In praise of Coys

We are blessed in New Zealand with the Companies.govt.nz website. It means that we rate consistently as one of the easiest places to form a company, and it gives us the power to look up the ownership and directors of any New Zealand company. The information is a goldmine for untangling just who owns what.

The site itself is, however, almost completely unusable.

I’ve circled the bit on the home page you need to click to do a company search. On virtually no other website will you see a “Do it now” action button. You also would not expect it to be underneath, the same size as and look similar to the help or “learn more” button.

I could go on at some length about how poor the site is, and in fact have done so in person to some lovely people from the Companies office.

They agreed – the website is horrible to use, and they are working on a replacement. That relacement was meant to arrive an age ago, and I am not hearing any rumours about impending launches.  That’s sad.

In the meantime I do the sensible thing and go to Coys.co.nz.

Coys is the brainchild of Anton Koukine, an Auckland based developer who had previously developed bizoffice.co.nz, and whose current project is Carjam.co.nz.

Do Anton a return favour and check out Carjam.co.nz – his public service alone deserves your visit, and you can also see the history of your car. Computerworld has more. Entertainingly Computerworld didn’t do the basic detective work (using Coys of course) to find out that Carjam is operated by Carjam Online Limited.

Bizoffice takes advantage of the lousy Companies website and charges healthy fees for doing so. A simple redesigned companies website would do almost everything that Bizoffice does, and for a lot cheaper.

Coys is another take on interfacing with the Companies website, is free and does one thing well. It’s the best way to find out about who owns what. Put in someone’s name or a company name and then follow your nose.

Let’s look at the Telecom page:

We see that Kevin Roberts is a director – but what else is he a director of? Let’s click on his name:

There are 30 responses, including companies where he is no longer a director and those that have been struck off (generally not a bad thing – usually a change of control or a dead shell). The first company is something called Red Rose Music – so let’s look at that:

Whatever. But now let’s see what other investments he owns in New Zealand:

and on you go – the site lets you follow the trail of who owns what, and it means greater transparency for all.

Coys won’t tell you what companies do or are worth, but you can use Google for that. What it does do is quickly show who is accountable for what – and it’s a great tool for journalists, bloggers and business folk.

So back to Companies.govt.nz. If you work at the NZ Companies Office, then why not give Anton a call? It’s easy to find him through the domain name, and he deserves not only your thanks, but perhaps a bit more. Here are three suggestions:

  • Pay him to replace the Coys brand with your own on his existing site. It’s advertising. He is making nothing from the site right now, and has not even put other advertising in it. At the very least consider paying him the hosting fees – he is making your life easier while your own project languishes.
  • Buy the site from him, and pay him to keep running it. I’m sure he would be reasonable, and we all just want the service to keep going.
  • Hire him to do the new site for you. It’s been far too long, but you’ve already got the back end database that works, so ask Anton to build a simple skin for the task of searching and maintaining companies. At the very least open up the API so that he can do an aftermarket one for you anyway.

And let me add my own thanks to Anton – he certainly makes it easier to write about businesses in New Zealand.

About Lance Wiggs

@lancewiggs
This entry was posted in NZ Business and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to In praise of Coys

  1. Ben Kepes says:

    Lance… it’s coming and it’s going to do more than the existing sites (official or unofficial) currently do.

    I’ve spent lots of time with the Companies office people and of all the gvmt departments I’ve dealt with, they “get it” the most.

    Watch this space…

  2. Pingback: In praise of Coys – link « Credit Reporting in New Zealand – A Factual View

  3. Ben is right, the companies office do get it. They’ve won awards in the past for web usability. The current site nav is horrid but was part of standardising iponz.govt.nz and others with companies.govt.nz Whatever they’re working towards next, it’ll Probably be very good.

  4. Simon Telfer says:

    Can’t come quick enough – the Companies office site is painful especially using Firefox.

  5. I work for companies.govt.nz and am responding in that capacity. Thanks for the interesting piece on companies.govt.nz and coys.co.nz

    I would be remiss in not defending our website and the great team behind it. We don’t actually agree that our website is horrible to use and could bombard you with all sorts of statistics to show that it is extremely popular and well used.

    We do openly acknowledge it could be improved however. Some the issues are technolgy ones such as our awful old java search (lovely in its’ day) and some relate to our old data model (eligible to become a world heritage site in itself). We have been doing a fair bit below the surface to enable some pretty significant changes in the future (and hopefully to allow more nimble changes thereafter).

    We are launching the long awaited replacement to the existing site on 31 May 2010 (yep there is a date). The new tool, Enterprise, is not merely replacing the website but a rebuild of the core Companies Office database.

    The existing tool (BizNet) was commissioned in the late 1990s and while it has served us well was built using an old data model that has prevented us from doing some of the clever things we need to do (and that others will also be able to use).

    It might be worth noting that the very fact that clever people like Anton (and we agree it is a clever site) can build sites like coys.co.nz is that we allow and encourage access to our G2B (government to business) web service tools.

    You will be aware that there are a large number of people around the place who believe that government should build web services not websites. We like that idea.

    Obviously we have a statutory obligation to provide access to the companies register (and other registers we maintain) and we believe we do a pretty good job in that respect (25 million visits a month suggest a little interest!). We will continue to provide an easy to use web site enabling access to the New Zealand Companies Office services; it doesn’t mean however those others can’t also do the clever stuff that they’re doing.

    I don’t wish to hide behind the bureaucracy or legislative stuff either but there are some areas we need to be a little fussier about than others. At the moment in New Zealand the Companies Act 1993 doesn’t allow for the collection of a date of birth for directors. This means we are unable to make definitive statements around individuals. Our new service will allow these connections to be made by the individuals themselves. At that point we will be able to make the appropriate connections with certainty.

    I was going to be a little flippant (always a risk for a bureaucrat) and close with the line “never mind the quality – feel the price” but that would take away from the fact that we are delivering some pretty good services that while always capable of improvement are pretty impressive when compared with what they once were…

  6. Kelly says:

    If government should be building web services and not web sites (as quoted above) then why isn’t the Companies Office following the lead of other registry bodies like ASIC and Companies House and providing the technology for 3rd party company registration (rather than trying to provide the process itself).

    Wouldn’t greater usability, service and ease of use come about if people could use a range of software/websites on offer to form their entities rather than be forced down the funnel and use the complicated Companies Office registration service?

    Wouldn’t also expanded options of registration through 3rd parties create greater compliance overall? Value added services would look to provide a more complete and compliant package (with registers etc) rather than the barebones Companies Office system which just supplies the Certificate?

    Food for thought.

    • Simply put we do. There are many companies who provide incorporation services that connect to the Companies Office.

      Our new Enterprise tool will allow even more web services to be used for both searching and registration.

      I note that the cost to incorporate in both Australia and the UK is significantly higher than NZ and that the cheapest search you can perform with ASIC (where you cannot perform a substantive search directly with ASIC itself but where you must use an intermediary) is approx AUS$28.00

      We think that choice is important.

      • Kelly says:

        Enterprise sounds like a step in the right direction.

        To clarify the UK registration fee is £20 making it about a 1/3 of the cost here.

  7. Lance, thank you for the post! I am blushing… Glad when someone else appreciates the job you have done :) Would like to offer a few comments:

    - Ben, as far as I know (please correct me) NZCO has won awards as the best government agency in NZ; they have also won for the best website (old skin I think) amongst similar overseas government agencies; NZ has also been voted as the easiest place to setup a company (credit to NZCO again)

    http://www.companies.govt.nz/cms/about-us/awards

    - NZCO is a great government agency, I have communicated with them a lot in the past when was involved with bizoffice.co.nz operationally

    - NZCO (and most NZ government agencies in general) do get an idea of “be web” what, unfortunately, they fail quite often on “how to deliver for web”

    - NZCO API’s main advantage is that it exists but only for basic searches

    - NZCO API’s list of disadvantages is a separate topic of the size of Lance’s post but to brief: * slow (especially for address, shareholder and director searches) * awkward and poor API design (for example, to do pagination you have to send a cookie of an original request — so to achieve what coys.co.nz did a few HTTP hacks were required, things complicate for multiple searches) * result sets are limited to 300 items * inefficient search (no wildcard searches) thus this special company name availability search from bizoffice http://www.bizoffice.co.nz/company-search/name-availability/ * does not cover all aspects of NZCO operation; etc.

    - NZCO should focus on building transactional core of the companies register with nice API on top of it — this will streamline a lot of business in New Zealand

    - NZCO’s current focus is on continued website re-skinning and re-development at least this is how it looks like from the outside — maybe the following article is of help: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/familiar-design.html

    - coys.co.nz was done within a couple of weeks by myself while kids were asleep (ie part-time). Time mostly spent during development was “integration with NZCO API”. It’s very poor API — I can say this as I have consumed a lot of various APIs in my web development life. NZCO API has actually not been implemented with a view to be used by sites like coys.co.nz for various technical reasons that needed to be hacked around. There are still a few odd bits on coys which take its roots from the API.

    - Based on NZCO’s last effort re-skinning and brining some more information online (this part is good by the way) I am not expecting much exciting to be honest. I was for a while but it has now turned into a very lengthy _while_ which can only alert me to an opposite outcome based on my personal experience with big projects beyond multiple deadlines.

    - Justin, “Our new Enterprise tool will allow even more web services to be used for both searching and registration.” — this is _exactly_ the statement I was told a lot of times 3-4 years ago. I only hope the long-standing promise will turn into something really good!

    - Gradual step-by-step improvement is in most cases better than sudden and radical change.

    - Justin, would you please elaborate on “There are many companies who provide incorporation services that connect to the Companies Office.”. Are they using API?

    - Justin, just for my interest. Do you really get “25 million visits a month”? Or are you talking page views?

    - Justin, usability-wise I would rate the current NZCO website as 3 out of 10. Popularity has nothing to do with usability when you are “the only shop in town” :)

    - as for bizoffice.co.nz, they do not charge on top of NZCO fees for the company incorporation itself; it’s business is company documentation which is something NZCO does not do but Companies Act requires.

  8. hygate says:

    Yes I accept that we’ve been talking about the change for a long time. It is part of the adventure that is being a government agency that we have procurement processes and project management methodologies and all those lovely things to ensure we are spending public monies appropriately. We also need to prove that we are doing the stuff we are mandated to do.

    We really are close however and I can confirm we are at the code cutting part of the project. We have internal acceptance testing underway for the first modules of the Enterprise. No one will be happy than us to see the Enterprise become operational!

    Thanks for the link to useit.com, I’ve passed it to the Enterprise team.

    The underpinning philosophy for Enterprise is to build the whole interactional component in web services.

    I agree wholeheartedly that incremental change is better than the big bang theory. In this case however we are rebuilding the core and so big change is coming. It is exactly because of the issues around slow and poorly constructed API’s along with an absence of a full set of transactional APIs that we are doing the rebuild.

    No we don’t have full incorporation APIs yet.

    We get approximately 25 million visits to the site and an average of 1 million searches of the Companies Register per month.

    We contracted Optimal Usability Limited as a business provider to assist us with the construction of Enterprise. We hear you that usability is central. And as I mentioned earlier we don’t have to be the only shop in town in terms of front end. There is plenty of room for others to do clever things – we just need to manage the bit in the background that makes sure it’s legal. We will continue to provide a front end also.

    No argument from us about the need for company documentation. There are lots of opportunities for New Zealand entrepreneurs to step in and provide value added services to the SME community.

    Oh and a wee plug for http://blog.companies.govt.nz/ where we have been talking about some of these things also.

  9. Pingback: In praise of Coys..update « Credit Reporting in New Zealand – A Factual View

  10. modsta says:

    I’m delighted to hear the Companies Office “get it” so much. God knows I wish I could say the same about my personal life.

    However its surprising that despite the fact they get, they misquote metrics (25 million visits a month – yeah right), have failed to grapple with UI and haven’t managed to so any SEO.

    The order of the roll-out seems funny too. Its cool they have a mobile site, but you’d think they’s get the basics right first – UI and search findability.

    Anton and the Carjam guys have done a great job with COYS as they did with the core Carjam site. And the “something for nothing” consumer offer there must be hurting VIR and Lemon Check. It’s a brilliant piece of foreplay to engage a customer into taking the next step and paying.

    These are smart guys. Hell, they might even “get it”. Cheers MOD

    • Sorry modsta el al,

      Visits are not 25 million but page visits are. You might be interested in these. Here are the stats for companies.govt.nz stats for the month of November 09:

      Unique Visitors: 118,178
      Number of Visits: 346,055 (2.92 visits/visitor)

      Pages: 25,158,987 (72.7 Pages/Visit)*

      Bandwidth: 479.42GB (1452.69 KB/Visit)*

      *Does not include traffic generated by robots, worms, or replies with specal HTTP status codes.

      Total for calendar year to date:

      Unique Visitors: 1,334,858
      Number of Visits: 3,734,208

      Pages: 279,813,129

      Bandwidth: 5063.97G

      Sorry for the yeah right moment, Justin

  11. This site is a fantastic tool for reporters. You can do the same thing that takes hours on COmpanies office in minutes.

    Excellent work Anton.

    alastair

  12. Glen Barnes says:

    Lest be blunt here. The redesign was putting lipstick on a pig really. For all the awards the site is dated and the core functionality is the same as it has always been (namely search). Yes, yes, yes it works but it is no longer excellent. In saying that I do hope that the long awaited changes fixes these issues. More important to me though is the updates to the API. Specifically we need:

    - A RESTful API (move away from SOAP)
    - The ability to link organisations (apparently in the new database)
    - The ability to download the entire database
    - The ability to query the database for records that have been added/updated/changed within a certain date range (i.e. tell me all new company registrations in the last 24 hours)

    I was thinking about hacking up a Coys style site (before I had heard of Coys) but without some fundamental functionality it is just too hard – Tip ‘O the hat to Anton for hacking his way around the issues. I have friends in law firms who tell me they get their underlings to manually lookup companies office records each Monday looking for changes to records. If New Zealand wants to have any chance at increasing productivity then we need to be smarter about how we provide services.

    I also question the page view numbers here:

    Unique Visitors: 118,178
    Number of Visits: 346,055 (2.92 visits/visitor)
    Pages: 25,158,987 (72.7 Pages/Visit)*
    Bandwidth: 479.42GB (1452.69 KB/Visit)*

    72.7 page views per visit is unheard of. I’m wondering why the Companies office does not add the code to the Nielsen Online Market Intelligence numbers as the other sites in the MED group have?.

  13. Hi Glen,

    Yes we are moving to RESTful APIs

    There will be an ability to link directly to entities (URIs)

    No there will not be the ability to download the entire database. We reserve the right to reintroduce a search fee at some point. The Companies Office is entirely third party funded and the fees pay for the operation of the office. New Zealand is relatively unique in that we do not charge a fee for search information or an Annual Return (or license) fee. We have had to build the new system in such a way as to be able to reintroduce a search fee should that be needed one day. NOTE there is no suggestion that a search fee will be introduced at the time of Enterprise.

    Yes there will be mechanisms available to allow for queries of the database for records that have been added/updated/changed within a certain date range such as New Companies.

    I’ll raise the Nielson issue with our new Manager Web and Intranet next week and see what the story is.

    Your friendly porcine beautician, Justin

  14. Pingback: In praise of Coys | CarJam

  15. Pingback: e-Government, Done Right. Congrats MED!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s