Andersen Adds New Service To E-Government Cart

Andersen Adds New Service To E-Government Cart

By John Makulowich

In a move likely to send competitors scurrying to their HTML editors and databases, Chicago-based Andersen Consulting plans a market offering within the next few months targeted to the nation's 20 million small businesses.

The one-stop service will be delivered via the World Wide Web and named Andersen Consulting Business to Government Connection. It seeks to simplify transactions for small firms with agencies by automating a broad array of tasks companies must complete in dealing with the government.

If successful, the service, using what Andersen refers to as an intentions-driven business model, could capture a large percentage of small business and represent a cradle-to-grave solution.

Richard Box, associate partner in Andersen's Americas Federal practice, said the company has been working on the offering since October 1998 and plans to roll it out over the next 12 months.

While the fee for the service still is under discussion, a proof of concept test in Belgium appears to be going well enough that Andersen will be spending the next month and a half on packaging the service and on internal staff training.

"I am not aware that anyone is thinking in the same way we are about this problem. Others tend to take an agency perspective. We think the future of e-government will be based on a constituent and intentions model," said Box.

An example offered by Box shows how separate but related services can be packaged into a single customer's intention.

Say you want to plan a family vacation. That could involve individual transactions for airplane and hotel reservations and rental car.

Under the intentions-based business model, you get not only one-stop help for those transactions, but also trip planning advice and services that stop the mail and newspapers, watch your home and care for your pet.

Apply the constituency-driven model in a government scenario, and you find an individual who wants to start a business going to a single Web site. There, one can review a location model for finding real estate and siting the business, diagnose work place and environmental regulations, complete applications for specific registrations, gather information on import and export restrictions and pay taxes.

"The future of e-government says you should do this through a single site. Our mission is to help our clients create the future," Box said. "There will be data creation, but minimal data re-creation. Our long-term strategy is to improve the vitality of business as well as the economic environment."

Mike Sheridan, executive director of the Texas Workforce Commission, is one government official who walked through a demonstration of the service. His state agency is responsible for work force development, unemployment and job training, serving a "universal population of people trying to get jobs."

Sheridan said his agency and many others are looking to the Internet and intranets to do better business and e-commerce. In fact, the Workforce Commission just put online a free job listing service catering to both employers and applicants. (www.twc.state.tx.us/jobs/job.html)

"I can see the Andersen service filling a role," Sheridan said. "Right now, to do business in Texas, you need contacts with different agencies. There is not a single portal for doing business in the state.

"From a customer standpoint, I know how hard it is to get information on economic trends and growth, tax ID number, connection with the IRS and secretary of state. You often hear business people wish there were one place to go for all that," Sheridan said.

For Andersen, the profile of the typical business likely to buy its service is an owner operation having from two to 10 employees and less than $1 million in gross sales.

It is also one that has some, but not significant, technology resources to complete its day-to-day financial, human resource and compliance activities.

"We plan the offering as an inexpensive way for small businesses to understand what regulations apply to them, what steps are required to comply and to get some assistance," said Box. "In completing transactions, filing applications and paying taxes, there will be software for authentication, encryption and transmission. All of which is not doable with the resources of the typical small-business person."

Having completed focus groups and a national telephone survey earlier this year with positive feedback, Andersen plans to market actively the Business to Government Connection over the next year.

In a Web prototype demonstrated to Washington Technology, the site features multiple screens where users and subscribers can perform tasks such as: filing wage and withholding reports with the appropriate federal and state agencies, view year-to-date history of wage and income tax withholding reports for employees, upload wages to their banks, find information about federal and state wage reporting tax forms, and gather information and forms for general and special licenses and permits and then submit them as new registrations or renewals.

The Belgian test, conducted with the government of Flanders, showcases the so-called Internet Counter, a one-stop business services shop for companies investing in the region.

Through it, firms register for government licenses and certificates, research legislation applying to their specific businesses, find addresses for government agencies and browse information about real estate available for development.

The Internet Counter helps investors uncover the proper procedures, provides templates for government filings and presents data about Flanders government regulations, grants and procedures applicable to investing in new businesses.

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