Maryland Polishes Electronic Licensing Process

Maryland Polishes Electronic Licensing Process

Parris Glendening

By Steve LeSueur, Staff Writer

Doing business in Maryland has gotten easier thanks to electronic licensing.

Maryland business owners no longer have to call numerous state agencies and encounter interminable hold to learn what licenses and certifications they need and where to get them.

Instead they get much, if not all, of the information they need at one location: And unlike a government agency, the Web site is never closed. It provides information about more than 325 licenses, permits, registrations and certifications administered by 14 state agencies.

Touted by Maryland officials as the most advanced in the nation, the Business License Information System steers business owners toward the state licenses they need to run their businesses by providing links to the requisite state agencies.

In many instances, the owners can apply and even pay for such licenses with a click of a mouse.

People from all over the world are using BLIS, said Leslie Sipes, administrator of the system for the state's Department of Business and Economic Development. The site has about 3,500 visitors a day and has served more than 24,000 business customers since it opened last September, she said.

AMSTAR Communications Inc., Columbia, Md., developed the customized software at a cost of $100,000.

The National Electronic Commerce Coordinating Council, a coalition of state organizations, said that more than two-thirds of the states responding to a recent survey intend to implement electronic licensing projects within the next two years.

While many other states as well as local governments are implementing electronic licensing systems, BLIS aims to provide a comprehensive, one-stop site for licensing information.

"Most states are coming around to this goal in different ways and in different time frames," Sipes said.

It's not possible to list every conceivable business profession on the Web site, so Sipes is constantly adding new occupations. Interestingly, "Web site designer" is one that had to be added.

But the list is sufficiently large so that most people can get the information they need from the site. Those that cannot may e-mail questions directly to Sipes and her part-time assistant, who often answer inquiries the same day.

"People are so surprised when they get a prompt response," she said.

After business owners obtain information about the required licenses and other certifications from BLIS, they can link to the agencies that actually issue these documents.

Although not all of Maryland's agencies currently have the capability to issue licenses online, a popular one that does is the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which oversees accountants, architects and other professionals.

A separate licensing system developed for this department by IBM Corp. allows these professionals to obtain or renew licenses online, make payments and receive immediate confirmation that they are licensed with the state.

This system also tracks the continuing education requirements for professionals and allows schools to send accreditation information electronically to the licensing boards.

The DLLR system was developed at a cost of just under $2 million, Maryland officials said. IBM's portion was $1.6 million, and most of the additional expenditures went toward upgrading computers.

"A process that used to take four to six weeks now takes less than five minutes," said Steve Lyon, a project manager with IBM Global Government Industry, Bethesda, Md. The real-time transactional capabilities of this system distinguish it from licensing systems in other states, said Lyon.

Harry Loleas, associate commissioner of occupational licensing for Maryland, said that more than 50 percent of those licensed by the DLLR use the online licensing system rather than the traditional, paper-based process. He expects that percentage to grow as the Internet becomes more widespread.

Before embarking on the licensing project, Maryland officials looked at what other states were doing, but concluded that they would be the first.

"We came to understand that we would be a trailblazer," Loleas said. "Nobody was doing this in any real fashion."

Gov. Parris Glendening spearheaded the state's business licensing effort, vowing to the real estate industry in 1996 that the state would have electronic licensing in 1998, according to Loleas. The governor then formed a team of regulatory and licensing specialists drawn from several state agencies to streamline Maryland's licensing process.

Real estate licenses were the first to be put on the DLLR system, which went live in February 1998. Plans call for a phased implementation of the system, and the last of 18 board licenses should be added to the system in June. This system will serve about 170,000 professionals worldwide that hold Maryland licenses.

"Electronic licensing is an innovative and state-of-the-art system designed to make doing business in Maryland easier," Glendening said when he announced the DLLR system.

Loleas and Sipes said representatives from other states have been looking at both the DLLR licensing system and the BLIS system as models.

Meanwhile, Maryland intends to continue improving its electronic licensing systems. Sipes said, for example, that Maryland is planning to add information about county licensing requirements to BLIS.

In addition, state agencies that don't already have electronic licensing intend to implement systems similar to the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation system and put online as many licenses as possible.

"We're in conversation with other branches of government that are trying to follow the DLLR model," said IBM's Lyon.

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