Just the other day I came across an article in Business & Leadership about the Irish Government’s efforts to help small to medium businesses.

I’m always interested to see how governments approach this challenging problem. If you have similar government responsibilities you no doubt will be interested too.

Painting a picture of successful Government-to-Business services

So what does the Local Enterprise Office site promise? It all sounds impressive:

  • For start-up and small businesses it draws together over 80 business support programs and assistance from 27 departments and agencies
  • Business customers answer eight simple questions based on location, their business’ industry, size, structure, stage and a couple of more queries
  • With this information you can find out what possible support you can apply for.

The Supporting SME’s (small to medium size enterprises) tool was created because 98% of Irish businesses did not know about available support. To help change this the new web offering is being accompanied by a significant advertising campaign to raise awareness.

But does it deliver the goods, and what can your government learn from Ireland?

Ambitious goals but it needs work

The intent is fantastic but the reality seems to reflect what happens too often in government, a great step forward… but its just one step. Not a leap. And that’s a shame because a forward thinking government like Ireland could have done a lot more.

It looks great at first glance, but to navigate through the questions you have to grapple with a strangely positioned iframe. This means customers using conventional browser scrolling have to work also use an extra internal scroll bar. Fortunately on a smartphone or tablet this issue disappears so hopefully Irish business customers are mobile and not stuck behind a laptop or PC.

The eight simple questions were just that which is great. But what were the results like?

To be honest I was a bit overloaded and confused. And that’s not what you want your jurisdiction’s business customers to feel.

After displaying the local enterprise office’s details (which is good and supportive of a broader multi-channel strategy) the next information supplied was about getting financing:

Supporting SMEs tool from the Irish Government - beginning of results

In fact three links about getting bank credit were presented to me. What makes this confusing was during the 8 questions I explicitly said I wasn’t interested in getting access to finance.

Likewise the next set of information was just as perplexing:

Supporting SMEs tool from the Irish Government - results are getting less relevant

At no stage did I say I wanted help with employing people or training or anything that related to this service.

The next lot of information had some services that matched what I was after, but others were still not relevant:

Supporting SMEs tool from the Irish Government - results are hit and miss at times

You can see the first two options again related to funding - which I hadn’t asked for help with.

The third link about a feasibility grant matched exactly what I’d said (I’d provided details of an established business in Ireland want to get into exporting.)

The fourth option - another irrelevant link to getting equity and finance.

The fifth option - only relevant to start ups which I said I wasn’t.

And finally the sixth - which was a match to what I specified.

When the promise doesn't meet expectations

At this point the Irish blood in me was pumping and I was frustrated. Why?

For starters the tool seems to display every service available in the database with very limited targeting to customer needs. So as a business owner what I thought would be a simple process now requires me to review all these links and determine for myself what’s relevant and what’s not.

We all know business owners and operators are time poor, so why put them through all this? Afterall, the outcome this tool should achieve is empowered businesses who find exactly what they need as quickly as possible. Strategically this helps build profitable and competitive businesses who are more likely to employ, improving the overall economy.

The other deal breaker for me was the initiative being marketed as bringing together 27 government departments and 80 services. Customers’ expectations on hearing this would be understandably high. It should ideally be more than just a means of discovery, sending you off to all those websites.

What can your government learn from Ireland?

So what’s the moral of the story for you and your government? Its simple: if you make a promise, deliver on it.

I’ve seen from my experience governments can sometimes over exaggerate what’s been delivered. Its far better to highlight the improvements you have made, but to have a clear progress path on next steps. That may be an iterative approach based on what was possible with the time, technology or budget available, or it could be transformative change. The decision and approach is in your hands.

Personally I’m crossing my fingers that this iterative approach is being taken by the Irish Government. After all, launching a service that is infinitely better than nothing at all and then improving on it over time is smart service delivery.

Disclaimer:

My “Irish blood” relates to more than just putting yourself in the customer’s shoes during service journey mapping. My great grandfather actually emigrated from Dublin to Australia in the early twentieth century. To this day I wear the traditional Irish claddagh ring as my wedding band.