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The Project Context

Historical context
In the beginning of the 1990s, Ontario was hit by the departure of its major manufacturers due to the North American Free Trade Agreement, as well as massive lay-offs in heavy industry. Under these circumstances, it seemed that opportunity for job creation was limited to small business. However, the NPD government had, at the time, built a poor reputation with businesses. The main complaint was that nothing was done to ease government red tape requirements for creating and managing a business.

The Minister of Economic Development and Business, together with the Finance Minister and the Minister of Employment, appointed a study group to evaluate the possibility of a systematic response to the problems encountered by businesses in their relationships with the different levels of government and governmental programs. For example, to open a hotel, one needed to obtain 26 permits from eight provincial ministries, a federal ministry, and a municipality. The study led to the conclusion that the emergence of the new information technologies (IT) could bring significant change in the delivery of services. "Clearing the Path", the ancestor of OBC, was created. In addition, legislators passed legislation reforming the law regulating businesses.

In 1993, leaders of the study group recommended the appointment of a permanent team with dedicated resources and in 1994, OBC was born. OBC originated from a few visionaries (that nobody understood) who reflected on what the internal features (across ministries and inter ministries) and external features (services coupled with private vendors) of the integrated service deliveries to businesses could look like. Its funding came directly from the Management Board Secretariat and from the provincial cabinet. In 1997, OBC was recognized as a long-term initiative, financed by venture capital (an additional $ 8 million), to achieve government strategic goals regarding the transformation of public service delivery in Ontario.

In 1998, the staff of OBC, borrowed from different government offices, became permanent. Simultaneously, the Ontario government adopted its service delivery strategy (Ontario, 1998) and assigned all questions related to the business world and government relationships to OBC. In 1999, $ 40 million over a five-year period were dedicated to it.

The Division of Commercial Affairs within the Ministry of Consumption and Consumer Relations, which became the Ministry of Consumer and Business Services, was chosen to sponsor the project team because of its reputation of extraordinary achievements. Nonetheless, the team stayed secluded in its offices, sheltered from the normal procedures of the "ministerial machine" as well as from the community of services delivery, until the summer of 2001.

The first operational mandate of OBC was to make the process of opening a new business easier. In 1994, OBC installed the first interactive units (self-help electronic workstations), mainly in small municipalities, to test its features on a small scale. By August 1997, 64 workstations in 57 sites were installed in the province. The sites consisted primarily of organizations related to economic development: chambers of commerce and local, provincial and federal bureaus. In 1999, the interactive units dealt with 60 percent of the registrations in the province (ONCE, 2000). There are currently 148 workstations. The Internet site, available since November 1996, allows searching and downloading forms, but not registering.

In September 1997, negotiations were initiated with potential private wholesalers in order to achieve value added service delivery in 2000. There are currently three accredited wholesalers that meet the service delivery quality standards required by OBC. These standards are crucial for the customer and the press, who wonder about the price and quality of services offered by the larger sector of "government information providers." (Lewychyj, 1998).

In January 1999, the cost of registration via a workstation went from $ 70 to $ 60 and the cost of registration renewal went from $ 10 to $ 8 while registration by mail went from $ 70 to $ 80 and from $10 to $ 12. This was an incentive of the Ministry of Consumption and Commerce to encourage the use of workstations which are considered more efficient and faster (The Spectator, 1998).

In 2000, a link via MQ series applications from IBM allowed the federal government to offer additional services via the workstations: the registration of business names and issuance of matriculation numbers.

Another service recently offered allows businesses to receive by e-mail hyperlinks of sites that have been recently updated and that may be of interest to them. To benefit from this service, businesses need to fill out a form identifying their profile and interests in "MyBIS" on the OBC Web site. The hidden technological aspect of this service is the development of applications that make possible the signaling of any modification to a government partner's Web site, as well as its indexing.