Author; Klare Bachman
A few years ago, former Governor Michael Leavitt challenged State agencies to offer government services 24/7. The Utah Depart- ment of Commerce, Division of Corporations and Commercial Code embraced the challenge. Along with a partnership of other government agencies, including Workforce Services, the Labor and Tax Commissions, the IRS, local business licensing bureaus, and Utah Interactive, Inc., we began work on a Web site where an applicant could accomplish business registration requirements, in a timely manner, with nearly every federal, state, and local regulatory agency.
Support for the concept was easy; meeting all the diverse needs was challenging. Some agencies collected basic public information, some collected only private information, and some collected both. Each agency had its own way of doing things. However, surprisingly enough, the partnership coalesced quickly and the project moved forward.
At first the project seemed pretty straightforward - just collect the data, share the common parts, segregate the unique parts, and seamlessly the prepared applicant should be able to start doing business. It was initially estimated that it would only take a few months to get the Web site developed and working. What a utopian idea that turned out to be! In reality, it took 18 months to accomplish the first phase. Workforce Services took the managing partner role and Utah Interactive, Inc. became the development arm of the partnership. Each partner assigned a business and technical representative and contributed what financial resources they had to fund the project.
The project's specification document proved that in addition to unique information, agencies collected many common data elements from each applicant. Partners were given capability to download only those data elements they are required by law to collect. The outline of these data elements soon determined that there were a few registration types that were just too complex to fit a one-stop registration portal, such as non-profit corporations. Those had to be eliminated from the Web site registration capability, although they may be re-addressed in future updates. Some traditional ways of conducting business had to be re-evaluated by the partners. Each partner had to ask the question, "Do we really need to process registrations this way?" For example, thanks to legislative changes, electronic signatures are now acceptable which eliminated the requirement for "wet" signatures.
Two focus groups were used to garner input from legal and accounting communities, since those professionals often assist in new business start-ups, as well as business owners themselves. The first focus group was introduced to the concept of the program and given a preview of the Web site. Many questions were asked and a lot of good ideas were offered. A few months later, the second focus group actually used the prototype and provided valuable feedback on what worked and what didn't.
In this first phase, the goal was to capture the majority of businesses that wanted to function in Utah and to mitigate as many bureaucratic hurdles as possible in a single stop on the Internet. So what does the online OneStop Business Registration process entail? It begins with an introduction and a registration page. The registration feature allows the user to work on the filing until the process is completed or save unfinished entry for later completion. Each user is given 120 days to complete the original filing process.
The entry page informs the user what documents or information should be readily available to complete the process. It also contains a link to a tutorial site where a user can go through the process without actually creating a registration. This allows the user to become familiar with the site and aids the actual process.
The next few pages provide general information on doing business in Utah. The user is then asked to specify the type of business entity being registered. Subsequent pages reflect requirements based on the type of entity selected. For instance, if the user selects "domestic corporation," they will be led through multiple pages requesting all the significant data elements to conduct business as a corporation in Utah. If the user selects "sole proprietor," "DBA" or "assumed name," a minimum of information is requested and the user is finished in less time.
Once the entity type is determined, the user is directed to type in and submit the selected business name. At this point, the user must pay a $22 name reservation fee that will be credited at the end of the registration process. Approval of the name may take up to 24 hours to complete. Until the complicated statutory requirements for name availability in the registration process is simplified, it cannot be automated, (see UCA subsection 16-10a-401). Therefore, the Division has dedicated personnel to check each name prior to approval. Name requests submitted during business hours are likely to be returned very quickly. Names submitted on a weekend or after business hours will not receive a response until the next business day.
While the business name is pending, the user can complete the rest of the application for registration, such as information about business principals, location, purpose, number of employees, tax collection, hazardous waste, etc. Again, the type of entity selected drives the questions. Throughout the online program, there are help buttons or even online "chat" to assist with more detailed information and explanations. The site also provides a check off page detailing for the user what components have been completed, which ones have errors needing edits and what is still pending before the entire application can be submitted.
Depending on the entity type, there may be an additional charge (not to exceed the amount it would cost to file in-house). No further edits are permitted once the final submission has been made and registration numbers assigned. A summary page is displayed listing all the registrations for which data was collected and any corresponding numbers, such as business entity file number, FEIN, state tax numbers, employer numbers, etc.
From the information collected, OneStop combines data elements necessary to draft basic documents. Options are available to add specific clauses not especially listed in the statute and to print a copy of Articles of Incorporation or Articles of Organization for the entity if corporation or limited liability company was chosen. This document will be electronically submitted to the Division to be added to their image database of business entity documents. Phase two of the application will have a more robust piece to generate the Articles of Incorporation. The OneStop team is presently working with the legal community to enhance this portion of the application.
OneStop, as part of the state's new business resource portal at www.business.utah.gov, contributed to the state's "Best of the Web" award from the National Center for Digital Government in the fall of 2003. OneStop partners are very proud of what they have accomplished with this innovative and bold venture. The web site offers the level of service that business people deserve and have come to expect. It is a perfect resource for professionals and businesses to move out of a regulatory quagmire and into the world of commerce. Sometimes it's difficult for businesses, practitioners, and regulators to let go of the traditional piece of paper filing and rely on the wonderful technology at their fingertips, but the benefit is faster and easier registration. Now that the OneStop Business Registration Web site is a success, the partnership looks forward to additional partners and future enhancements. Since the launch in August 2003, nearly 2,000 business registrations have been completed online. Development of Phase II is set to begin soon. OneStop Business Registration can be accessed at www.business.utah.gov.
For further information, please contact the project manager, James Whitaker, Department of Workforce Services: phone (801) 526-9454 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.