This week the World Bank released its annual review into the impact of government on businesses' ability to start, grow, employ and trade. Not much had radically changed since my last review of this report three years ago. But this year there's one clear message for governments: digitally transform.

You can pretty much flick through any page of the 2018 report and the message is clear. If a government made a conscientious effort to move its business information and transactions online, their score and often rating rose.

I'm not advocating government putting in place online solutions to business just for the sake of getting an arbitrary tick in a global report.  What is most important is improving government's offering to business online regardless of what the World Bank has to say. Governments should be doing this to achieve improved economic performance, enhancing employment opportunities and as a result having a material impact on reducing poverty.

Digital transformation acts as an enabling platform

The World Bank assess 11 different factors in determining a nation's score and its ranking. What stands out is the role of improving the digital Government to Business experience as a key enabling platform.

Regardless if you look at measures like:

  • Starting a business
  • Paying taxes
  • Trading across borders
  • Applying for construction permits
  • Registering property

Time and time again the World Bank gives credit to those governments enhancing the digital experience for business when completing these essential tasks.

There are certainly variances across countries in how they do this: from just ensuring legislation is accessible and free on a government website to an end-to-end One-Stop Shop portal for businesses.

However, I would be strongly recommending governments deliver the best possible digital experience they can to their businesses, based ultimately on what they can afford and after assessing competing priorities.

Why? Because the easier it is for businesses to start and grow, the larger the overall impact is to the broader economy.

The economics of Government to Business digital service delivery

One great aspect of the World Bank's "Doing Business" report is the strength of its methodology, longitudinal evidence and its underlying supporting research. This report started fifteen years ago and the World Bank summarises succinctly how the key driver behind the report hasn't changed during that time:

Doing Business maintains "... its focus on promoting regulatory reform that strengthens the ability of the private sector to create jobs, lift people out of poverty and create more opportunities for the economy to prosper."

The whole report is laced with this philosophy and reference to the economic impact of reducing regulation and improving the overall operating environment for businesses to start and grow.

It also offers well evidenced use cases of the customer experience, comparing the online simplicity and speed for someone wanting to start a business in Canada versus someone wanting to commence the same activity in the Philippines.  It then goes on to demonstrate that entrepreneurs wanting to start this same endeavor are as a result likely to follow through and commence in a streamlined Canadian government experience, but give up in Philippines with its byzantine collection of regulations.

Government to Business One-Stop Shops feature greatest in most improved nations

It really should be no surprise that those countries who have made the effort to consolidate and improve their digital service delivery to business are seeing the greatest improvement in World Bank Doing Business scores.

The report spells it out clearly:

"Higher scores are given for a simplified way of applying regulation that keeps compliance costs for firms low - such as by easing the burden of business start-up formalities with a one-stop shop or through a single online portal."

The chapter Reforming the Business Environment 2016/17 highlights the top ten improvers. But what it also provides is a blueprint for any government wanting to lift its global ranking.

In one form or another, when discussing these top 10 improvers the word "online", "portal", "one-stop shop", "electronic" and "website" are used almost 40 times. 

What was important here was the World Bank's recognition about the linear means of improving the online offering.  The benchmark wasn't set as an single integrated transactional Government to Business portal that provided everything, simply and in one convenient location.

The World Bank in fact recognized and celebrated those nations that were commencing this journey on their first steps. Whether that was one aspect of doing business, such as registering a business, paying business taxes online or submitting import or export paperwork online. But encouragingly they also recognized improvements and enhancements to the business customer experience.

While digital transformation makes an impact, there is a bigger picture

The audience to is overwhelmingly government professionals and senior executives tasked with improving their government service delivery to business online.

And while I've just spent the best part of this article highlighting how digital transformation of government to business service delivery is a critical part of improving a country's World Bank Doing Business score, there are other key components to consider.

Now these will generally speaking be outside our audience's key area of responsibility, but I raise them here as I know our audience also tends to be well networked with their peers across their jurisdiction. In raising these other key areas I hope you will share these concepts with other senior executives across government, to create a more supportive business environment.

Just as online is a key enabler so are legislative and regulatory reforms; particularly removing administrative barriers and strengthening laws which encourage entrepreneurialism. Other key elements are respected institutions, rule of law and consistency in how that is applied and embedding global best practices.

As the report identifies, good rules create an environment where new business operators with drive and good ideas can start, invest, expand and create new jobs.

As a result it is critical for Government to Business professionals and senior executives to partner and work with their peers on also enhancing these other areas.   Afterall, if you deliver a fantastic digital experience for businesses but others in your government throw up new barriers, the impact of your transformational change will be limited.

And neither the World Bank, or more importantly the businesses in your jurisdiction, want to see that.