Offerman Consulting
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Austrian Business Service Portal USP reducing administrative burdens

Author: Adrian Offerman

Abstract

The Austrian Business Service Portal 'Unternehmensserviceportal' (USP) recently won silver in the category of 'Successful cooperation projects' of the 2015 German eGovernment Contest (eGovernment-Wettbewerb).

The portal is jointly coordinated by the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Federal Chancellery. It was launched in 2010 and aims to serve as a single entry point through which businesses can fulfil their legal obligations and reduce their administrative burdens. Registered businesses can conduct a wide range of transactions with the government, organised according to business events. They can, for example, use applications like FinanzOnline (a "virtual tax office""), the electronic data exchange with the Austrian Social Security Institutions (ELDA), and the Data Processing Register (DVR).

Policy context

The Business Service Portal is a joint development of the 'Hauptverband der Österreichischen Sozialversicherungsträger' -- the Austrian agency responsible for social insurances -- the Ministry of Finance, and the Federal Chancellery ('Bundeskanzleramt'). This cooperation was created by the Council of Ministers in a 2006 initiative named 'Reducing the Administrative Burden for Businesses', and formalised in the Business Service Portal Act ('Unternehmensserviceportalgesetz', USPG) that obliges ministries to participate.

The goal was to improve the business environment, and to help competitiveness and growth, by reducing administrative burdens for citizens and improving the quality of governmental services. The initiative aimed to:

  • cut time and costs spent on information obligations — reducing the number and complexity of official channels by fostering the use of e-government solutions, enhancing intra-governmental cooperation, and providing one-stop-shop solutions; and
  • improve service quality — making questionnaires and forms more comprehensible and easier to access, providing information in a barrier-free way at a central point of interest, and developing interactive procedures.

EC programme

The Austrian initiative was inspired by a similar programme by the European Commission to reduce the regulatory burdens created by EU legislation, thus making administrative processes easier and more efficient for citizens and businesses. The Action Programme 2007‑2012 targeted a 25 percent reduction in the administrative burdens stemming from EU legislation (then estimated at 124 billion euro). In December 2012, the EC concluded the programme, reporting 30.8 billion (24.8 percent) in annual savings for businesses.

The Austrian programme similarly targeted a 25 percent reduction in administrative burdens for businesses. According to the baseline measurement completed in June 2007, the original cost amounted to 4.3 billion euro per year, or 1.6 percent of Austrian GNP. Austria achieved the target for 2012 with a reduction of 25 percent (more than 1 billion euro).

Description of target users and groups

The Business Service Portal was launched in 2010 and aims to serve as a single entry point through which businesses can fulfil their legal obligations and reduce their administrative burdens.

Back then, businesses were complaining about being inadequately informed by public authorities. Because of this lack of information, and the high level of regulatory complexity, businesses either had to spend a lot of time to find the necessary information and satisfy their reporting requirements, or else hire external experts to do this. Either route represented an additional burden.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

Electronic invoicing (e-invoicing) and the Business Service Portal were the most important measures in reducing the administrative burdens for businesses. The possibility of replacing millions of paper bills by electronic invoices offered great potential for optimising processes and reducing expenses for both enterprises and public administration. The Austrian federal government made e-invoices mandatory for all its contracting partners from 1st January 2014.

The Business Service Portal offers informational as well as transactional services, aiming to help businesses fulfil their legal obligations in an easy and efficient way. The portal was launched in 2010. Since May 2012 it has provided the most important e-government services for businesses. Currently, 23 services are available 24/7 with Single Sign-On (SSO), and more are continuously being added.

The Business Service Portal serves as a central information platform, now providing about 3,000 pages of basic, specialised and change information. This content is provided directly by the federal ministries that are legally responsible. Cooperation between the ministries is governed by a separate regulation to the Business Service Portal Act ('Unternehmensserviceportalgesetz', USPG) that has turned out to work very well. A common editorial team ensures adherence to quality standards when information is prepared for publication.

Programme organisation

To ensure successful implementation of the Business Service Portal, a comprehensive project and communications structure was created to optimise information flow between the stakeholders. The programme organisation consisted of:

  • the Executive board: all ministries were represented; the board also included key partners such as the Austrian Social Security Institutions (Österreichischen Sozialversicherung), the Austrian Economic Chambers (Wirtschaftskammern Österreichs, WKO), and other professional organisations;
  • the Steering Committee: consisting of representatives of the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Federal Chancellery (Bundeskanzleramt);
  • the core project team: this team is in charge of the implementation of the six USP sub-projects and interacts with the various project stakeholders.

This structure allows all ministries to participate in executive decisions, and allows technical and operational decisions to be taken simultaneously by the operative organisations. It allows the establishment of clear and realistic objectives, and the coordination of all participants to meet these targets on time, thus delivering a high-quality system.

Second phase and pilot

The second phase of the USP project included the implementation of the Single Sign-On (SSO) functionality and its integration with the e-government services. Before its launch, the system was fully tested with selected companies and stakeholders in a pilot programme.

During this pilot, focus groups and think-aloud techniques were used to understand how users were working with the system and how its usability could be improved. The pilot was crucial in increasing the quality of the final product and the satisfaction of end users.

Finally, business organisations like the Federal Chamber of Commerce actively promoted the Business Service Portal.

Technology solution

These are the most important technical decisions that were made:

  • The introduction of a business register by the Statistics Austria agency, consolidating businesses in existing registers under unique identifiers. This is a requirement for the SSO functionality.
  • The introduction of an identity management system that can be used by all procedure partners to implement the RBAC controls for the roles and rights of users. The central weapons registry, for example, was the first federal eGovernment application to deploy this component as a replacement for its own administration.
  • The provision of a system that allows businesses and procedure partners to implement their own RBAC controls for businesses and their users.
  • Full integration of users already registered with other eGovernment applications (e.g. FinanzOnline).
  • Organisational and technical connection of about twenty eGovernment applications. A model complying to the national Portal Group Protocol (PVP) and the international SAML 2.0 standard was developed in-house.
  • Using standard software as much as possible and complying with the eGovernment standards developed in cooperation with the Austrian states (e.g. the style guide on forms, and others).

The transactional part of the Business Service Portal implements Single Sign-On access to all important eGovernment applications provided by the federal government using just one user identifier: the Austrian Citizen Card (mobile or chipcard) or FinanzOnline (a "virtual tax office") credentials.

The Business Service Portal is operated by the Federal Computing Centre (Bundesrechenzentrum, BRZ), the Shared Services Centre of the Austrian federal government.

Main results, benefits and impacts

Central entrance

Previously, businesses could receive contradicting information from different public sources. Different communication channels — paper, e-mail, web and online interfaces — were incompatible, incomparable or poorly orchestrated. Each service was organised as an independent column; horizontal sharing of components and platforms was very limited.

Businesses can now find all the information they need on new and existing legislation in one place. In addition, they can use the transactional part to manage their user accounts with eGovernment services at a central point for all of their employees.

Advantages for federal public agencies are:

  • each agency can use the Business Service Portal for its eGovernment services;
  • multi-channel access via partner portal login;
  • use of the central USP components;
  • better data quality through the central business register;
  • savings in maintenance.

Single Sign-On

Businesses previously had to sign in to each government application separately. As a result they had to administer a large number of access codes and user authorisations. In the case of personnel changes, for example, notification of these changes had to be made for each and every application.

The high-level security features of the Business Service Portal, which provides identification and authorisation for users to perform transactions, allows the incorporation of applications bringing large benefits. An example is the exchange of electronic invoices between the federal government and businesses.

State of affairs

  • 50,000 registered companies (April 2015); compared to 10,000 in January 2015;
  • 95,000 natural persons with at least one user account;
  • 8 million page views in 2014, double the number in the previous year;
  • double the number of calls to My Services (90,000 in March 2015);
  • a new FinanzOnline process for sole proprietorships was established in March 2015, adding to these results;
  • integration of the WEB-BE-Kunden-Portal (WEBEKU, social security services), providing access exclusively via the Business Service Portal since April 2015.

Return on investment description

The assessment of financial benefits was prepared in advance with external assistance. Interviews and panel discussions were conducted with businesses, public accountants and IT experts.

The potential short-term benefits for businesses were estimated to range up to 100 million euro, being about evenly divided between informational and transactional services. Achieving these potential benefits from informational services depends greatly on the quality of the specialised information offered and the extent to which it is kept up to date. The potential benefits from transactional services are highly depending on the applications included, new functionality offered, the avoidance of multiple requests for the same information, and the value of integration and network effects of the applications and functions based on the one-stop eGovernment principle.

Lessons learnt

  • organisational issues are more important than technical issues, i.e. the project should focus on users' needs and on co-operation and co-ordination between agencies;
  • make a clear distinction to the users between informational services (how to deal with an obligation to the administration) and transactional services (actually doing this online);
  • organise information and procedures using business "life events" rather than administrative organisation;
  • be aware of the heterogeneity of the target group: from one-person companies to multinationals, and from startups to traditional family businesses;
  • make the new entrance attractive for existing users;
  • unification of company identification and the quality of the information are essential;
  • to ensure the sustainability of the system, deploy the most secure authentication mechanisms possible for both existing and new users;
  • to implement the Single Sign-On (SSO) functionality, a central business register aggregating data from many different registers was created by the Statistics Austria agency;
  • implement external and internal marketing, despite the different interests and priorities of the partners; support from top management is key;
  • develop universal solutions for the best and widest possible re-use;
  • administrative reform is not a quick win.