Permits at mouse click

If the European Union has its way, dealing with official agencies should soon become a lot simpler for companies. The EU Services Directive, which is set to come into force in December 2009, stipulates that all businesses in the EU Member States receive a single point of contact for administration. The aim is to simplify company start-ups and relocations, alongside a host of other administrative processes.

“Public authorities are already using websites to provide information but real Internet service packages are still a thing of the future,” explains Nina Vayssière, SAP Research Group Manager in Sydney, Australia, who is jointly responsible for SAP research projects in the public sector. Thanks to a company-wide collaborative effort at SAP, this future is now very much within reach. The first customers are already implementing a new SAP solution called Online Application Processing for Public Sector. The software was built by SAP Custom Development, which specializes in customer-specific product development, and supported by the SAP Industry Business Unit (IBU) Constituent Services, SAP Germany’s Business Development Public Sector division, and SAP Research. The solution merges the EU guidelines with SAP’s vision for Internet services. An initial prototype already did the rounds at the 2008 CeBIT trade fair.

New channels for public services

The prototype features a service platform for entrepreneurs looking to start a business. The website takes users through all of the necessary administration – step by step and with realistic estimates of how long each process will take. Repeat information only ever has to be entered once and additional services are also on offer along the way – from relocation support to telephone installation. “This opens up new channels for public services and fresh revenue streams, not to mention making life easier for companies and the general public,” says Vayssière. All in all administrative processes are faster, more transparent, and more reliable.

Thanks to SAP’s technical innovations, the company is “well ahead of the game,” according to Ulrike Greiner, project lead and SAP Research business development manager for Switzerland. The most critical achievement is the so-called dynamic process composition, which would never have been possible without fundamental research – the combined efforts of eight SAP researchers who worked intermittently on the project.

Flexible process design

Depending on the industry, registering a business can involve several different authorities and departments. This means different administrative processes have to be combined across the entire life cycle. More conventional software with predefined processes could never cope with this level of flexibility. “Using semantic technology, we can describe the properties of different services and put together dynamic processes to meet the specific needs of service providers,” explains York Sure, semantics specialist and professor of informatics at the University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany, who assisted on the project until May 2009 from the SAP Research Center (CEC) in Karlsruhe.

The original research project was the brainchild of colleagues from SAP Germany’s Business Development Public Sector and Product Management, who recognized the importance of the EU Services Directive before most authorities had a clear idea of how to implement it. “Working closely with SAP Research, we were able to verify our concept for dynamic process composition and management, and deliver specifications for development of the solution,” says Ulrike Brecht of Business Development Public Sector, who is responsible for solution development for the EU Services Directive.

SAP Research for E.U. Services Directive

“We were able to apply the ideas generated by SAP Research directly to our solution for the directive,” reports Manfred Ostertag, solution architect with the IBU Constituent Services. This year will see the first customers go live with the Online Application Processing for Public Sector solution. In the meantime research and development will continue. “Our commitment to a future service platform remains high. Customers want to be able to offer increasingly high-value services to the public and we aim to deliver,” says Ostertag.

No fewer than three major research projects have contributed to the vision behind the development of this service platform for public administration. The TEXO project researches the Internet service economy as part of the German government’s lighthouse project THESEUS. The goal is to offer existing services via a Web-based platform in a similar format to online products, interlinking services as required to make them tradable commodities. Other ideas have come from the PICTURE project, which brought SAP together with other companies and universities, as well as the local governments of five European cities including Münster, Germany; Turin, Italy; and Winterthur, Switzerland. PICTURE aimed to leverage IT for better support of administrative processes and to make public authorities more customer-friendly. Last but not least, the SUPER project, led by SAP and supported by the EU, has laid the groundwork for the platform’s technical innovations. SUPER explores how semantic technologies can be put to use in the world of business software.

“What motivates us is the opportunity to combine and advance the results of our research to provide SAP’s customers with added value,” says Ulrike Greiner.