Open Sourcing a New Approach to Serving Businesses in New Jersey
By Joe DeLaTorre and E.J. Kalafarski — Innovation Fellows with the New Jersey State Office of Innovation
On this National Day of Civic Hacking, we’re proud to be building on the open source project started by the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles to make it easier for businesses to access the information they need to start, operate, and grow.
Public Sector Collaboration = Public Benefit
Business.NJ.gov — a new site that provides business owners from all backgrounds and levels of experience in New Jersey with the resources they need — was created and launched using open-source code originally developed by a partnership between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Following the launch of Business.NJ.gov, the project team — comprising the New Jersey State Office of Innovation, the State’s Business Action Center, and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority — is proud to “pay it forward” by adding new designs and content that build on the initial project and make new resources available for other states and jurisdictions. Our hope is that other stakeholders can leverage our work, and the work of San Francisco and Los Angeles, to create new resources that benefit their respective communities.
What We Built and Why
Business.NJ.gov streamlines businesses’ experiences interacting with the State by consolidating critical information and resources from more than 15 different agencies into one easy-to-navigate “first stop” for businesses. Users can find information on financing options, assistance with obtaining permits and licenses, information on taxes, and guidance on business planning and marketing. The site also integrates tools such as a “live chat” that directly connects users with an expert from New Jersey’s Business Action Center.
Historically, entrepreneurs in the state were forced to search through dozens of websites and hundreds of pages run by different agencies to find important information to start or even maintain their businesses. The burden fell on the user to navigate the State’s constellation of websites — an experience that lacked any sense of integration. Far from encouraging new business to open in the Garden State, the legacy system posed a significant barrier to entry for aspiring business owners. Business.NJ.gov begins to address these problems.
The Genesis of Our Work — Stronger and Fairer, Done Smarter
Following Governor Murphy’s announcement of the Stronger and Fairer economic plan in 2018, the Office of Innovation — fueled by research to understand the major frustrations of business owners — looked to build on the work of others to quickly address these challenges. We turned to the West Coast for a solution.
In 2014, San Francisco had embarked on a project to create a one-stop shop for businesses in their own community; a year and half later, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Innovation Team began a similar endeavor, and the two entered into a partnership that resulted in the eventual launch and open source release of the Los Angeles Business Portal.
When the State began our own Business First Stop initiative in 2019, we reached out to cities and their technology partners, Tomorrow Partners and CivicActions, to build on their work. Using their code, we deployed our own version of the Drupal website.
The project team worked with an array of State departments to merge their institutional knowledge with the information architecture pioneered by the L.A. project to build a brand new “front door” for businesses in the Garden State. We then refined and improved on our work through extensive user-testing with business owners, engagement with trade associations, and feedback from our departmental partners. We didn’t just build the site for businesses — we built it with them — and we have more intelligent, effective, and efficient tools as a result.
In the beginning of 2020, we partnered with SeamlessDocs — whose platform powers online services for a number of municipalities throughout New Jersey — to adapt the design to a new content management system.
Where We Go Now
The new Business.NJ.gov is modern and mobile-friendly, and our content management platform allows the team to easily make design and content changes hour-by-hour and minute-by-minute. The site’s task-oriented information architecture and integrated “live chat” are meant to be intuitive to both first-timers and users with specific questions. But perhaps the site’s most important feature is the fact that it will constantly be changing, driven by ongoing user research and feedback from business owners.
The current state of Business.NJ.gov doesn’t solve all the problems we identified across State government, but it finally provides a platform from which we can deploy user-centered technologies and solutions to address them. As we learn more, and as the needs and regulations surrounding New Jersey businesses change, so will Business.NJ.gov.
With that constant evolution in mind, the Business.NJ.gov you see today is only the beginning, and we’re always looking for collaborations, new innovations, and opportunities to assist other digital service teams in learning from our work. If you’re interested in collaborating with the New Jersey Office of Innovation, read more about us at innovation.nj.gov and reach out at email@example.com.
To access the open source code on Github, go to: https://github.com/newjersey/open-business-portal