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Fairfield: North Dakota must embrace innovation

North Dakota has the most robust economy in the nation.

As the initial access point for business in North Dakota, the secretary of state’s office needs 24/7 online and on-time business services that are simplified, streamlined, modernized and more responsive to the needs of our businesses and our people. And we need a Secretary of State willing to rise to the challenge.

With the current long wait times for business filings and the inability to perform simple tasks online, the office needs to be more efficient and offer greater convenience for businesses. That means innovating and embracing 21st century technology.

To say the current secretary of state has experienced multiple challenges in bringing his office into the modern era is an understatement. Despite seemingly endless work on a technology project, the current website remains confusing, difficult to navigate and devoid of most online functions.

North Dakota’s 21st century economy needs 21st century business services. The website needs to be modernized with the integration of online payments, and an online tracking system so businesses can follow the progress of their filings online.

Expedited or “priority” service options would be valuable to time-strapped businesses, as would streamlined, tech-forward features allowing business online notification of all their state business filing requirements, the ability to complete the process online, and the ability to save and use data to populate multiple forms, thereby eliminating the need for repetitive data entry. These options would result in a simpler, more efficient experience for users and, ultimately, reduce wait times for business services.

All of these features would be a valuable resource for startups and small businesses, which often self-manage their government transactions.

Not all innovation has to be technological. Sometimes it is just common sense. Keeping the doors open for business instead of closing the office to the public as Secretary of State Al Jaeger did in 2012 is one example. To meet the needs of increased filings, we should be extending office hours and offering satellite services in the eastern and western part of the state.

With our state economy growing, we need to embrace innovation and an operational strategy that reflects the new normal and gives businesses what they need and consumers demand; moving the North Dakota Secretary of State’s office from its current state of confusion to a “State of Success.”

Fairfield is the Democrat-NPL Party’s candidate for North Dakota secretary of state.