Guichet-entreprises.fr is the result of a French government initiative in line with the implementation of the 2006 European Services Directive, requiring EU and EEA member states to establish a single electronic window for business creation involving all formalities, modifications, authorisations and termination processes. By way of partnership, instated through the network of Centre de Formalités des Entreprises (CFE), the Guichet Entreprises (GE) project has now reached its seventh year. Working closely with the European Commission and national partners, the French Point of Single Contact (PSC) is one of the many portals across Europe with the initiative carried forward by the EUGO network. Since 2015, the project has been guided by the Directorate-General for Enterprise (DGE) in connection to the Ministère de l’Économie et des Finances in France. The GE service has since advanced to include guichet-qualifications.fr, launched at the beginning of 2016; a further website in relation to the European Qualification Directive for the recognition of professional qualifications.
The Reason for the Guichet Entreprises Service
2011-2012: Ambitions and Realities
2013: Renovation Brings New Challenges
2016: Six Years Later
The Reason for the Guichet Entreprises Service
The current field of French business administration contains a plethora of methods and processes to match the amount of regulations and information surrounding business creation, lifespan, and termination. These methods and processes are often confusing, time-consuming and written in a language not always clear or accessible. Improvements have been made to simplify these methods and allow certain businesses a more efficient means of creation but the current structures in place are far from consistent: while some methods work, others remain outdated and inefficient. French administration for business has followed set rules and procedures that have helped entrepreneurs, increased business statistics and built confidence in the administrative process, but the deep-rooted limitations have failed to be addressed. In order to tackle the problems that cause limitations in efficiency, system performance and structural processes, and to make advanced and significant improvements, business administration requires something that goes beyond what has already existed: a multitude of ideas and pragmatic solutions.
So far, the Guichet Entreprises service has been a story of trial and error; over six years of renovation and removing performance-reducing bugs and errors as well as redesigning graphics, abandoning software and altering team structures. The road we have taken to reach the point of initial dematerialisation and authorisation, functionality and general sustainability has been a difficult and time-consuming task. There is still further work to be done in order to ensure the important, fundamental changes within the modern landscape of administrative communication are achieved and foundations are strengthened. We know that in order to modernise and restructure business administration we need to constantly look to simplify; find methods to improve the quality and efficiency of procedures that will crucially save both time and money for citizens, businesses and government alike. The ‘once-only’ method for business administration remains a daunting task but the Guichet Entreprises service is taking small and significant steps to achieve that goal.
May 2009 marked the beginning of the unique window for business creation with a signature from the President of the Centre de Formalités des Entreprises (CFE), an administrative network to help streamline business creation. As our partner, the CFE remains responsible for receiving files, submitting information to the relevant organisations and transmitting requests for necessary administrative authorisations. Florent Tournois, now Head of Service at Guichet Entreprises, was on the initial team of twelve, which brought together the modalities and structure of the portal that we have in place today. In line with the transposition of the EU directive on Services1 or Version One (V1), this preliminary installation was completed by the end of 2009 and officially launched on 20th January, 2010.
From 2010, we began establishing and building information around the processing and handling of authorisation procedures accumulating to around 17 business activities under the traditional craft and service sectors and, throughout this year, 500 files were created (0.1% of businesses in France). The integration of paperless processing of all administrative procedures connected to these service sectors involves identifying all the formalities needed, requesting for authorisation, providing a specific time commitment and keeping individual records. From the very start of the project, and every year since our development has been focused on the groundwork of the site: detecting software bugs and renovating systems. The technical elements drew our attention away from the further advancement of dematerialisation and business procedures but the technical focus has produced more reliable processes.
The EUGO network meetings began the year of the portal’s launch with the first meeting held on 30th September, 2010. Throughout the last six years, these meetings have served as a means to oversee the development of e-portals in every member state in Europe. The preliminary meetings allowed the Guichet Entreprises team to exchange best practices and share experiences with the intention to move on from V1, the so-called ‘first generation’ PSCs, to Version Two (V2) or ‘second generation’. By the end of 2010, we were able to start this process by building information, renovating software and steadily improving the overall usability of the portal. It was also the time when Bernard Migaud joined the team as project manager, working directly on the site’s development, monitoring the quality and safety of our contracts and hosting services.
2011-2012: Ambitions and Realities
At the beginning of 2011, the Groupement d’Interets Publics (GIP) was established; an independent structure which helped give greater prominence to the business method. Florent Tournois was nominated as Director and worked alongside a team of ten. The goal for January 2012 was to obtain 20% of the entrepreneurs who fell under traditional business spectrum in France and, at the same time, improve traceability of records, improve website presentation and legibility, and digitise at least 10 authorisation procedures. These early ambitions for the project were positive steps but it became clear that we were not yet prepared to reach such specific goals; technical improvements had to take centre stage.
Therefore, in 2011, we established our front office software, instating the Spécifications Fonctionnelles Générales (SFG) and Spécifications Fonctionnelles Détaillées (SFD) in relation to the 105 business regulated activities in France. At this time in our development, the front office system was provided and managed by France’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie, CCI). Back office or the Systeme d’Echange et de Suivi (SES) was administered by Infogreffe, the service provider to France’s trade and companies register. Although the idea of developing our own systems was eventually agreed upon in late 2013 after elongated discussions, during this early phase of the portal, the pre-existing front and back office systems were applied. Initial results for government e-portals showed promise between 2010 and 2011: usage figures were optimistic, website visits increased, individual queries grew and the completion of procedures also revealed a slight growth. These results gave us the incentive to move forward. Towards the end of 2011, Juan Carlos Campillo joined the team to establish and organise the project’s administrative processes. From this point onwards, the project developed an efficient means to communicate the project’s needs and execute collaborator contracts.
By 2012, however, the full extent of the task that lay was overwhelming. It was during this year that we slowly began a redesign of the website’s technical architecture, focusing on elements of ergonomics as well as security. This intention, in part, corresponded with a country report of our PSC which analysed the infrastructure and services offered in France. What we were shown to excel in was the amount of information we were providing on the website, something that went beyond what was legally expected and ‘a major element of best practice for the portal’. Despite the positive feedback, the report also highlighted major improvements that needed to be made in order to take the portal to next level of usability, many of which were in the initial stages of implementation.
The first dematerialised activities were put into production from 2010 but it was the implementation and legalities surrounding translation that proved to be an ongoing issue, something we decided to focus on much later. In the meantime, we installed the Google translation software on the front office in conjunction with the EU directive. By April, as predicted, we were fixing further bugs and working on the renovation of both the front and back office systems still managed through our state partners at the CCI and Infogreffe. From June, we established the Information System Security Policy (ISSP) so that the portal was fully equipped with the fundamental security requirements; a broad system but extremely important to the portal’s advancement.
The presentation of the portal was another aspect brought to our attention in the report. We were given the advice to provide clearer explanations and organise the portal using simpler navigational tools to help our users and easily track ongoing procedures. We developed the graphics in July to help aid organisational issues and strengthen the identity of the Guichet Entreprises service. We took the time to form ideas to create a logo and colour scheme that would not only work well online, but also represent us well at exhibitions, on flyers, and all media that promotes the one-stop service. The graphics also included business cards, paper headings, brochures and leaflets that would improve the overall perception of the project. Mid 2012, we began to develop the first Partner Function, a separate website for our organisational partners who are not fully equipped to directly access Guichet Entreprises systems. These partners would use this website to retrieve created business files by simply using email and password login. Following long discussions with regards to control of this new facility, our initial efforts and plans in 2012 were postponed and the website was later developed at the end of 2013.
Although our ambitions to dematerialise further business procedures were not met, 2012 was the year that marked the start of key renovations in order to make the portal secure, clear and more accessible. The team started to grow with the arrival of Claire Le Sech in July 2012 who helped to frame legal requirements for future dematerialisation of the CFE. Claire soon adapted her skills to sustain the portal’s technical advancement for customer support and usability.
2013: Renovation Brings New Challenges
2013 saw a major rebuild of our existing formalities and authorisation procedures including many software updates, which helped to create a more organised and user-friendly front office. On 16th September, a renovated portal was launched under V2 or ‘second generation’ PSC by the Minister of the Economy. The qualification portal, guichet-qualifications.fr was also developed under the V2 launch, providing information (as a starting point) in relation to obtaining qualification recognition within EU countries and industries. This element of the project would be officially launched in 2016.
Before the launch of V2, the original front and back office structures were starting to show fundamental flaws, not only revealing the unsuitability for the advancement of the portal but also a drop in team productivity. It was decided that we would internally give support to both Infogreffe and CCI in controlling their systems. By July, renovated versions of these systems were in place, further supported and developed by the GIP. This alteration and support proved to be a challenging period because key renovations were followed by an increase of system errors. This was the moment that we, as a team, started to question all systems and structures in place. So, starting in September 2013, we looked to solve the fundamental performance issues.
Firstly, we called into question the software, BONITA (supported by Bonitasoft), a French business process management and workflow suite. Although known to manage data in various steps, BONITA had never dealt with the amount of data the portal had created and became overwhelmed by the amount of forms it needed to manage. We made it a priority around this time to replace BONITA with something more sufficient in data management. We decided to abandon certain developments in dematerialisation for the simple reason that we were not prepared to implement particular authorisation functions at such critical, technical stage.
Unfortunately, it was also during this time that another situation arose. A problem unforeseen was our inability to recover any declared files or business creations that were partially finished after the site’s transition from V1 to V2. This error resulted in major communication complications and the site remained offline for nearly two weeks. This oversight brought with it an explosion of support queries – six times the amount previously received – and placing our focus on client support. Yet, despite the setback, the situation taught us a lot about communicating with our users, preparing us for any similar occurrences. Despite the ongoing and unexpected challenges that were faced in 2013, by the end of the year, we were once again, steadily moving forward. The graphics, developed the previous year, were instated and the preliminary Partner Function was eventually established. A dynamic team from the outsourcing company Capgemini came onboard to not only to spearhead the Partner Function site but take over the role of data management.
In trying to maintain the momentum and focus of ergonomic improvement, in April 2014, we experimented with the idea of test co-browsing (remote assistance) that would allow us to take control of the screens to help business creators fill in online documentation. This concept would make the process quicker and more easily understood for those unsure of the procedure. Although not followed to implementation due to concerns from our partners, it is an administrative initiative that we intend to revisit once the service is more advanced.
By mid-July, system information was organised and developments were in place for Capgemini to also take on the leading role in system management. A competence skill transfer involved a period of “double run” with the CCI to allow a smooth transition of front office control. The developed Partner Function was also put online within the same month. Throughout 2014, when new systems and methods were being tested, team support arrived in August to temporarily help with customer service queries. Christophe Lebeau also joined the team in September to take on the much needed role of overseeing the project’s development. However, despite newly appropriated roles, the team started to decrease in numbers following one of our biggest project setbacks to date. By the beginning of 2015, only five team members were left to work alongside the recent Capgemini team; the GIP budget effectively ran out in April 2014. We were given a short budget extension until January 2015 but, during this time, there was huge uncertainty about the future of the Guichet Entreprises service, causing tension and concern amongst the team. Throughout these nine months, we were given very little direction except the temporary mission to supervise the current systems. This unsettled period, unfortunately, resulted in team members leaving the project altogether.
Eventually, the decision was made that the service would be placed under the Service à Compétence Nationale (SCN), a new national service responsible for managing the project. The SCN was placed under the direction of the Service de la Compétitivité, de l’Innovation et du Développement des Entreprises (SCIDE) in line with the DGE. However, this period of integration was not easy; it was not certain whether or not the SCN would become a legitimate body to help fulfill the intention of the Guichet Entreprises service. A modified budget under a brand new organisation also brought new rules and the team members who had remained were put through a tough phase of readjustment.
Despite the difficulties, we were determined to build up project momentum. With the budget in place, we were back to work in evolving our own systems and, by November, we had established and instated our own back office system (SES). Following two months of development, we had also managed to link our system to the PAYBOX payment method used by our CFE partners. The PAYBOX payment system works in conjunction with our partners; special bank accounts are in place to deal with the multiple of payments that come through, with each payment transfer assigned to the relevant organisation. Infogreffe were unable to provide us with the relevant support and information immediately but, to keep things moving forward, we instated the PAYBOX system on the portal and advised business creators to send postal cheques to the necessary organisations in the meantime. Although postal cheques added complication to the overall process (cheques were still being received four months later), it was a means to instantly provide a more direct approach for our users. Our decision was a little controversial but, on this occasion, we decided to put the experience of our users first.
Further change occurred during 2015 following the announcement that guichet-entreprises.fr would be the first online portal to formulate the compulsory administrative procedures for the newly adapted, micro-entrepreneur. Following a change in the law in June 2014, the legal status of the previously labelled auto-entrepreneur in France gained greater benefits after being added to the public register and, therefore, renamed, micro-entrepreneur. Before the existence of our service, self-entrepreneurs could use Lautoentrepreneur.fr, a portal maintained by the Agence Centrale des Organismes de Sécurité Sociale (ACOSS), the head organisation for social security, known as the URSSAF network (Union de Recouvrement des Cotisations de Sécurité Sociale et d’Allocations Familiales). Today, the ACOSS portal still coexists alongside guichet-entreprises.fr but does not comply with the newly legalised registrations.
Following the change in law, formalities and regulations had to be updated, which in turn affected the overall function of guichet-entreprises.fr. The drafting started on the front office systems to regularise functions and provide activity modification and termination processes for the new status of the micro-entrepreneur. The front office procedures continued to be developed throughout August alongside improvements to find resolutions for PAYBOX related abnormalities. Elodie Dufour joined the team in September as our second jurist, placing a fresh focus on the legal requirements including the initial front office developments for guichet-qualifications.fr and the development of its graphics. Elodie’s knowledge of European law enhanced our position in consideration with the European Directive and strengthened our representation and expertise.
By the end of the year, the regularisation function for micro-entrepreneurs was put online and the France Connect system closely followed. A device proposed by the State, France Connect means that our users can automatically and safely link their business creation to the relevant tax and social security services online.
2016: Six Years Later
After six years of development and reconstruction, we eventually saw a major decrease in software bugs by 2016. The latest edition of guichet-qulaifications.fr was launched on 18th January, providing further content and information ready to be developed. Chloé Ledevin joined the team in February to take charge of the census permissions in relation to the Qualification Directive and work closely with the European commission guidelines.
By April, the functions we had developed relating to the modification and termination of business for the new micro-entrepreneur status were put online alongside the regularisation function and electronic signature, a regulation process controlled by the Centre d’Enregistrement et de Révision des Formulaires Administratifs (CERFA). Following consolidation with the Lautoentrepreneur.fr, we gained further business creations, which resulted in a new total of 50, 000 created files under guichet-entreprises.fr in 2016 (10% of businesses in France).
We began ergonomic developments for Version 3 (V) of the portal in July, an advancement that will, in no doubt, bring fresh performance challenges. V3, in line with the Services Directive, includes the provision of multilingual information and forms that are currently being developed to make sure we also adhere to the legal requirements in France. Due to the excessive security level of our original hosting service, by the end of September, we also successfully completed the process to change hosting servers for our websites. This change will mean 15, 000 people can use the websites at the same time.
The software and ergonomic development of the Guichet Entreprises service over the last six years has been a difficult challenge for the team but the foundations have been set. Now, the focus is on the challenges that will help the user; challenges that mean we can begin to fulfill the promise of ‘one door, one key’ and provide specified information, updated regulatory procedures and a structured connection to all administrative organisations. November 2016 marked a new way of thinking; a direction that business administration has yet to take and one which the team at Guichet Entreprises are committed to pursuing. Gathering all team members related to our mission, we expressed our new direction during a two-day seminar to set the roadmap for 2017 and the future. We introduced Agile methods and the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) to coordinate new, formalised teams, increase engagement and place the user story at the heart of all processes. Incremental sprints provide the project with a fresh determination to create solutions to our biggest challenges, build knowledge and collaborate regularly for fast development.
The focus for 2017 will be initially centred on the production of qualification formalities, in line with the European Directive. The introduction of our new form generator will mean the productivity process will become much simpler and, ultimately, solve a big part of our challenge in collating the formalities. Yet, the fundamental part of the challenge remains in the deployment of the qualification formalities: sending new user files to authorities that we have not previously communicated with. A further prominent task for 2017 will be the creation of a new method of payment. Currently, the Guichet Entreprises service – although linked with the PAYBOX system through the CFE – is not contracted to fully utilise this method of payment. Yet, due to our central position within France’s business network, we are in need of a payment structure that allows us to be the direct link or middleman for the user and develop a means that will potentially connect all organisations to one payment system. Currently, all partners require a specific and costly component on their account if contracted to the PAYBOX system; we aim to develop a simpler and more efficient solution.
We have a long journey ahead to make sure we fulfill user expectations and develop productivity and communication solutions. Experimenting with new systems can mean disruption; pulling apart and restructuring business administration in France is not a straightforward mission. It is, however, extremely vital that we keep this project in a state of momentum; if we keep pushing, boundaries will alter and slowly reveal an improved, efficient and more consistent approach to business administration.