Next steps for Open eGovernment services related to Small Business and Self-employed

1. Factsheet on Small Business and Self-employed

Available and emerging solutions


  • Guides to the steps involved in creating and maintaining a business.
  • Personalisation of websites and services.
  • eProcurement platforms.
  • Services that apply emerging technologies, such as blockchain and artificial intelligence, to facilitate search, provide answers to users, manage records, etc.

Emerging business and data models


  • Stakeholders that co-create services.
  • Public employees and organisations that assist stakeholders in the access and use of open eGovernment services, or regarding compliance with laws.
  • Positions for tasks such as live chat, forum moderation, email communication, etc.
  • Companies, organisations and public administrations that create (innovative) eGovernment solutions that exploit open data.
  • Companies that offer consulting services to public administrations on technology roadmaps.
  • Incubators of startup companies that develop new services, i.e. development ecosystems.

Gaps


  • Need for implementation of EU directives and policies.
  • No clear interaction between the public and the private sectors.
  • Low technology skills of staff in SMEs and self-employed.
  • Little availability of mobile applications.
  • Low interoperability of services.
  • Few open data are available in an appropriate way.
  • Insufficient research on the application of innovative technologies.
  • Low development of eGovernment services for self-employed (most for SMEs).

Social considerations


  • Equity among businesses regarding procurement.
  • Stimulation of entrepreneurship and self-employment.
  • Collaboration culture.
  • Change in the labour force.

Recommendations


  • Applying user-centred design methodologies and tools.
  • Creating proactive personalised eGovernment services.
  • Making universally accessible services.
  • Providing open eGovernment services in multiple languages.
  • Increasing the number of ubiquitous services.
  • Developing cross-border services.
  • Meeting the once-only principle.
  • Providing open data and algorithm transparency.
  • Increasing the use and further development of eDemocracy tools.
  • Providing eProcurement, eTender and eInvoicing services.

2. Open eGovernment in Small Business and Self-employed


Open Government is a government with high levels of transparency and with an emphasis on government accountability. The concept of open government suggests that the public should have access to government-held information and that it is informed of government proceedings. It includes expectations for increased participation and collaboration of citizens, businesses, employees and other entities in government proceedings, through the use of modern, open technologies. The term Open in this context means that data has not only to be accessible but also to be understandable in order for citizens to know how the data can be relevant to them. At the same time, eGovernment refers to the use of computers and other devices to provide information and services to the public. In turn, eGovernance extends the scope of eGovernment to include citizen engagement and participation in governance.

This document focuses on open eGovernment services that are aimed for SMEs and self-employed citizens. This group is very heterogenous and ranges from single person initiatives up to companies with at most 250 employees, and may belong to different sectors:

  • Specifically, according to the EU definition given by the Commission Recommendation 2003/361/EC, an SME should employ less than 250 persons and have an annual turnover of not more than €50 million or an annual balance-sheet total of not more than €43 million.
  • A self-employed person is defined by Eurostat as "the sole or joint owner of the unincorporated enterprise in which he/she works. Self-employed people also include: unpaid family workers; outworkers (who work outside the usual workplace, such as at home); and workers engaged in production done entirely for their own final use or own capital formation, either individually or collectively".

Some key government services in this area have focused on reducing the administrative burden and shortening response times so that enterprises can be set up and run effectively. This has been done under the assumption that taking into consideration the size of SMEs, what they struggle with is the strength of expertise they have on board and the limited resources they may have to dedicate to administrative and legal work that is required to set up and run a business.

Furthermore, in the EU context, government services should also take into account the requirement of cross-border solutions in the context of the European Single Market, where an enterprise from one Member State may want to setup, run, and trade in another Member State.

3. Some available and emerging solutions


This section discusses some of the emergent solutions that we have come across while doing desk research on existing eGovernment services in this sector. We have focused on those that are leading the way or show a high level of innovation, and provide examples for some implementations.

Administrative procedures for SMEs and self-employed

  • Automatic workflows in eGovernment websites. Automatic workflows for relevant procedures guide businesses through the steps involved in creating and running them.

    Example: Croatia´s eGovernment website offers a number of transverse workflows where the flow automatically finds the forms that are relevant to each user. It works on top of a workflow engine, meaning that forms can be collected and then distributed within Government offices, tracking progress and informing the applicant accordingly.

  • Personalisation of websites and services. Interfaces that are adaptive to the user’s profile and requirements.

    Examples: Italy’s eGovernment website for businesses provides personalised access to a virtual desk of "integrated services" i.e. services provided by different authorities but relating to a unique goal for the user.

Business opportunities for SMEs and self-employed

  • Services that use blockchain technologies. For instance, in the context of SMEs and self-employed, Smart Contracts apply blockchain technologies to enable credible transactions in a conflict-free way, avoiding services of a middleman.
  • Services that apply big data and artificial intelligence technologies. For example, big data can be used to analise market previsions and help SMEs and self-employed to find and take advantage of new business opportunities.
  • Marketplace for the exchange of skills and expertise among SMEs and self-employed. A platform that would incentivize joint ventures among stakeholders in this area.

Better and more transparent eProcurement

  • eProcurement platforms. Platforms based on open European standards and EC directives that automatically find the forms that are relevant to each user with information on eProcurement opportunities and procedures, and with access to digital eProcurement services.

    Examples: The Belgian eTenders website is deployed together with an eNotification platform to alert on eProcurement opportunities. The TED website (Tenders Electronic Daily), dedicated to European public procurement, allows the user to browse, search and sort procurement notices by country, region, and business sector.

  • Services that exploit open eProcurement data. Procurement open data is made available in a way that can be exploited through services that make them accessible to SMEs and self-employed. These services would help SMEs and self-employed to participate in procurement that is tailored to their area and expertise. For example, an alert system that notifies users whenever relevant new procurement opportunities arise.

    Example: The platform euroalert has contents related to EU funding, law, events and tenders for SMEs.

4. Some available and emerging business and data models


This section presents business and data models that may contribute to the development and uptake of open eGovernment in the SMEs and self-employed sector, as well as models that open eGovernment may foster.

  • Government and businesses initiate, design, or implement together programs, projects, or activities. This implies the provision of co-creation spaces and of the job positions required for this.
  • Public and private organisations that provide spaces for SMEs and self-employed to foster interaction and collaborative work.
  • Public employees and organisations that assist stakeholders in the access and use of open eGovernment services regarding SMEs and self-employed. This assistance includes in-person attention and call centres.
  • Public employees and companies that assist stakeholders regarding compliance with laws, directives, regulations, etc. regarding SMEs and self-employed.
  • Personnel that support eGovernment services for SMEs and self-employed by doing tasks such as live chat, forum moderation, email communication, and community management in general.
  • Non-aggregated data are opened for SMEs and self-employed who may access them to develop open eGovernment applications and tools. Services can be developed from reusable components.
  • Consulting services by SMEs to governments on technology roadmaps in order to enable eGovernment.
  • Incubators of startup companies that develop new services, i.e. development ecosystems.

5. Gaps: Policy, technology and data


This section presents a list of policy, technology and data gaps that hinder the provision and take-up of open eGovernment applications in the SMEs and self-employed sector.

Policy Gaps.

  • EU directives and policies regarding eProcurement are not fully implemented yet. For example, by April 2016 (transposition date for the Directives 2014/23/EU, 2014/24/EU and 2014/25/EU), tender opportunities and tender documents had to be electronically available. However, some of the Member States were late in implementing them and only did so weeks or months after the deadline.
  • Developing and implementing policies where the interaction between the public and the private sectors is clearly established can be of great help in the provision and take-up of open eGovernment services involving SMEs and self-employed: how can they contribute together, what are the responsibilities of each partner, how private practices can benefit the public sector and vice-versa.

Technology and Data Gaps

  • Lack of eGovernment applications and websites specific for self-employed and SMEs.
  • Low technology skills of staff in SMEs and of self-employed. Training is needed, on the one hand, to understand the advantages and disadvantages of using ICTs and, on the other hand, to develop the capabilities needed to address the constant evolution of services and applications.
  • Low interoperability of eGovernment services for SMEs and self-employed; this is especially relevant among eProcurement platforms at the different levels of public administration.
  • Insufficient research on the application of technologies such as artificial intelligence and big data in open eGovernment services for SMEs and self-employed.
  • Few open data deployed in an appropriate available way.

6. Social considerations


  • The lack of a participation and collaboration culture makes it difficult for SMEs and self-employed to get involved in the development of open eGovernment services.
  • Open eGovernment services can help to:
    • achieve equity between businesses regarding procurement.
    • stimulate entrepreneurship.
    • enable self-employment.

7. Recommendations


This section presents the list of recommendations for the provision and take-up of open eGovernment applications to enhance accountability, transparency and trust in the SMEs and self-employed sector.

  • User-centered design

    In order to create valuable and useful open eGovernment services for the SMEs-and-self-employed sector, developers should attend the needs and expectations of all stakeholders. These services should be developed around how users can, want to, or need to use those services, rather than forcing people to use a service that does not meet their expectations.
  • Universal accessibility of services

    Universal accessibility is a fundamental requirement for the success of any open eGovernment. In contrast to the private sector, which can be excluding by reaching only target market segments, public administrations should design open eGovernment services that are inclusive by default and cater to the needs of everyone. This is especially relevant for self-employed people with disabilities.
  • Ubiquitous services (mobiles, tablets and other devices)

    As mobiles are fast becoming the main device through which people access the internet, it is imperative that more services are provided through mobile friendly websites or apps that would open access to a greater number of citizens and businesses.

    Moreover, public administrations should be up to date on new developments of devices and eGovernment services should be responsive.

  • Meeting the once-only principle

    The once-only principle states that a user should not have to supply the same information more than once to public administrations. Open eGovernment services should offer this option to users whenever possible. However, people should not be forced to apply it.

    The use of open source software, open standards and open API will result in more open and scalable ICT systems for public service delivery. This will pave the way for the integration of systems and the implementation of the once-only principle for SMEs and self-employed.

  • Service personalisation

    Personalisation is a way to improve user satisfaction by tailoring a service to specific individuals or segments of individuals’ needs. Open eGovernment services should be customisable and adapt to the user or group of users’ profile. Besides, services should be proactive, and notify or prompt a SME or self-employed to use them according to circumstances like being subject to tax exemptions.
  • Services in multiple languages

    Language support should include not only the translation of website content but also the translation of forms and documents. This is under-developed and it is hindering access to services by non-native speakers. Such is the case of services related to SMEs and self-employed users and is relevant for cross-border business development.
  • Cross-border services

    Cross-border provision of services is based on the freedom of movement of services, so that nationals of a EU Member State are able to pursue their activities as citizens or businesses in another EU Member State.

    For SMEs and self-employed to operate cross-border, several Single Digital Gateway proposals need to be developed, for example the interconnection of all Member States' business registers, the electronic interconnection of insolvency registers, and the EURES European Job Mobility website.

  • People’s access to their own data

    Allowing SMEs and self-employed to "own", use and amend their data could go a long way to make them more invested in the services they use and more trusting of government. Additionally, it would cut down on information queries by governments and allow for faster resolution times.

    This recommendation is especially relevant for the once-only principle. Control on one’s own data should go beyond all or nothing; people should be able to decide what data can be shared and with whom.

  • Openness of data and services

    Data and algorithms transparency is essential for digital trust and appropriation of emerging technologies. An important shift deals with control of the data used and the intelligibility of algorithms.

    Openness of data implies the use of standards for data management, digital services and metadata, as well as shared concepts and terms (when available). Openness of services implies the use of open source software where there is no risk of vendor lock-in and code may be reviewed and maintained by the parties involved in the development of solutions.

    The availability of open data together with open service components, will enable the development of new solutions by third parties (SMEs and self-employed included) and the public administration itself, and will foster reuse by small local governments that lack resources for the development of services.

  • eProcurement services

    Providing eProcurement, eTender and eInvoicing services is very important to level the playing field and ease access to the information for all businesses, and thus develop the potential for bidding for public contracts procurement opportunities and tenders.

    The transition of European Member States towards full eProcurement and use of contract registers is necessary. The focus should be on setting up eProcurement and eTender websites that are easily accessible for businesses of all sizes. Besides, open data on eProcurement guarantees transparency in the management of public funds. As with other eGovernment services, a user focused approach would be necessary to gauge both the interest and the usefulness of such websites and how they can be designed to ensure maximum take-up by businesses.

  • eDemocracy services

    eDemocracy enhances citizen and businesses engagement and participation in government decision making processes such as policy making, budgeting and service delivery. It is fundamental for user adoption and for building trust towards the public sector.

    In general, eDemocracy and eParticipation are not offered as services on eGovernment websites in the EU. eGovernment websites need to be transformed in order to support increasing engagement and participation of citizens and businesses, providing features such as web forums, discussion spaces and social media interaction.