Traditionally companies wanting to do business abroad would have to compile physical documents and take these in person to the designated Chambers of Commerce, where they would be signed and wet-stamped. Now, however, users can log in and submit applications online. They are then able to print out the certified documentation at their own premises, saving them a lot of time and effort.
i-Cert further simplifies and adds value to this digitised submissions process. Its website guides UK and Europe businesses as they prepare, check and print certified export documents from a PC, laptop, tablet or mobile device. i-Cert, the company, is a wholly owned subsidiary of export documentation services provider CDN Consular Services Limited.
i-Cert set out to create its web service from the start around the needs of the customer, rather than the various authorities. Although the British Chambers of Commerce itself provides a basic online service, this was designed primarily to make its own processes more efficient. The i-Cert service goes the extra mile – it is highly user-friendly, steering applicants confidently through the submissions process, and lets companies choose which particular Chambers of Commerce they deal with.
Neil Beard, managing director of i-Cert, explains: “Applying for export documents can be an involved process and companies often need support as they prepare and submit their applications. Any omissions or mistakes can incur cost and delay; our aim was to help customers avoid these pitfalls. We also wanted to give companies the freedom to choose which Chambers they dealt with, so that if they needed to ask a question out of hours, or at the weekend, they could apply to a branch that catered for this.”
Underpinning the i-Cert proposition is an advanced customer relationship management (CRM) system. As well as electronically managing and tracking all of the documentation a company needs to complete and submit, this allows applicants to liaise with their chosen Chambers of Commerce as they draft their submissions. “We have designed the whole process to enable the user to produce accurate documents quickly and more cheaply than they would be able to otherwise,” Neil says.
Behind every great online service is a great Web developer
Finding the right software partner to develop the core underlying system for the web service was a top priority. Instinctively i-Cert turned to One Beyond, which has been developing business-critical systems for parent company CDN since 1997. One Beyond specialises in agile and rapid development techniques, which it uses to build high-quality web and back-office business database applications, typically based on Microsoft’s .NET application framework and SQL Server platform.
“We did a lot of research and looked at other systems on the market, but this was not a requirement that could be met by off-the-shelf software,” Neil notes. “One Beyond was the ideal partner because we wanted to design the system from the ground up around the needs of the customer. We wanted to produce an intuitive self-service solution that they could log into from the office, home or a mobile, and where they could send and receive messages, via a web-based portal. It was essential that the customer would feel in control.”
The web application, which has a comprehensive customer relationship management (CRM) back-end behind it, was developed gradually over a period of just over a year – as the i-Cert proposition took form and was refined and perfected. The bulk of the core development work however was achieved in just four months.
Agile approach adds unique value
One Beyond’s agile development techniques proved pivotal in allowing i-Cert’s founders to try different approaches and get the customer-facing application exactly right. “This was a constantly moving project because we had so many different requirements we want to cater for,” Neil says. “It wasn’t a simple case of a standardised process for each document, as each type requires different information and is handled slightly differently.”
To guide customers through the document preparation and submissions process, the i-Cert application uses visual cues such as a percentage bar showing how close to completion an application is; it then highlights any bits that are missing. “In this way we ensure that the user is in the driving seat. The experience is very clear and easy to use,” Neil says. “Achieving this was quite a challenge given the complexity behind the scenes, but customer feedback so far has been extremely positive, praising the system’s ‘terrific’ usability.
“For our customers this means a smoother submissions process that’s simple to manage, and where they are far less likely to make any mistakes. This in turn removes any time-wasting, keeps the cost down and, ultimately, shortens the time to approval.”
Cloud Hosting assures service levels
The entire i-Cert proposition depends on the One Beyond system, so having a reliable and dynamic software partner has been essential to the launch of the company and to its impact on the marketplace. The software is hosted in the cloud, relieving i-Cert of the burden of owning and managing its own servers, while ensuring maximum availability.
“Without a doubt, the One Beyond is critical to our core proposition and our competitive edge,” Neil concludes. “Our experience of working with the company over the last 16 years has been consistently high. They have given us speed to market with exactly the right solution, and complete flexibility to mould this to the requirements of our customers.
“No off-the-shelf package could have offered us this edge. One Beyond’s agile approach to development allowed us full involvement in the specification of the system – and the ability to refine this as we went and deliver something powerful yet very cost-effective. We look forward to the next project we can work on together.