Josh (the blog)

Hey there. I’m Josh, a SydneyCanberra-based maker of Internets. I don’t update this very often.


Stop press: Government builds awful website!

The Government of New South Wales, Australia’s largest state and economy and home to over half a million ASIC registered businesses, has recently failed on the web front. This is not the norm, hence my writing about it.

Their website, License.NSW, currently offers only business name registration services as of this new financial year (July 1st in Australia), while all other licensing types that it used to provide for have been moved to the rather attractive new website, NSW Government Licensing Service. Both are purportedly operated by the Department of Fair Trading. Domain name confusion aside, the upgrading of all licensing types except for the one most useful to the bulk of NSW citizens is bizarre.

Consider that figure of the ASIC registered companies alone — that excludes all non-incorporated businesses in NSW — and divide by the three years for which their NSW business name registration is valid. There are over 160,000 individuals using the old website every year, or about 450 transactions a day.

As a general rule, Governments in Australia do an excellent job of at least attempting to provide a good web presence. Our federal government has setup as part of (ironically) the Department of Finance and Deregulation regulations for Web Publishing, and recently launched Government 2.0 Taskforce (taking much from recent developments in the United States particularly) — they’re not clueless.

That’s why it’s doubly disappointing to see bad policy decisions impacting technology rollout. Back in 2003, when the first License.NSW site was launched, business name registration was the first service to go live. Now, for whatever reason, it is the last and only service not yet integrated into a NSW-wide, inter-departmental licensing system.

Notably, the new website states a capacity target of December 2009 of 250 people online simultaneously. Managing 1.7 million licenses (most of these annual) across a variety of license types should require a capacity of less than 200 simultaneous users/hour. In light of the fact that they are hoping only for 25% use of the service over offline means, and that figure drops to a meagre 50 simultaneous sessions. Even accepting usage at peak times of the day and (financial) year, it’s probably not a question of capacity, even including the additional 450 transactions a day business name licensing would contribute.

At the very least, assuming it takes only ten minutes to process each additional application manually (fairly generous, I think!), the savings of around ten full time employees required to manually keep on top of things should pay for the systems development cost! Assuming employees only cost $50,000/year each (conservative considering compulsory 9% superannuation in Australia, plus office space, leave entitlements, etc.), if only a quarter of users register online that’s a recurring saving of $250,000. If I ran the Department of Fair Trading, I’d be giving whoever runs the licensing side of things a pretty big kick up the backside to spend at least that amount to get more people registering online. It WILL pay for itself — particularly seeing how this part of your Department operates on a user-pays system. Currently, offline registration comes in at $152, generating at least $24 million in revenue annually. If you can kill the offline processing costs and keep the bulk of that revenue — or reduce costs and stimulate innovation and investment in NSW — it would surely be irresponsible not to.

As a user and tax-payer, therefore, I demand change here.

At present, the hideousness of the website and the half-half state of online license registration and renewal in NSW is a pretty large disincentive. As for change management, for a service people return to use once every three years, there’s no great need for concern over keeping users on board. You’ll have totally forgotten how it “used to” work by the next time you need to use it: this suggests that any resistance is purely internal.

Here’s the reason for noticing this at all: it’s not the norm. In general, Government in Australia actually does an excellent job of producing websites. There are good, clear guidelines developed by intelligent, well-respected web practitioners, and, when these are heeded the results are globally of a high standard.

Additionally, it grates when all the clichéd stereotypes about glacial public services are revealed to be true: it’s not as though this is a project of minor benefit, or for which there is no obvious financial benefit. Just do it. If you’re seeking a vendor to make it happen, use the NSW Government’s efficient eTendering service… or send me a message once I’ve jumped through the hoops and registered this new business name & associated company!

Only half-joking.