Communication can never be underestimated.

Policy Context

The main contexts for this case are commercial policy and streamlining of public authorities in the sense of simplifying procedures and providing better access to official information and services for businesses. The political core objectives for these policies are economic growth and better entrepreneurial climate. Verksamt.se operates directly towards these objectives.

The six largest public authorities in Sweden that businesses have contact with have agreed on a strategy for collaboration towards a vision saying that "entrepreneurs shall experience that our information and our services are easy to access and easy to understand". Verksamt.se is the main activity in the eGovernment area within this strategy and vision.

Verksamt.se is also an activity within the strategic framework of the Swedish government's action plan for eGovernment (handlingplan för eFörvaltning). It also falls back on earlier national strategies for e-services and whole-of-government initiatives.

In the European context, verksamt.se has a part in the Swedish implementation of the Services Directive as an information source and eventually an operative place for the Point of Single Contact. The European Charter for Small Enterprises also contains important policy frameworks which verksamt.se operates within. Verksamt.se also plays a role in EU and national policy to reduce administrative burdens for enterprises.

The Swedish Government has launched a new service, Nystartskontor (Start-up offices), to offer individuals tailor-made guidance in order to improve chances to earn own´s living, mainly starting and running a business. Focus is on support to start and run a business, but the Start-up office can also help with coaching, finding educations. Special attention is given to individuals who are long term unemployed or due to disability or other reasons, are excluded from the labour market. This service will be available in more than 200 Service Offices, which are run jointly by the Swedish Public Employment Service, the Social Insurance Agency and the Swedish Tax Agency. Verksamt.se is an important resource and facilitator for this new service.

But the foremost context for verksamt.se is its users; the entrepreneurs, the businesses. The service is developed for them and it is their needs that verksamt.se fulfills.

Description of target users and groups

The scope of verksamt.se is to be the Business Link to Swedish Government. This implies the target group to be enterprises in Sweden or people considering to start-up a business. Around 50 000 new enterprises are started in Sweden every year and the stock is around 900 000. The focus of services provided within verksamt.se is on small and medium sized enterprises, which is the vast majority of enterprises. Their need varies, but easy access to relevant information and efficient e-services are a shared need. A need that verksamt.se addresses and solves.

For communication and dissemination purposes we have distinguish these three target groups:

  • People who are or will be entrepreneurs.
  • Authorities, municipalities and other bodies who want to be cooperation partners in verksamt.se.
  • Other main figures and organisations that provide information and service to people who already are or will be entrepreneurs, i.e. intermediaries.

Through our other collaboration activates, such as the Starting up a Business Days, we have direct and useful communication channels both for collecting needs and dissemination of information.

A special target group is civil servants at around 200 service points all over Sweden who have direct contact with entrepreneurs. They are able to use the check-list tool and the e-service business plan together with their client.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

The project is run together by three public authorities; the Swedish Companies Registration Office (Bolagsverket), the Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket) and the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth (Tillväxtverket). They are basically equally funding the work. Verksamt.se has also been supported by the Swedish Agency for Innovation Systems (Vinnova), through the programme "Innovative development of cross-boundary public e-services" within the Growth Area E-services in public administration. In total about 60 persons from the three authorities work in the project and many different competences have to meet and understand each other. In addition to this there are different cultures and ways of working at the three public authorities. It has, therefore, been a great challenge to get everyone to work towards the same goal in an effective way. Yet the result pays off, see a presentation of the functions of the website verksamt.se in the provided additional document "1_Verksamt_Demonstration.pdf".

We began the project with a pre-study where we jointly put together different basic data (process mapping, juridical analysis, analysis of how we can contribute to the starting of more businesses, utilitarian evaluation and coverage of the surrounding world) that has worked as a common basis of knowledge for the project. For this a variety of expertise were consulted, entrepreneurship researchers at Business Schools among others. Then by having a common target set we have built a project where the three public authorities are equally involved. The target states that it is the utility for the entrepreneur that is in focus and also a prerequisite of creating useful public authorities. All the decisions are taken in agreement by a project group formed by representatives from each public authority. To facilitate the decision making we have worked out a set of criteria that are important when it comes to prioritizing. We share a common project method and use web-based project planning tools that everyone has easy access to. The three director generals closely follows the work and have meetings 2-3 times a year.

Together with one of Sweden's foremost jurists within the IT-area we have created a joint vision on how the juridical difficulties are to be interpreted and dealt with.

A model for the jointly and continuous running and administration of verksamt.se has been developed based on research about effective commercial administrative models. During the next phase the model will be implemented and will be used when more government authorities joins in with their e-services in verksamt.se.

In the provided additional document "2_Verksamt_Description_of_activities.pdf" an outline of the project activities can bee seen. And in the also provided academic paper "3_Talking_to_entrepreneurs.pdf" a evaluation of the user-centric approach of the project is presented. The user-centric focus will go further in coming development steps. A vision and ambition for verksamt.se 2014 is under preparation and it will go further to establish the Swedish Business Link to Government.

Technology solution

The key requirement for the technical approach has been accessibility, open standards, open source initiatives and an architecture supporting federated solutions.

The requirement has been fulfilled with architecture and solutions based on open sources initiatives (ex. OS, application- and http servers, portal framework, databases, content management, communications etc.). Portal technology has enabled federated solutions; involved parts have developed different services that have been integrated to verksamt.se acting seamless to the end user. Involved parts have also been able to use centralized components as authentication, digital signing and information exchange. Portal technology has been chosen to obtain support for federated development and integration of e-services. Verksamt.se is the portal and gives guidelines and restrictions for the development of e-services. The different authorities have developed their e-services as portlets that are integrated to verksamt.se. The federated approach and use of Portal Technology have made possible to distribute the responsibility and development of services, as the services are integrated to verksamt.se the end user will have access to all services at one place in a similar matter.

In the federated approach it has been very important to make it possible for the end user to reuse information that has been entered in different e-services. In the first release of verksamt.se the end user will be able to take the business data within business planning e-service and reuse some of the content when using the other registration e-services. This concept makes it easier, faster and gives better consistency and quality to end user and receiving authorities.

The Swedish framework for eID "e-legitimation" is used for log-in, information retrieving and signing purposes.

A well established concept of My Pages is used within verksamt.se. Through this the user gets an overview of work in progress and current status of information to and from the different authorities and the e-services are presented. A central feature in verksamt.se is the possibility for users to pass-on and re-use their personal data from one e-service to another. I.e. from the tool to create a business plan to the e-services for company name and tax registrations. This is made by semantic and technical interoperability and have a large potential to be utilised further when including more e-services to the benefit of the user as he or she needs to enter information only once.

Technology choice: Standards-based technology, Mainly (or only) open standards, Accessibility-compliant (minimum WAI AA), Open source software

Main results, benefits and impacts

Information from public authorities and municipalities are dealt with decentralised within the framework of the Swedish governmental services. The entrepreneur/citizen has to turn to and interact with each responsible authority to collect information or to carry out his/her business. This is regardless of whether the entrepreneur wants to meet with an authority in person or if he/she wants to use an e-service.

The public authorities behind verksamt.se have, during the last decade, to some extent tried co-ordination and co-operation. The Swedish Companies Registration Office (Bolagsverket) and the Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket) have developed and are running foretagsregistrering.se (http://foretagsregistrering.se) where entrepreneurs can register their companies and carry out some of their business electronically. The usage of e-filed and e-signed applications to the Swedish Companies Registration Office and the Swedish Tax Agency have increased up to 40 % of all filed applications for registration.

At the website for the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth (Tillväxtverket) you can find the Entrepreneur's Guide (Företagarguiden) that guide both active entrepreneurs as well as new entrepreneurs within the areas of starting up a business, financing and development among others. The Entrepreneur's Guide was developed among a great deal of different public authorities and works well as a guide and entrance to the Swedish authorities for entrepreneurs. The Entrepreneur's Guide has developed from 150 000 unique visits in 2003 to 600 000 unique visits in 2008.

Thanks to verksamt.se the co-operating public authorities have gone the whole way and now gather information, tools and possibilities to carry out ones businesses electronically at the same website. And the benefits of this are sustainable and growing.

At the 200 new local service offices verksamt.se and its related information products now can be utilised and become widely distributed.

In a return-on-investment analysis, based on the PENG-model, of verksamt.se it is said that the gross benefit is increasing by an average on SEK 77 millions per year during the benefit period (when all beneficial effects reach 100%, in 2012, SEK 133 millions). An increase of new entrepreneurs makes up 57% of the benefits and 39% by increased benefits for society. Almost half of the benefits consist of secure benefits.

The evaluation of the benefits has been done carefully. Regardless of this the evaluation shows that the investment with a very good margin is profitable and sustainable. The analysis can be found in the document "4_ROI_PENG-analysis.pdf" and a description of the method used can be found in "5_Description_of_PENG_model.pdf".

The municipalities and other involved parties on the field get a tool box to use in the contact with their target groups. The improved national information prevents the duplication of work in unnecessary local and regional portal-projects. These arise if the national information is difficult to access or non existent.

The design of the website is new and inspiring and does not have the heavy feeling of bureaucracy otherwise associated with governmental information and services. See presentation of the website verksamt.se in the provided document "1_Verksamt_Demonstration.pdf".

Consequently verksamt.se results in Swedish entrepreneurs being winners both in their capacity as entrepreneurs and as citizens (tax payers).

Return on investment

Return on investment: Larger than €10,000,000

Track record of sharing

During the period of development many contacts and exchanges of experiences regarding verksamt.se have taken place both nationally and internationally, for example participation in conferences, formal and informal networking with other public authorities, similar projects etcetera. The exchange of experience will continue and is a very central part of building successful solutions. Through The Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems (Vinnova) many contacts and information sharing has taken place both nationally and internationally, with practitioners as well as researchers.

Among the international events verksamt.se (then with the name Mitt Företag/My Business) has been presented at an e-Government Research Network workshop in Vilnius, Lithuania, December 2007. It was an input to discussions among researchers in the eGovernment field how their result can contribute and be useful for project like verksamt.se. Sharing and learning from best practices has also taken place at the previous conferences on the European Charter for Small Enterprises, 2007 in Berlin and 2008 in Bled.

The web-site verksamt.se has been presented at a so called Jamboree for the ones responsible for the introduction of the EU Services Directive, Point of Single Contact, in November 2008. The presentation resulted in contacts with the responsible persons for the Points of Single Contact in other countries and in the exchange of experiences and result propositions. Among others the Finnish portal EnterpriseFinland.fi has developed its portal on the same platform (LifeRay) as verksamt.se. Information exchange about architecture and the Message Box-service has been done with the Dutch portal Antwoord vor Bedrijven.

The exchange of experiences has taken place nationally with for example the PRIOS-project (seven municipalities in Skåne, in the south of Sweden, that develop e-services for entrepreneurs). The contacts have led to an analysis of interested parties and discussions about the co-operation between verksamt.se and PRIOS regarding a pilot-project aiming at connecting governmental and local services for entrepreneurs on the web. Other contacts take place with the Prophet-project (the municipalities of Linköping and Norrköping), the Federation of Swedish Farmers and the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions.

During the Swedish EU Presidency we will continue to share best practices at different meetings a conferences. Among those are the next Charter conference "From the European Charter for Small Enterprises to the Small Business Act" that will take place 5-6 October 2009 in Stockholm.

References

Vilnius workshop:
http://www.egovernet.org/templates/Page.aspx?id=258

Presentation of verksamt.se at Jamboree in November 2008, se program:
http://www.jamboreepsc.eu/workshops/)#round-2_room-c

The contacts with PRIOS have gone through Kerfi AB.

Lessons learnt

Verksamt.se is a case of collaboration and share many difficulties with other collaboration projects and initiatives for example that it takes time and different communication difficulties. But the lesson is that the effort pays off - its fun, inspiring and the end result gets better by the involvement of many partners. In the case of verksamt.se the collaboration efforts are necessary for the product itself.

What might be partly unique for verksamt.se and something to learn from is that it is part of a broader collaboration initiative. A collaboration group of six public authorities has a joint strategy and a vision and has developed common information and services towards entrepreneurs and enterprises with a multi-channel approach. Verksamt.se is the e-channel part in this initiative, but the content - the information about "considering to start a business", "start a business", "run a business", "develop a business" and "wind-up a business", is based on a collaborative work between the partners and re-used in other collaborative products in other channels, such as a common brochure for start-ups.

Our experience from the user-centric development is the importance of having enough of resources and competence to interpret and analyze user needs. User needs can be spoken, unspoken or unknown, and they need to be processed and understood correctly before they can be used as basis for development. Especially the competence to find out the unspoken and unknown needs is essential to include in the project.

Another generic experience is the importance of sharing the same goal, and to be certain that the picture and the definitions are the same. The metaphor about the blind men and an elephant can be useful. They all have a completely different idea of what an elephant is depending on what part of the elephant they touch. Likewise it is easy to think that you agree or share an objective, but later you find out that you had different perceptions. To communicate and communicate again, define deeper, use process mapping, check and communicate again and again are the lesson here.

Verksamt.se has an ambitious scope and our shared knowledge of such projects is not to let the best be the enemy of good. Deliver and develop.

Stinginess, pressure of time etc. must constantly be kept under control so it does not alter the main objectives or stops you from learning from other good practices. To look around and talk with others and listen and learn now and then are well invested activities.

Some other experiences from our collaboration work are:

  • People in a joint action work should be willing to compromise and always take the enterprise's needs into account. Many decisions are taken on a more or less unconscious level from a more internal perspective.
  • Each authority has a different definition of the target groups and the terminology is not consistent. Use of language is closely related to professional identity and culture. Authorities have different roles and have developed different attitudes and approaches to new enterprises. It is time to bridge these differences.
  • The parties in a joint action project should before the development stage be in agreement about how the developed services are administrated when they are complete
  • The parties in a joint action project should be in agreement about how costs are distributed and which other resources are required in the development and administrative work, and which collaboration partner will provide these resources.
  • The people who represent the authorities in joint action programmes should have a clear mandate. Otherwise the decision-making processes become unnecessarily long and drawn out.
  • Internal support of joint action is essential. Plan at an early stage how the development work and its results should be made known and used by each organisation.
Scope: National, Pan-European
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