Pa. eases business registry

Hanging an "open for business" sign in Pennsylvania has become a little easier.

The commonwealth is revamping a one-stop business registration Web site, PA Open for Business (www.paopen4business.state.pa.us), a service that automatically parcels information to the State, Revenue and Labor, and Industry departments. Instead of a prospective business owner filling out multiple forms multiple times with those agencies, site registrants type in information once.

"We're the only state in the nation that interacts with three agencies like that," said Marty Rupert, project manager. Since the site debuted in September 2001, it has had more than 19 million hits and more than 2,500 business registrations.

Use of the site during normal work hours and nontraditional work hours were "percentage points of being even," he said. "We nailed that part of it: What constituents wanted — access to government on their time frame."

Even with such success, Rupert said that commonwealth officials are convening focus groups to improve the functionality and usability of the site, which runs on Microsoft Corp.'s BizTalk Server 2000 and SQL Server.

Steven Halliwell, an enterprise strategy consultant with Microsoft Consulting Services, said functionality would be added every three to six months. Planned for early fall, the site will incorporate the company's .Net framework, which would enable the application to run more securely, faster and with fewer lines of code. "Users will definitely experience a big boost in the efficiency of the site," he said.

Another feature will enable a customer to view and manage their records, he said. For example, a registrant could change an office address, add additional sales location, or apply online for a hazardous material permit. The state also is investigating the participation of another dozen or so agencies to share the same set of data, Halliwell said.

Other states are watching the site closely. Halliwell said several states have asked to buy the source code so they could duplicate the service.

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