Entrepreneurs find answers at Ottawa FAQ site

Ottawa business people who ask a lot of questions but can’t get any answers have caught a break.

A resource Web site for entrepreneurs in this city is about to introduce a “”virtual advisor,”” where users ask business questions online and get immediate answers. The person asking the question

is the only human involved in the interaction.

This service will be available at www.entrepreneurship.com. It is a Web site run by the Entrepreneurship Centre, which is an agency managed by the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation (OCRI) and funded by a number of partners, including the City of Ottawa, the Ontario government and the Royal Bank.

Currently, the Entrepreneurship Centre is used by Ottawa startup companies to register as businesses and get advice.

“”What we realized is that every day we were answering the same questions,”” says Stephen Daze, executive director of the Entrepreneurship Centre. “”(The software) allows us to not be physically present to answer those questions, and as such, we’re able to take that physical resource and have them working more strategically with the client, rather than answering, for instance, the GST question 10 times a day.””

How to register for GST numbers, how to pay taxes and how to form basic business plans are some of the questions the virtual advisor will answer.

Daze says he expects it to be deployed in late February. The centre is currently gathering thousands of the most common questions asked and storing them, along with the answers, on the database that will be used.

Edward Viau, business development manager for Nomino Technologies, the company that makes the software, says saving money is the primary benefit of this technology.

“”Studies have indicated that having a contact on the phone is about $6 per event for a company in Canada,”” he says. “”Handling it using our software, we say, is $1.””

But Daze says saving money isn’t an expectation nor a reason for the Entrepreneurship Centre. He says the online feature is meant solely to improve the efficiency of service, and he adds that the centre’s staff of nine will not be downsized as a result.

The Entrepreneurship Centre deals with about 5,000 clients a year, says Daze, and he hopes backlog can be minimized by this online tool.

The service will be available for free to anyone in the world who has access to the Internet, though Daze notes much of the content will be specific to doing business in Canada’s capital.

Nomino, which is based in Montreal, is a relatively small firm with a workforce of 15 and annual revenue of less than $1 million. Viau says the company doesn’t face much competition in its market at the present time.

Some of its other customers include the Quebec government, energy company Gaz Métropolitain and the Quebec nurses federation.

“”There’s quite a bit of buzz regarding online, self-service right now,”” he says. “”Companies are still looking at this, and their still trying to decide: ‘Where do we spend our limited amount of money? Is it on something like this, or is it on something else, say on security software?’

“”The progressive ones are going with online self-service because of the excellent return on investment.””

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