man standing with his back to an arrow
Services and products support customers in their main objective: to accomplish a task. PHOTO: Smart

Historically, organizations had so much power that they could demand that customers adapt to the organization’s way of doing things. This is particularly true of government. Today, the greatest challenge all organizations face is to organize around the customer. Those that don’t will not survive.

Organizing around the customer means organizing around the task that they want to complete. It’s not about products. It’s not even about services. If I’m an old person in the wintertime, I want to keep warm. My task is to get warm, not to get services.

If I want to start a business, that’s what I want to do — start a business. I will need to access government services to do that, but my core focus is not to access services. Starting my business — that’s my task.

I once interviewed a bunch of highly successful entrepreneurs. There was specific government funding targeted at these entrepreneurs, but most of them were not accessing it. Why not? “Too complicated,” was a typical reply. “Takes too much time. My time is better spent developing my product or out selling it.”

Part of the government complexity was deliberate so as to weed out people who had less entrepreneurial potential. But this complexity was proving an even bigger barrier for high-potential entrepreneurs because their time was much more precious.

One of the best books I have ever read is "The Mystery of Capital" by Hernando De Soto, which was published in 2003. In it, De Soto describes trying to set up a small business in Lima, Peru. “Our goal was to create a new and perfectly legal business.” De Soto’s team began “filling out the forms, standing in the queues and making the bus trips into central Lima to get all the certifications required to operate, according to the letter of the law.” They spent six hours a day at it. Two hundred eighty-nine days later they had legally set up their business.

If you want to start a business in the UK today, you may have to interact with HMRC, DWP, BEIS, the Department for Education, Companies House, the Department for International Trade, the Pensions Regulator and the British Business Bank, to name but a few. It’s not Peruvian in its scale of complexity, but it could be simpler. When we worked with the European Union a few years ago, we found that a typical citizen or business task might have relevant information in an average of 12 different European institutions.

GDS (who run GOV.UK) have started to establish communities of practice around services / tasks. “We’ve started to test this concept with the ‘Starting a Business’ community, which brings together people working to help users start a business,” wrote Tom Wynne-Morgan and Will Harmer in January 2018.

Such communities are wonderful but they will struggle to survive in the long-term unless they are tied together by common goals, objectives and metrics. We must come up with metrics that measure the areas where starting a business is failing and work to reduce those failure rates. But the crucial metric is time. How long does it take to set up businesses? We must have a relentless focus to reduce that time and hassle.