Transforming the taxpaying experience for Singapore businesses
TAX RETURN. Two words that strike terror into many hearts. Just filling it in can be as painful as the resulting bill. It’s the same for businesses: the process can be complicated, the payment may need to be timed to suit cash flow, and mistakes can have legal implications. This is why the taxpaying experience is a significant part of the business environment of a country – and why if it’s unpleasant, trading there is less attractive.
In recent years, Singapore has been on a drive to make its business environment one of the friendliest in the world. To enhance the taxpaying experience for small businesses in Singapore, Fjord worked with the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) on a service design project to improve existing services and experiences as well as innovate on completely new ones.
Our work with IRAS included a variety of activities such as qualitative research activities to better understand the context and experiences of Singapore small businesses, co-creation workshops to ideate solutions with members of the ecosystem and prototyping methods to articulate ideas in a tangible format.
THE POWER OF COLLABORATION
Over the first 16 weeks, we conducted extensive collaborative group work and research activities to immerse ourselves in the Singapore ecosystem of small businesses. We got to know their ways of working, as well as the challenges and opportunities they face on a daily basis. During this time, we collaborated with 150 small businesses who told us exactly what it’s like to set up, to grow, to be a small or big enterprise – and also what it’s like to liquidate a company.
Once completed, the research was collated for use in RumbleTM workshops, our proprietary brainstorms designed to create qualified ideas, that were attended by 70 participants, comprising IRAS executive stakeholders, project team members, small business owners, relevant government bodies and other members of the tax community.
In the weeks leading up to the workshops, the Fjord-led team had devised and constructed “The Game of Small Businesses,” a design activity using game mechanics to bring our research insights to life. It fuelled an inclusive, fun and collaborative creative process that focused on the co-creation of ideas that tackled challenges faced by all groups represented in the activity. Participants were compelled to consider how businesses operate from the day of incorporation onwards and to co-create solutions based on previous and current experiences faced by business owners.
The workshops were buzzing. With enthusiasm and energy, the tax stakeholders made them hugely fun and productive. Armed with the ideas springing up from the game, everyone rolled up their sleeves and got busy co-designing new initiatives for business taxpayers.
The game went down so well it generated an incredible number of ideas – more than 500 ideas – for new products and services to ease taxpaying. We worked together to distill them down to 22 service concepts – ranging from new partnership models and internal processes and capabilities to citizen-facing tools and products. The ideas were all geared toward revolutionizing the way businesses engage with IRAS and to make taxpaying simple, intuitive and frictionless.
One of the concepts – now called the “New Company Start-up Kit” – has already been turned into an onboarding tool. Since its launch to a pilot group of start-ups, IRAS has seen an eightfold increase in the take-up rate to more than 2,700 users in Nov 2019. In recognition of the success of the Start-up Kit, IRAS received the Public Sector Pro-Enterprise Initiative Award (Bronze) 2018 and more recently, IRAS also received the ‘Transformative Agency of the Year Award’ in the 2019 Public Sector Transformation Awards for their outstanding transformation in business operations and workforce capability.
BUSINESSES AND IRAS UNITED
Through engagement with tax stakeholders, it became evident that when it comes to tax, most businesses in Singapore simply want to do the right thing: pay it correctly and on time. So instead of coming from the standpoint that IRAS is enforcing tax regulations and policy, they needed to think of what they do as enabling businesses to comply with what is required and meet their tax affairs in the easiest way possible.
What’s more, the success of close collaboration with tax stakeholders showed IRAS a new way of working, engaging and ideating with business in Singapore. Through co-creation, research and collaboration, IRAS now understood businesses more, and businesses understood IRAS more, helping to make Singapore a more attractive place to do business.
ENHANCED IRAS CULTURE
Beyond transforming the tax experience, the iterative process and the spirit of collaboration and co-creation embodied by the design methodology has also been adopted for the design of a better employee experience in IRAS (from streamlining and improving internal processes to implementing digital tools for a more fulfilling work experience). Today, IRAS celebrates a design culture, creating opportunities for team collaboration, as well as the drive to continually improve and innovate services, to deliver more meaningful experiences for taxpayers and staff.