Industry Canada — Small Business Policy Branch Qualitative Research on Canada Business Network and BizPaL

Branch and Directorate

Industry Canada's Small Business and Marketplace Services (SBMS) sector supports the Government of Canada's commitment to create a competitive business environment that encourages entrepreneurship. One of its priorities is to foster growth and competitiveness for small and medium-sized enterprises. SBMS does so by providing business information through its Canada Business Network and through BizPaL, an online permit and licence tool.

The Canada Business Network is a multi-channel (web, email, telephone, in-person) business information source, designed to customize service needs for aspiring entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized business owners in Canada. As a government information service for businesses and start-up entrepreneurs, it helps to reduce the complexity and burden of dealing with various levels of government. The Canada Business Network is a partnership of federal, provincial/territorial and municipal governments and not-for-profit organizations.

BizPaL is an online service that simplifies the business permit, licence and other compliance regulation processes for entrepreneurs, governments and third-party business service providers. Users simply answer a series of questions on their type of business, and BizPaL will automatically generate a list of all required permits and licences from all levels of government. BizPaL is just one way that the Government of Canada is helping small and medium-sized businesses across the country address the start-up and growth challenges that they face.


The research objectives of the Small Business Policy Branch (a branch within SBMS) are to help Industry Canada gain a better understanding of the needs and expectations of its clientele (business intenders, current small and medium-sized business owners and operators), and to seek recommendations as to what kind of business services and information clients want from their government.

The Canada Business Network and BizPaL were studied through a mixed research methodology that included both focus groups and interactive user interviews. Collated recommendations from the research will be used to improve service to clients and help the Department meet some of its objectives:

  • Canada Business Network—to improve business start-up, survival and growth by providing businesses in all regions with accurate, timely and relevant business information, and to reduce the complexity of dealing with multiple levels of government by combining/consolidating business information in one convenient service.
  • BizPaL—to provide Canadians with an improved BizPaL service that aligns directly with their needs and expectations.

Anticipated Outcomes / Benefits

The research will focus on three areas:

  1. Value of the Canada Business Network and BizPaL to current and potential business clients. The research will:
    • gather needs and expectations of businesses
    • collect information related to programs and services, including permits and licences
    • assess the usefulness and quality of the information provided on Canada Business Network and BizPaL, including the value of multi-jurisdictional information
    • gauge the presentation/appeal of design, name, branding and recognition
    • probe the relative positioning of the two services and their better alignment
  2. Usability of the Canada Business Network and BizPaL. The research will help:
    • determine client awareness, expectations and perceptions of the usefulness of the sites
    • measure the success or failure of task completion
    • assess current user interface design and alternative designs for ease of navigation
    • assess improvement of overall client experience
    • assess client preference for summary documents or direct links to relevant websites
  3. Identification of possible opportunities to reduce paperwork burden.

Research Information

The research focused on the value of the Canada Business Network and BizPaL to current and potential business clients, the functionality of their online offerings, as well as views on the potential for paperwork burden reduction.

A total of 10 two-hour focus groups were held in Calgary, Winnipeg, Kitchener–Waterloo, Québec City (in French) and Halifax (with two groups per location). All group sessions were conducted in the evening. In all, a total of six groups were conducted with small and medium-sized business owners/operators, two groups were conducted with business intenders and two groups were conducted with trusted third parties. All sessions were conducted in professional focus group facilities. Ipsos Reid recruited a total of 10 participants for each group, allowing for an average of two no-shows per group.

In addition, a total of 19 interactive user interviews (one-on-one navigational labs) were conducted (four per location). The breakdown of these interviews is as follows: 11 with small and medium-sized business owners/operators, 4 with business intenders and 4 with trusted third parties.

Research firm: Ipsos Reid
Contract #: U6539-073932/001/CY
Contract issued by: PWGSC
Contract value: $110 689

Industry Canada — Service to Business: Qualitative Research on Canada Business and BizPaL — Final Report

Industry Canada — Service to Business: Qualitative Research on Canada Business and BizPaL — Final Report

Contract number: U6530-073932/001/CY
Contract Date: 2008-02-08
Field Dates: April 1st to April 8th, 2008

Prepared by:
Ipsos Reid

Submitted to:
Industry Canada (

Table of Contents

Target Audiences

  • Research was intended to assist Industry Canada in gaining a better understanding of the needs and expectations of the following three audiences:
    • Business intenders defined as people interested in starting or growing a business, securing financing, or getting information about taxes and regulations or licensing and permit requirements;
    • Current small and medium-sized business owners and operators; and,
    • Trusted third parties, that is, professional intermediaries who assist business intenders as well as current owners/operators in various capacities (e.g., lawyers, accountants, association representatives, economic development staff).

Research Objectives

  • Qualitative research focussed on:
    • The types of business services and information these clients look to and typically expect the government to provide; and
    • The means by which members of the target audiences prefer to obtain this information.
  • As such client experience research focussed on the value of Canada Business and BizPaL to current and potential business clients, views on potential for paper burden reduction as well as the functionality of Canada Business and BizPaL's online offerings.
  • These two areas of focus were addressed through a mixed qualitative research methodology which included both focus groups and interactive user interviews (IUIs).
  • A more detailed description of the research methodology is provided below.


  • In order to meet the stated objectives of this research, Ipsos-Reid conducted a series of focus groups and interactive user interviews (one-on-one navigational labs) with members of the three aforementioned target audiences.
  • Focus Groups:
    • A total of ten two-hour focus groups in Calgary, Winnipeg, Kitchener-Waterloo, Quebec City (French) and Halifax, two groups per location. All groups were conducted in the evening.
    • In all, a total of 6 groups were conducted with small and medium-sized business owners/operators, 2 groups were conducted with business intenders and 2 groups were conducted with trusted third parties. All groups were conducted in professional focus group facilities. Ipsos-Reid recruited a total of ten participants for each group allowing for an average of two no-shows per group.
    • Focus group participants were paid a $125 incentive for their participation.
  • Interactive User Interviews (IUIs):
    • In addition, Ipsos-Reid also conducted day-time hour-long interactive user interviews, in total 19 interactive user interviews (one-on-one navigational labs) were conducted—four per location with the exception of Halifax where one interviewee failed to attend. Interactive User Interviews were broken out as follows—11 with small and medium-sized business owners/operators, 4 with business intenders, and 4 with trusted third parties.
    • Participants were paid a $125 incentive to participate in the IUIs. As was the case for the focus groups.
    • Prior to commencement of qualitative research, participants were informed of the purpose of the research, the study sponsor, and Ipsos-Reid's mandate to carry out the research. Participants were also reminded that their participation in the study was voluntary and confidential, and that all information they provided would be administered according to the requirements of the Privacy Act.
    • As part of the interactive user interviews, participants were presented with a series of task-based navigational exercises. Each IUIs participant was instructed to complete tasks using the current and prototype versions of either Canada Business or BizPaL. The number of tasks completed varied from one interview to the other, depending on participants level of comfort using the Internet as well as the ease with which individuals were able to locate the information requested. Upon having completed individual tasks participants were queried as to the ease with which they were able to navigate the site, find the information they were looking for as well as the overall intuitive nature of the site tested.

Qualitative Research—Note to Readers

  • Qualitative data from the focus group discussions and IUIs are reviewed by the researchers who draw out continuities and synthesize the main themes, critical "hot buttons," "typical" responses and general levels of agreement/disagreement voiced during the sessions.
  • The analysis of qualitative findings yields tendencies and indications of how the target audience perceives the study issues.
  • However, results are not representative of the general population. Qualitative research involves a limited number of people who are specially selected according to pre-determined attributes. Only quantitative surveys that have a robust number of respondents who have been selected randomly from the target population can be generalized as to represent the broader population.
  • Participants' comments are not translated, but are presented in the language used by each individual during the interview.

Regional Differences—Note to Readers

  • There were no noticeable regional differences in terms of the major research findings. In the few instances where findings were particular to one location we have made note of the difference and referenced the location in question.

Sources of Information and Expectations of Government

Peers, third parties and governments most likely sources for business information

Sources for Business Information:

  • Perhaps not surprisingly, owners/operators and intenders tend to rely on a variety of sources when seeking business related information. Generally, they rely on 'trusted sources' whether it be acquaintances/friends who are also in business, and trusted third parties (accountants, lawyers, chambers of commerce, industry associations) as well as governments for basic start-up, how to, and regulatory information.

    "I use government sites such as Revenue Canada when seeking information that I am less familiar with."

    "I seek information from other entrepreneurs."

    "You need to determine what sector you're in and seek out people in that area."

    « Les contacts directs avec des gens dans le milieu. »

The Internet and in-person contact generally considered the most efficient way to access business info from governments

  • When seeking business related information from governments specifically, participants are inclined to prefer information obtained via the web (most often obtained via a Google search) or alternatively via in-person contact.
  • There tends to be consensus among participants that trying to access this information via phone can at times lead to much frustration—due to the inability to reach a live person and ambiguity (information that is not consistent from one time to the other), consequently resulting in much wasted time and ultimately little in the way of useful results.

    "I go to the Internet for statistics and information on market size."

    "I sometimes refer my clients to the Internet."

    "I am very frustrated with the phone system. I never get anywhere!"

    "It would be better to talk to a person, but people are hard to access."

    "It's a painful process dealing with government, you end up spending lots of time going from A to B to C."

    "Trying to get through the maze on the phone is hard."

    « Pour moi, l'Internet est la première étape. »

    « Pour le démarrage, l'info de base, l'Internet c'est super. »

  • Although a few were able to mention web-based government resources they had consulted for business information (particularly participants in the Trusted Third Party groups), there tended to be very little awareness of government web-based information and service offerings unprompted, particularly among current business owners/operators and intenders.

    "It is difficult to get information on Statistics Canada: the government is too busy and the site is tricky to navigate."

    "Is the government information even online?! It's not helpful and it takes a long time to get good information."

  • It should be noted however that in a few cases, participants were fairly cynical about the prospect of relying solely on the Internet in order to obtain business information from government, whether it be from Canada Business or BizPaL. Some simply said they wouldn't rely on the Internet for this type of information. Others were of the view that any information accessed online would necessarily have to be vetted in person with a trusted source.

    « J'aurais peur d'oublier des trucs quand même, j'aurais besoin de me référer à des gens quand même. »

    « J'ai un ami notaire, expert-conseil, je me réfère à lui. »

Expectations of Government

Expectations of Government:

  • When specifically prompted for types of business information and services they are most likely to expect from government, most commonly cited examples included:
    • General market intelligence (competitors, labour market info, trends and statistics);
    • Regulatory information—specifically licensing and permit info;
    • Financing information—info on grants and loans;
    • Fiscal/Tax information as it relates to business;
    • Start-up info and tools (i.e., steps to follow in the development of a business plan, etc);
    • Ability to access in-person service;
    • Legal information (i.e., info on trademarks, copyrights, etc); and,
    • Forms.
  • Participants also suggest a variety of other types of information/services they would appreciate from government but that are less vital. Some of these include:
    • HR related information;
    • Sample business plans;
    • Assistance in identifying and locating key resources (professional services: marketing/promotion, finance etc.);
    • Benchmarking and baseline information;
    • Measures taken to make accessing/dealing with governments simpler, faster (single ID);
    • Mentoring/counseling, opportunities for professional development (although some feel government not best source for this); and
    • Online media (blogs, forums, chat rooms) to facilitate interactions between entrepreneurs.

Pre-filled forms, information sharing and the Internet seen as ways of lessening paper burden

  • There was general agreement that any steps that can be taken to reduce paper burden would be welcomed. For instance, some participants mentioned that consideration should be given to lessening the need to re-submit existing information year after year. A few felt that this type of information could and should be captured and shared within government so as to lessen the need for individuals tore-submit the same types of information to numerous government departments.
  • Additionally, a few participants in Quebec City suggested unprompted, that government should explore ways of reducing the frequency with which certain forms need to be filed or alternatively should consider having forms with certain basic information pre-filled, particularly in cases where the same forms and information needs to be filed on a regular basis.

    « Ça serait aussi super d'avoir des formulaires à ne pas répéter à chaque année.
    On devrait pouvoir perdre moins de temps avec ça; pré-rempli, plus standardisés. »

Internet has the potential to reduce paper burden, though a few say it could increase the burden

  • There was some discussion and recognition that the Internet could potentially be beneficial in reducing paper burden and speeding up application processes which would likely, in turn, mean more time spent on day to day running of the business. That said, government sites are not always seen as user friendly, accessible or capable of resolving individuals' service and information needs without in-person assistance.

    "It's the same experience every time I go to a government site. It's not an easy process."

    "Trying to get through the maze on the phone is hard."

    "Accessing the information electronically is probably the easiest way and most common way to find information—and generally is."

  • Ironically, a few participants in Kitchener-Waterloo noted that initiatives such as BizPaL may function only too well and contribute to increasing the paper burden. These individuals argue that they would likely be made aware of numerous regulatory requirements they were previously unaware of and now would have to comply with.

    "I think you will sell a lot more licences and permits."

    "This is good for businesses that want to run their business by the law. So it's great for those people."

Information Needs

  • Participants said they looked to government for a variety of information, ranging from basic market intelligence type information (labour pool availability, market place demographics and statistics, etc) to guidance on starting a business/first steps to follow.
  • In addition, some participants expressed a desire for concrete information related to regulatory requirements. For these individuals, specific information on what levels of government to deal with on a given directive or baseline information in order to better understand rules/legislation from various levels of government as they apply to their particular circumstance would be helpful.

    "You have to understand each government group has different rules…"

    "Understanding the rules is hard to do."

  • There was a sense among some that this information can at times be quite difficult to source. Any steps that can be taken to facilitate access would be welcomed. For these participants, there was agreement that at minimum regulatory information needed to be easily found, be complete (i.e. minimize the need for additional queries and consequently wasted time) and be accurate.

    "Government should help you get through the regulations."

Preferred Information Channels

  • Although participants acknowledged that they commonly rely on a variety of information channels when accessing information and services from government, there tended to be agreement that some types of information/services would likely be better suited to specific channels. The Internet for instance was generally seen as well suited to providing baseline market information, trends, regulatory information and general financial/fiscal information, etc. The Internet is often seen as less capable of providing user-specific information and service.
  • Telephone and in-person channels are a logical next step for many who access government information and service online. In instances where the Internet fails to offer enough specificity, in-person assistance is seen as a necessity.
  • Those less likely to access government online tend to prefer in-person/telephone contact. Their inability to access information/services online, and a perception that time would be saved by going directly to the source were the most often cited reasons.
  • There was general agreement that more often than not, they would likely make use of a number of different channels in order to verify information/services they were receiving was complete and exact.
  • There was a certain amount of skepticism among participants in all groups that government could necessarily get it right the first time. Most agreed that this was simply a factor of dealing with government.

Clarity, Accuracy and Relevance are Key

  • Participants expected that any information provided by government should be current, accurate, and provide practical information, likely to assist them in the day to day operation of their business.

    "I don't see any value in having statistics that aren't up to date. I lose money!"

    "It's hard to find clear and consistent information."

    "The government should commit to a partnership with the private sector to ease the process of doing business."

    « Les préposés au Gouvernement ne sont pas toujours cohérents. »

  • Moreover, there was general agreement that beyond simply posting new information to the relevant government website, government needed to be proactive and take a 'push' approach to disseminating new information (new legislation, regulations, fiscal exemptions, etc) that might otherwise go unnoticed.

    « Des liens sur le site qui nous redirigent vers d'autres sites plus utiles. Le site pourrait offrir un service de portail. »

Awareness and Reactions to Canada Business

Screenshot of the Canada Business website's main page

Awareness of Canada Business tends to be low

Awareness of Canada Business:

  • Awareness of Canada Business varied greatly by region. In Quebec City and Calgary for instance, there was little if any awareness of 'Ressources Entreprises'or Canada Business, whereas some participants in Halifax and Winnipeg focus groups cited the 'Nova-Scotia Business Service Center' or the 'Canada-Manitoba Business Service Center.' *

    "I haven't really heard of it."

    "Does it exist?"

  • In these cases familiarity tended to be driven by in-person visits to the Business Service Centers as opposed to having obtained information online from these sources. Although a few participants did recall visiting Canada Business online.

    "Yeah, I think I've been there…"

    * Note to reader: Despite having been administered a screening questionnaire intended to exclude them, a few trusted third party focus group participants in Halifax had extensive prior knowledge of Canada Business having worked directly or indirectly with CB in the past—this may have impacted on awareness of Canada Business.

Reactions to the Canada Business site are positive—benefits are obvious

  • Although few had been to the Canada Business site prior to attending focus group discussions, when first presented the site, initial reactions to the types of information presented were very positive.

    "It's user friendly: I love the call number for help."

    "This is very cool and concise: it's written in a language we can understand."

    « Super! C'est encourageant de savoir que ça pourrait exister. »

  • Participants were quick to see how this type of online offering could be of use for those about to start a business as well as for those who are currently operating one.

    "The site is helpful. People are nervous when starting a business and want as much help and information as they can get."

    "This is for small businesses, not for big corporations. Small business or entrepreneurs: it's excellent for that audience… "

    « Je trouve que c'est super pour les jeunes qui partent leur première entreprise. »

  • A quick scan of the information presented on the main page generally yielded very positive feedback. The consensus tended to be that this was the type of information they expected government to provide, many saying they would likely visit the site at a later time to become more familiar with it.

    "The onus is on government to help and I'm happy to see that government is doing this."

    "It is comforting to know there is a reference guide that is very accessible to me and my business."

    « C'est vraiment le type de service qu'on utiliserait quotidiennement. »

  • The possibility of accessing current, accurate, and relevant business related information from all three levels of government in a single convenient location was met with enthusiasm. Participants often commented that this type of approach if properly coordinated would likely result in obvious time savings and increased efficiency for them.

    "I spent less time searching and more time doing business."

    "It makes sense. All three levels should be talking to each other so you don't end up with surprises down the road."

    « Oui, ça pourrait vraiment nous aider à faire fleurir nos entreprises plutôt que de les faire vivoter. »

  • When first presented the current Canada Business site, focus group participants initial reaction was to glance over the page and scroll up and down to get a better sense of the information being presented. Generally speaking comments tended to focus on the left hand tool bar (Topics and Audiences) which for most, was the preferred starting point. In fact a few participants in Halifax suggested that the information in the topics section should be further highlighted, perhaps even by moving it to the center of the page.

    "The topics should be centered; they should be the first thing you see. People just ignore the rest and want key info 'seeable' first. Enlarge the key topics and things that are more useful."

  • For some, the current Canada Business page was considered a little overwhelming. This was particularly the case among those less familiar with the Internet.

    "The previous one (current homepage) was overwhelming on the first page. This one (prototype) is less congested, not as overwhelming."

  • The clear positioning of the telephone number on the right hand side of the screen was generally well received, although some participants in Kitchener-Waterloo failed to notice it. The news and updates section in the middle of the screen—which would likely provide information on recent legislative changes, taxation issues and otherwise that were of interest to business—was also a welcomed information.

    "Love that call number for help."

  • Interestingly, a few also noted the 'date modified' reference at the bottom of the page—seen as providing the reader with some level of certainty as to the exactness of the information being provided.

    "I like the last verify date."

Awareness and Reactions to BizPaL

Screenshot of the BizPal website's main page

BizPaL—The web not an intuitive first stop for business permits and licences

  • When in need of information related to business permit and licensing requirements, first and foremost, participants said they consult a variety of sources ranging from city hall to trusted third parties as well as other entrepreneurs.

    "I hire a third party consultant to help."

    « Je m'adresse à l'Association des restaurateurs. »

    « Je vais à l'hôtel de ville directement. »

  • As a rule, permit and licensing requirements are dealt with on a case-by-case basis and generally involve a telephone call or a face-to-face meeting with a government representative working for the appropriate level of government.
  • Few said they rely on the web initially for this type of information which many see as being very specific and not easily obtained online.

    "If the information is simple and concise, then the internet is suitable. If it is more personalized, then a personal relationship with someone would be much easier."

  • Furthermore, many participants don't have a clear understanding of their regulatory requirements or simply assume that no news is good news.

    « J'aurais peur d'oublier des trucs quand même, j'aurais besoins de me référer à des gens quand même. Il faudrait que ce soit vraiment précis. »

BizPaL—initial reactions tend to be positive

  • As with Canada Business, initial reactions to BizPaL tended to be very positive—participants expressed both surprise and satisfaction that all three levels of government are working collaboratively in order to make the permit and licensing process easier to manage for entrepreneurs. Most were quick to note the potential for huge time savings with this type of approach.

    "Sounds easy."

    "Saves time and frustration."

    "It would be helpful to those just starting up and who are not familiar with all the ins and outs of government permits and licences needed to start and operate a business."

    « Ça permettrait de faire une seule recherche, on sauverait du temps une fois de plus. »

  • There was however some skepticism about whether all three levels of government could truly work together in this way. The usual comments and concerns about information being accurate, current and easy to work with did not take long to surface in most groups. Often these comments lead to discussions about the reliance on trusted third parties to vet the information being provided to ensure it is accurate and comprehensive and to save time.

The ability to tailor the permits and licences search to individual needs is well received

  • Participants (current business operators and intenders alike) appreciated the ability to tailor their query to their needs.

    "I like that I can look up my own information."

    "I like that you can see things you can develop, even after only owning a business for a few years."

    « Ça permettrait de dormir sur nos deux oreilles et avoir tout le nécessaire pour être en règles. »

    « Au moins on pourrait aller sur le site s'informer et ne pas être pris par surprise par les inspecteurs. »

  • Interestingly, in addition to being able to obtain detailed information on their permit and licensing requirements, as well as the ability to download and print forms, there was some interest in BizPaL offering a transactional function allowing users to pay licensing and permit fees online. That said, participants were quick to caution that doing business with government at any level can at times be complicated. Hence, these individuals were likely to wonder aloud why BizPaL would be any different.

Interest in Better Alignment of Canada Business and BizPaL Services

Canada Business and BizPaL—seen as complementary services

Interest in a combined Canada Business/BizPaL offering:

  • Several participants questioned, on an unprompted basis, why both these services existed separate from one another. There was recognition that they were at the very least complementary. As such, most suggested the need for a clear link from Canada Business—which is deemed to be a 'fully fleshed out site' (deemed to offer more general type of business information—a library approach) to BizPaL, which is more of an interactive tool providing targeted and specific types of info on business permits and licences.

    "Why do they have to be exclusive? The Government should have a link to BizPaL now."

    « Un point d'accès commun avec une gestion indépendante serait meilleur. »

    « Ça serait plus clair s'il y avait des liens qui mènent à 'Perle ' dans le site d'Entreprises Canada. »

  • Some participants, particularly those in Calgary, Winnipeg and Kitchener-Waterloo wondered aloud if the BizPaL step by step approach to information retrieval might not be preferable for some Canada Business topics (such as exporting, for instance).

Functionality Testing—Canada Business Website

Canada Business Navigational Exercises

  • Participants were asked to complete a series of navigational exercises using both the current version of Canada Business and a prototype. The Canada Business navigational exercises were as follows:
    • Scenario 1: (current and prototype) You and your friend are thinking of starting a new business—an appliance repair service. Your friend wants to incorporate the business but you want your business to be a partnership. Using this site, I would like you to try and find information about the different types of business forms or structures.
    • Scenario 2: (current and prototype) Your friends have told you that creating a business plan is a good idea. Using this site, I would like you to try and find information and guidance on what to put in a business plan.
    • Scenario 3: (prototype only) You are looking at approaching your bank for financing a new business and need advice on dealing with your banker. Using this site, I would like you to try and find advice on dealing with your banker.
    • Scenario 4: (prototype only) Using this site, I would like you to find what are the main elements that should be included in an export plan. Stop when you think you've found them.
    • Scenario 5: (prototype only) Using this site, I would like you to find out if you need to pay duties on goods you plan to export to another country.
    • Scenario 6: (prototype only) Using this site, I would like you to try and find out if you need a Business Number to export.

Interactive User Interviews—Canada Business

Screenshots that compare the Canada Business website’s current main page with its prototype version

Interactive User Interviews—Canada Business:

  • Regardless of the interface being used, task completion exercises were fairly intuitive to most. Predictably, those more experienced at using the web were in turn more likely to complete the information retrieval exercises with minimal difficulty as compared to their less experienced counterparts.

    "I found the site I used fairly simple to navigate, but sometimes a little too circuitous."

    « L'information semble claire, les écritures sont assez grosses, les textes sont très bien faits, les liens pour la prochaine page sont toujours présents . »

  • Reactions to Canada Business were positive—users generally offering favourable feedback on the nature and extent of the information available and the ease with which to access it.

    "I like the look of the page, all the boxes and the spread out info (for example, 'Starting A Business' )."

  • Those less comfortable online were at times confused as to where to begin their information retrieval. For these participants, the Canada Business main page was a little overwhelming. When asked to explain, most simply said it was a little busy and that there was a lot going on.

    "The search is confusing."

    « J'ai de la difficulté à comprendre ce qui est demandé et aussi j'ai peur de la page Internet et de l'ordinateur. »

  • Screenshots that compare the Canada Business website’s current left-hand tool bar with its prototype version
    The left hand tool bar with information organized by 'business topic' was the most often preferred starting point for experienced and novice users alike. The categories presented (both for the current version as well as the prototype) were fairly intuitive and, according to most, suffice as a launching point for possible queries.
  • Despite generally favourable reactions to the current Canada Business site, once presented with the prototype version, most participants were inclined to prefer the next generation of the site to the current version. As with the current version of the site, users were most likely to initiate their search using the left hand tool bar.

    "At first glance, I prefer the overall design and appearance of this site."

  • Favourable comments on the prototype tended to focus on what most considered to be a cleaner, less cluttered page. Navigational exercises using the prototype further reinforced this view. In this case experienced and novice users alike located the information they were looking for with less hesitation—most felt this version was more intuitive. Indeed, in this case most agreed that less was in fact more.

    "I find the process very straight forward and I have no problems retrieving the information I need."

  • Some participants also commented that there was less need for scrolling down the page in order to view full main page content.

    « Le site actuel m'intimidait : l'information était tellement compacte que j'avais l'impression d'être perdue complètement. »

  • The organization of the prototype page according to three main categories i.e., 'business topics', 'business stages' and 'do it online', and the provision of a key word search function that was front and center were deemed to be intuitive, useful and appropriate. A few, however, found "Starting a Business"under "Business Topics" and "Starting" under "Business Stages" to be redundant.

    « Organisation par sujets : c'est une bonne idée. »

    « C'est clair, c'est clair, c'est clair, c'est clair… »

  • "Do It Online" was understood to convey a place where more transactional services were offered.
  • "Exiting" under "Business Stages" was mentioned by a few as a very important category of information to offer, on a subject about which little information is typically offered.

Screenshot of the Canada Business website’s main page, showing the three main categories

Canada Business Sub Pages

Screenshot of the current Canada Business sub page, "Starting a Business"

Screenshot of the prototype Canada Business sub page, "Starting a Business"

Interactive User Interviews—Canada Business

  • Generally speaking when testing the Canada Business prototype, participants were no more likely to experience difficulty completing tasks associated with either the Start-up or Export related tasks.
  • Participants did demonstrate some hesitation within the prototype when clicking off of the home page. This was primarily due to their tendency to click first and read later. Upon further probing, these participants conceded that a more deliberate approach would likely have facilitated the completion of the particular task at hand.

    "I read the first title. I don't have the patience for this; I don't read the subtext."

    "By reading the blue text (headings), I figured I was in the right area."

  • Participants were less likely to pay particular attention to the descriptive captions presented beneath the various headings initially—particularly those more comfortable with the Internet. That said, when prompted as to the need for these descriptors, there was recognition that this information was useful and would be helpful in cases where choices were less obvious or in cases where participants were not pressed for time.

    "I would scroll down quickly in a rush and if I didn't find out what I'm wanting, I would go back in further detail."

    "Normally, I would have just clicked on the first one, but I read the words and I now know where I would like to go."

  • Although there is a sense that the proposed prototype structure requires users to complete a few more clicks in order to access desired information, there was recognition that the trade-off would be a more cluttered approach with busier pages. Some commented that the proposed approach would in fact allow users to more quickly identify the information they were seeking rather than having to read what were seen as text heavy and cluttered pages in the existing site.
  • The 'featured', 'latest news', 'popular resources' and 'specific audiences' groupings at the bottom of the prototype page had a tendency to go unnoticed until participants were specifically prompted for their reactions.
  • There was a sense among many that this was nice to have rather than need to have information.
    • Participants were more likely to comment on the Latest News section and generally considered it a good idea. The expectation was that it would provide information on latest government developments/initiatives affecting business. Conversely, content of the Featured section was less intuitive.
    • Participants offered mixed feedback as to what they would likely find in the Popular Resources and Specific Audiences tabs.

      Screenshot showing the tabs at the bottom of the prototype page
  • The inclusion and prominent placement of the search function was appreciated and seen as necessary.

    Screenshot showing the search function on the prototype page

Functionality of BizPaL

BizPaL Navigational Exercises

  • Participants were asked to complete a series of navigational exercises using both the current version of BizPaL and a conceptual prototype. Participants were informed that the prototype version of the site was still in development, and very much a 'mock up'. They were asked to overlook the aesthetics of the prototype and to focus on structural difference in how the information was being presented.

    BizPaL navigational exercises were as follows:
    • Scenario 1: (current and prototype)You are about to open a clothing store. Using BizPaL, I would like you to try and find out what your regulatory obligations are. Stop when you think you have found them.
    • Scenario 2: (current and prototype) You currently operate a restaurant. You do not currently serve beer or wine but are considering doing so in the near future. Using BizPaL, I'd like you to try and find out what your regulatory obligations are. Stop when you think you have found them.

Interactive User Interviews—BizPaL

Screenshots that compare the BizPaL website’s current main page with it's prototype version

  • Although for a few, launching BizPaL from the respective host site was less than intuitive, once launched initial reactions to the current BizPaL tool and it's step by step approach were positive.

    Screenshot of the BizPal website's current "Online Business Permits and Licenses Service" page
  • Participants clearly understood and appreciated the step by step approach used in the BizPaL tool. The progression from location (Step 1) to business type (Step 2) and the subsequent questions related to the nature of their specific business (Step 3) seemed logical. Furthermore, navigation of these individual steps was intuitive for most.
  • A few did experience difficulty finding the appropriate business type saying that in some cases the business categories were overly specific.

    "It's easy to go through the website. It has descriptions so you know what you're looking at."

    « Le site semble très utile, j'aimerais bien pouvoir l'utiliser. »

    Screenshot showing the step-by-step approach used in the BizPaL tool
  • A few participants did comment on the lengthy nature of Step 3. That said, these individuals typically conceded that this was a necessary evil in order to get truly customized results.

    Screenshot showing step 3 of the current BizPaL tool
  • Any concerns about the lengthy nature of the information retrieval process tended to be assuaged once participants were presented with the results page.
  • Reactions to the information presented on the results page were equally positive. The ability to download and print forms, the provision of costs as well as additional contact information were all welcome elements.
  • Some did notice that certain entries offered less specific information—for example in certain cases, no or limited information on costs.

    Screenshot showing the results page of the current BizPal tool
  • Participants did say it would be useful to include an option for current entrepreneurs to self-identify thus preventing them from having to answer a series of hypothetical questions that may or may not be relevant to their requirement. Anything that could be done to allow users to zero in on specific permits they require would be welcomed.
  • It should be noted that the current version of BizPaL does allow for users to 'search for specific permits and licences by level of government', however few noticed this option. Those who did had little difficulty with scenario 2 requiring participants to obtain liquor licence information.

    Screenshot showing the "search for specific permits and licences by level of government" link on the current BizPal website
  • Participants were also instructed to complete a series of navigational tasks using a preliminary conceptual prototype for a possible future BizPaL tool. Perhaps not surprisingly given the very preliminary nature of the prototype, reactions to it tended to be less positive than they were to the current version of BizPaL tested.

    « Le site devrait être plus « friendly ». Si j'étais à la maison, je fermerais toutes les pages, je quitterais le site et j'appellerais à la ville d'Ottawa pour poser mes questions. »

  • Positive comments tended to focus on Step 2 in the prototype allowing participants to identify their business 'sector' prior to specifying their 'business type'. This was seen as a more likely to allow for zeroing in on their particular business activity.

    "I like the way the site narrows down my business type and activities."

Screenshot showing step 2 of the prototype BizPaL tool

  • The information bubbles/dialogue boxes used in the prototype received at best mixed reactions. More specifically, these bubbles intended to confirm individual step selections as well as to provide users with additional information/clarification on the next step in the information retrieval process were for some a minor distraction. Others simply said they wouldn't take the time to read this information.

    « Les bulles d'information qui apparaissent à chaque étape, c'est désagréable. On a toujours le réflexe de les fermer pour s'en débarrasser comme un pop-up. »

    Screenshot showing the information/dialogue boxes used in the prototype BizPaL tool
  • Reactions to the results page were mixed. Participants appreciated the layout of this page. The column approach highlighting headings: 'name', 'description', 'jurisdiction' and 'cost', were well received—this is seen as a potential time saver.
  • The keyword search, 'issuing department' and 'type of regulations' options went unnoticed for most until specifically prompted. These elements were not seen as particularly useful.

    "I like this. I like how it gives you the cost and the descriptions." "I like the layout."

    Screenshot showing the results page of the prototype BizPal tool
  • While the question-and-answer approach in the current site was seen as time consuming, it resulted in targeted/customized results based on individual requirements. The prototype did not seem to offer any comparable degree of customization.

    "Having the questions would be a help. Maybe there's a way to narrow down the results."

    "This version (prototype) is too broad."

  • Conversely, the proposed prototype results page did little to present users with any sense of priority. Participants were left to wonder aloud if they must sift through 35 individual 'results', organized in no particular order, in order to determine which permit or licence corresponded to their needs.

    Screenshot showing the results page of the prototype BizPal tool
  • In addition, participants would appreciate some clarity in terms of the organization of the information on the results page. More specifically, some sense that permits and licences have been organized in order or by type whether it be chronological, by regulatory requirement (permits vs. licences) or alternatively by level of government.
  • Finally, participants tended to express mixed views on whether they could trust that the information provided on the results pages in either of the versions tested was complete.
    • For some, there was a willingness to trust that given the source of the information (government site) and the extent of the questions they were asked to answer (current version) that information was indeed complete.
    • For others, there was an underlying sense of cynicism that governments from all three levels could collaborate sufficiently in order for the information being provided to be complete. In reacting to the prototype results page, others simply said that the information was not sufficiently targeted/too generic to suggest that information was complete and customized to their needs.
  • There was a propensity for participants to prefer the current question and answer approach (offering a more targeted and customized results page) to the proposed alternative.

    "There are too many results. I can't see them all. They just get in the way."

    "Maybe there's a way to narrow down the results. I like the layout of this but I like the more concise list (results) in the current (version)."

    "A way to refine the 35 …questioning would be a good one."

    « On devrait privilégier un certain ordre logique selon l'émission des permis : lesquels on se procure en premier, lesquels viennent plus tard—un ordre chronologique. »

  • A few participants (particularly those in Quebec City and Halifax) noticed the RSS, email, download and print options at the bottom of the prototype results page and appreciated having these options. There was no consistency among these individuals in terms of which option they would most likely use.

    "l like that you have the option to download the form right there."

    "I would print out the search results to be safe and for my records."

    Screenshot showing the option to download on the BizPaL prototype results page

Conclusions and Recommendations

  • Peers, third parties and governments tended to be the most likely sources for business information.
  • Participants said they look to governments for a variety of information, ranging from basic market intelligence type information and regulatory information to guidance on starting a business/first steps to follow. There tended to be consensus that this information can be quite difficult to source.
  • Despite the Internet being considered among the most efficient ways to access business information in general, and from governments more specifically, there was little if any specific awareness of existing web-based government resources/service offerings among participants, apart from the Canada Revenue Agency site. Clearly efforts must be made to increase awareness and usage among this audience.
  • When it comes to the provision of information, participants seemed to hold government to a high standard. Information provided via the web or otherwise was expected to be current, accurate, and practical. Dated or hard to access information would run counter to participants expectations and would lessen the likelihood of a repeat visit.
  • Participants expected government to take a 'push' (email, mail-outs or otherwise) approach to disseminating new information (new legislation, regulations, fiscal exemptions etc). They felt that online offerings such as Canada Business and BizPaL can and should play a role in this regard.
  • Awareness of both Canada Business and BizPaL was low, few participants had heard of, or been to either website.
  • Once they had seen either site, participants recognized that both services could save time and allow users to be more efficient in their information retrieval. There was a consensus that more needs to be done to promote these services to the business community.
  • There was a recognition and an expectation that Canada Business and BizPaL should work hand in hand. At the very least participants expected to be able to access BizPaL via the Canada Business Site.
  • Reactions to the Canada Business and BizPaL prototypes were mixed.
    • The Canada Business prototype was met with a fair amount of enthusiasm; participants appreciated the clear/uncluttered and concise way with which information was presented. The main page organization (according to three main categories) suggested to users that the interface would be easy to use and that information would be clearly presented. Feedback garnered from navigational exercises suggests that this was indeed the case.
    • The BizPaL prototype was met with less enthusiasm. Positive feedback tended to focus on step 2—business type identification, the general layout of the results page, and, more specifically, the upper portion of the page providing users with general categories for the information presented (Name, Description, Jurisdiction, and Costs) which made it easy for users to zero in on needed information.
    • Conversely, negative comments on the BizPaL prototype tended to focus on the means by which the information is organized or the apparent lack thereof. There is an expectation that information on the results page would be structured in such a way to make it obvious to the user how to proceed, whether it be in alphabetical order, in chronological order, or possibly even according to jurisdiction. This is not currently the case.
    • Additionally, the listing of total results for the individual query, as witnessed by the list of results (35 of 35 results shown), did little to convey to users that this process is targeted or fast. Rather, they were left with the impression that much time would be spent sifting through page upon page of results for their specific query. In this sense, the current version of BizPaL with its question and answer approach is considered preferable.
  • There was agreement that BizPaL should afford users the possibility of self-identifying as either an established entrepreneur or a prospective entrepreneur. It would prevent established entrepreneurs, who are looking for specific permits, from answering numerous questions that may in some cases not be relevant (as in the current version) or alternatively from having to sift through a results page listing permits they may already have (as in the prototype).
  • It is recommended that future research with Trusted Third Parties be limited to individual sessions. Experience has shown that in a group setting members of this audience tend to become critical of government, which are often described as wasteful and offering limited information. Furthermore, members of this audience tend to underestimate their clients interest and ability to interact with government.