In our home market of New Zealand we’ve been dialing up the awareness of a Single Business Number (SBN). An SBN is a public unique identifier for each small business.
Australia already has a Single Business Number (called the Australian Business Number – ABN) as does Canada, the US (Employer Identification Number – EIN) and a number of other countries. Where a Single Business Number exists, these have normally been created by Government departments for the purpose of making it easier to collect information from small business.
In a cloud computing environment, a Single Business Number comes alive for the small business owner and is a key building block for a number of new services.
One of the key differences between cloud computing compared to desktop software is your data can be linked to other information. Take for example entering a new customer. You have to know their name and address and if they move you may not know for several months. In the cloud it would be great to be able to connect to that customer and have their latest address details load automatically into your system, and if these ever change, have them automatically updated.
If a new customer approaches you with a large order, wouldn’t it be great to do an immediate credit check. If they come back with a less than clear bill of health then you still might do the business but insist on a cash payment up front. Both parties win.
Another example is sending electronic invoices. It seems crazy that a small business creates an invoice in its own accounting system with structured data, then flattens that data into a paper invoice, which is essentially a picture, and then the customer has to retype that invoice back into structured data in their accounting system. (We’ve started on this at simpleubl.org)
Wouldn’t it be useful to have as the last page of your monthly management accounts an anonymous benchmark of similar companies in your space. You can see how well you are doing against your competitors and peers. That 1% growth you’re achieving might compare with an industry average of -2%, showing that your strategies are working and you are gaining market share in a tough market.
The Single Business Number is a key building block for all these scenarios.
So what could the Single Business Number be? In New Zealand it’s likely to be the GST (Goods and Services Tax) number as it’s already a number that each business uses to interact with our Inland Revenue Department. There may be a suffix or prefix to make it match other international numbers like the ABN. There is some Government policy work required to enable the GST Number to be used for this purpose.
But that may be a too literal interpretation of a Single Business Number. Another candidate identifier might be the physical address of head office. Essentially this is a physical key that already exists for many businesses and can be easily populated using a geo interface like Google Maps.
Another alternative is the Companies Office record. In New Zealand the Companies Office has recently implemented a new Companies Register which could generate a unique url for each business. (e.g. business.govt.nz/company/xero2006). The problem is the Companies Office does not have a register of sole traders and partnerships and is therefore missing the majority of small businesses. A policy option might be to allow sole traders to (initially at least) voluntarily register themselves to obtain a validated listing in the Companies Register. We believe that providing certainty over who you are trading with is an accelerator for most businesses.
Start the ball rolling
As anything involving Government can take a while, the industry can potentially just get started with some of these candidate keys and match them up later, but that is not as powerful as having certainty. We believe the traction cloud computing vendors are achieving creates the business case for businesses themselves to get interested in SBN. That leads to a massive opportunity for productivity gains and increased commerce for small businesses. We think that’s important.
Let us know what you think. We’re keen to understand if there is any resistance to SBN so we can talk through those issues.