Feds tinker with business portal

The federal government is planning improvements to its BusinessGateway.ca portal that will offer more public sector services transactions online and better integration with other departments.

Some of the changes will be

structural, offering more provincial and eventually municipal information on taxation, importing and exporting, starting a new business, employment and selling to government. Industry Canada launched BusinessGateway.ca last year, allowing users to download about 50 different government forms.

“”Canadians don’t distinguish between levels of government,”” said Jaime Pitfield, director general, Government On-Line branch of the Chief Information Office in Ottawa. “”The initial reaction we got to the site was, ‘This is great, but where are the provincial forms?'””

The government will also be fine-tuning SourceCAN, a site connected to BusinessGateway.ca which acts as an electronic liaison for Canadian businesses trying to work globally. SourceCAN includes an e-marketplace suite from GE that populates information on Canadian businesses to sites in 68 countries. By the end of next month, SourceCAN will have installed a similar tool from Oracle to promote more domestic opportunities. A more ambitious project involves the integration of various government registration forms into a common format that will be processed through the Canadian Companies Capabilities database, which is the foundation of the SourceCAN site. David Chase, SourceCAN’s senior director, said the Canadian Commercial Corp. will join the three other departments connected to the site this week. He expects another 23 federally-regulated departments to be integrated by June.

Pitfield said he wants to see BusinessGateway.ca offer more opportunities for businesses to perform transactions like obtaining permits online, but these capabilities will be delivered by the provinces. “”We can’t tell them what to do,”” he said. “”We can tell them where we’re going and what the vision is.””

The improvements are a welcome respite to business owner Ben Dave, owner of Toronto-based NutriPharm Labs.

“”This is going to sound terrible, but so often when there’s a human element involved, it just ends up taking more time,”” said Dave, who said he used the site to register his firm and find key suppliers. “”I just use (Web site tools) wherever I can.””

Pitfield said it was hard for the government to establish strict return-on-investment metrics for a project where the impact is somewhat indirect. The Canada Customs and Revenue Agency estimates it saves a little more than $2 for each tax return filed electronically, for example, but BusinessGateway.ca has a wider scope. Instead, Pitfield said the government measures its success through the profile of its users — mostly small businesses in the services industry at an early stage of development.

“”Our regular focus group ratings have been really high. We also have a call centre to handle any problems people have with the site, and the take-up on that has been really low,”” he said.

While countries like Australia are more advanced than Canada in offering online transactions for its services, Pitfield said its portals aren’t organized very well. That’s why, he said, the structure of BusinessGateway.ca is so important.

One of government’s biggest challenges right now is to market the site, which Pitfield said attracts about 75,000 visitors a month. The URL will be promoted at industry trade shows and in print magazines, he said. It will also be embossed on lanyards and other paraphernalia. “”We hand out as many freebies as we can,”” he said.

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