In 2004 the New Zealand Companies Office and Foster Moore launched the world’s first fully electronic Companies Register. For six years this system contributed significantly to New Zealand’s continued presence at the top of The World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business” rankings; New Zealand is currently rated top in the world for Ease of Starting a Business and third for Ease of Doing Business.
The Companies Office registers and maintains documents relating to companies, incorporated societies, charitable trusts, unit trusts, building societies, and industrial and provident societies. Online services include company incorporation, filing annual returns, searching, and name reservation.
A lot has changed in technology and the commercial world since 2004, and in 2008 the New Zealand Ministry of Economic Development (NZMED) who administers the companies register, began work on a replacement for the original online register.
Improving on a world leading system
While the existing system provided much of the functionality required of an online register, and had proven itself over a number of years of operation, there were a number of areas that had become dated, and areas where the NZMED targeted significant improvements.
A key objective was to improve the user interface and usability to support the growing volumes of public users of the register. When developed in 2004 the main users of the original system were professionals, such as accountants and lawyers, using the system daily on behalf of their clients. By 2008, with huge increases in internet penetration and a growing acceptance on online self-service facilities, more and more business owners were performing their own transactions. These users visited infrequently, typically once or twice a year, and needed to be able to use the system instinctively with no formal training. The new system would significantly reduce the support calls to the contact centre from members of the public.
NZMED targeted significant improvements in the efficiency and speed with which back-office functions could be performed (for example, the time to incorporate a new company and the time to apply for a new tax payer identification number). With increasing pressure on budgets and resources, the Companies Office needed to be able to do more, with less, and the online register was a critical contributor to this. The new system would increase responsibilities and range of functions available to external users and would streamline the workflows and activities of the registry staff. By providing external users with more functionality, NZMED would significantly reduce the volume of manual data entry and processing performed by their staff, instead relying on the business owners and their representatives to perform this. This combination of objectives would allow increased volumes of transactions to be handled by fewer registry staff, with targeted savings of over $2 Million dollars per year.
The new companies register needed to be flexible and adaptable in several key areas. NZMED had 17 additional registers that they wanted to deploy as fully functional electronic registers. While some of these had limited existing electronic functions, most had none. To deliver these registers as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible, NZMED and Foster Moore agreed to implement a flexible system that would be configured for each of the identified registers. The new system would therefore require a flexible data model, user interface and processing logic, to allow it to support these registers from a single platform and shared software base.
By 2008 real-time communication was widely accepted, and in many cases demanded, between Government departments (G2G) and between Government and business (G2B). The new system would need to significantly extend the flexibility and features of electronic communications to support the broad range of integration points required by NZMED and its partners and clients.
A range of technical objectives were also key to the new companies register. The New Zealand Government has taken steps to create an environment facilitating increased online and self-service engagement between Government and the public, and the new online Companies Register would need to support these initiatives. Initially this would involve integration with New Zealand’s national online authentication and identification system (iGovt). In addition, the new system would be developed using current software technologies, with a focus on scalability, performance, resilience, availability and security. Data integrity, and providing a trusted source of keystone data to other registers, would be imperative. It would also be designed from the ground up to support modern best practice in infrastructure design, such as virtualization.
Delivering a new Companies Register
Foster Moore worked closely with NZMED to identify the key objectives and requirements for the new online Companies Register, with the resulting 24 month project delivering the updated New Zealand Companies Register in May 2010.
The system, named Catalyst, delivers a registry environment based around the definition of legal forms. These forms are based on their paper equivalents and drive the creation of everything within the register from the browser-based online applications and electronic documents to the database and secure external interfaces. The forms-based definition allows us to configure specific activities upon changes to specific fields, such as automatic snapshot and/or versioning of data upon changes to fields for which legislation requires this.
The key features of the New Zealand Companies Register are:
- Company incorporation and maintenance, including document upload and document generation
- Company and director searching
- Online annual return filing
- Review and approving or rejecting pending requests
- Compliance assessment, alerting and escalation
- Payment and refund processing
- Power of Correction and legal snapshots
- Role-based security supporting executive and delegated authority
- Management and operational reporting
- Integrated workflows between the public users and registry staff, enabling the seamless flow of activities between self service functions, and back-office functions.
- Interactive electronic task list from which registry staff complete assigned tasks. Tasks are assigned based on a number of factors including team memberships and defined roles.
Foster Moore provided the full range of Software Development Life Cycle services to the project including project management, business analysis, requirements definition, data conversion, solution design, development, testing, user training, implementation rollout, support and maintenance and post rollout software enhancements.
Data migration was a key element of the project, with over 290 million rows of data migrated to the new system, comprising 14 million documents, one million entities (companies etc), four million individuals (directors, shareholders etc), 12 million addresses and 175,000 registered users.
The new solution has produced results immediately, and its flexibility has already been proven through the implementation of the New Zealand Financial Service Providers Register (FSPR) using the same base software.
The Companies Register is contributing significantly to the uptake of New Zealand’s national authentication and identification system. In the first two months of production use (June and July 2010), the register added 40,000 new logins to the iGovt login service (with 10,000 of those in the first four days alone) and performed 190,000 successful logins. Prior to this the total number of accounts had been 30,000, with an average of 18,000 logins per month.
Foster Moore continues to provide system support, enhancement and maintenance since the system’s implementation.
Having been used to successfully deliver the New Zealand Companies Register and Financial Service Providers Register, Catalyst is now being used to implement the remaining 15 registers initially identified by the NZMED. Each of these projects consists of analysis, configuration and testing; greatly reducing the time, risk and cost of implementing the additional registers. As of late 2010 Catalyst is also being used to deliver electronic Companies Office registers to several jurisdictions in the Pacific region.
- Up-to-date Online Companies Register based on a configurable electronic register product.
- Annual saving of $2.0 to $2.5 Million through reduced support and back-office effort (targeted).
- Intuitive self-service functionality focused on members of the public.
- Fine-tuned and efficient back-office task assignment and management.
- Flexible and configurable platform for the rapid and cost-effective delivery of additional registers (e.g. Financial Service Providers).
- Open and flexible integration capabilities for integration with external Government (G2G) and business (G2B) systems.
- Scalable, high-performance and secure electronic solution.