New York creates online database to help prospective business owners

New York creates online database to help prospective business owners

By Claire E. House

GCN Staff

New York's permit assistance site includes a questionnaire to help entrepreneurs find information about starting a business.

You're a retiree living in New York. You own an old farmhouse and want to turn it into a bed-and-breakfast. How do you get started?

If you're online, you visit to tap a new permit database at the Governor's Office of Regulatory Reform. If you're not online, you call the state Permit Assistance Team, which taps the same system for the information you need.

'It's got all the stuff you don't think about when you're going into business but you need to think about,' GORR public information officer David Pietrusza said.

The system replaces an antiquated one that was less helpful to the office's six permit coordinators, who respond to 75,000 permit assistance calls annually.

The former system required scads of institutional knowledge, GORR information technology manager Michael Hartigan said.

'It maintained a database of permit information, but you had to know what the answer was and then go and get the information. It was a learn-by-rote process,' he said.

Now, the permit coordinators, as well as Web-connected state residents can more easily compile information about 1,100 permits from 37 agencies. Users can search by category or keyword, or they can fill out a business-tailored questionnaire to order a personalized Permit Assistance Kit for mail delivery.

A Lotus Notes database holds system data, and Lotus Domino 4.6 supports Web activity. The two Lotus programs run under Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 on a 350-MHz Pentium III IBM 330 server with 256M of RAM and a 12G hard drive.

Internal users access the system via TCP/IP through the Notes client over a Novell NetWare 4.11 network.

Users get information about not only applications and fees but also submittal addresses, which sometimes differ from the address of the application issuer.

'When you supply us with a ZIP code, we can tell you what county you live in and where the regional office is,' Hartigan said.

The kit request process first requires the user to select one of 170 business areas, based on the federal Standard Industrial Code classifications.

It also asks for the anticipated number of employees and a business classification such as corporation, partnership or sole proprietorship.

Users then fill out a questionnaire based on that information. For example, potential bed-and-breakfast proprietors answer questions about plans for food service, alcohol sales and swimming pools.

The system offers information about employer obligations such as workers' compensation insurance, wage withholding and tax information.

At the end of the questionnaire, the system serves up compiled lists and links for users and prompts Web visitors to enter mailing address information if they want to receive a kit.

The system's hint section helps applicants avoid mistakes by listing the reasons that previous applicants were rejected, Hartigan said.

The system also includes citations of the statutes under which each permit is issued.

Notes gives the office myriad statistical reports that are helpful for research and outreach improvement, he said.

The site does not provide forms either for download or Web completion, but it does link to any agency Web sites that might have them, Hartigan said.

Got what they wanted

Hartigan credits the success and usability of the system to GORR's consultations with businesses and state permitting agencies on its design, and to the input that IBM Corp. got from the system's end users'the permit coordinators.

'When you talk to the folks that know what they're doing to design the system, you get a pretty good one,' Hartigan said.

In the system's first month of operation, coordinators sent out about 200 kits requested through the Web site. Hartigan expects that number to rise as word spreads about the site.

'We intentionally took a low-key approach, with the idea of 'Let's walk before we run.' This is a brand new system to us, and we wanted to work slowly,' he said.

The office will market the site by promoting it at trade shows, linking to other Web sites and buying banner ads on national business sites, Pietrusza said.

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