OK, I have had it with Siebel and its e-service that it provides (I assume) for the Department of Work and Pensions.
They are crap, either collectively or separately. The end result is that I cannot fill in their online application form for a Disability Living Allowance for my child after THREE attempts – one of which took three hours and which I thought had gone perfectly until the very last moment- and from their feedback to me, I am not alone.
Filling out the Disability Living Allowance (which we qualify for because of baby3) is a very time-consuming business. You have to explain why the child needs extra attention and time taken, and specify when during the day and the night extra time has to be spent on him compared to a normal child. Have his social skills been delayed? In what way? How about the effect on his sleep? Does he need extra attention at bathtime? In what way? All to be explained in detail relating to his deafness. It’s a benefit, so it has to be justified. The government wants you to do it online. Frankly, so do I. I don’t want to mess with printing and paper and ink and which colour and crap like that.
Remember: it should be easier to do it online because you just fill in fields, and they’re recorded on a system as you go along, and then you jump back in where you were (because it’s all saved to a database as you go, right? Just records in a big table, yes? That’s how any designer would design it, eh?)
Try it out for yourself to discover just how badly an interface can be written. Go here and try a couple of things.
Try creating a user account. You’ll need your name, and to make up a password. Fine. Oh, but if you get your name details wrong – that is, if it doesn’t like your name details – or if you don’t do the right sort of password, you’ll get a message. Not a helpful message. Not a message that says – as people like Amazon have been managing since, oh, 1995 or so – “that password is too short”. Try doing it wrong: try giving “John M” for your first name. (You might always be known as that, eh?) Try putting “fred12″ as your password.
Oh, and now you’ve created your user account, better put it somewhere safe. You’ll never be able to find it again: you don’t get emailed it and there’s no way to get it out. And then you can log in. Try creating a Disability Living Allowance form for someone, anyone. Make sure you read the warning about browser compatibility. (They added Camino – a browser for the Mac which is built on the same code base as Firefox – after my experience.) After two failed attempts, I tried with Firefox, which they say is OK on pretty much any platform.
They lied. It isn’t. It doesn’t work on a Mac. Here’s what I got after I saved my third attempt at the form, and tried to return to continue filling it in.
That’s right. A completely blank screen. The DWP/Siebel e-service is crap. It does not work – at least, not on the systems I’ve used. Which includes a Mac and a PC running Windows and Internet Explorer – the latter being one of the systems that allegedly works with the system.
It shows all the hallmarks of something that’s been thrown together without thought, or badly copied from the paper. For instance, you give your address – it can work out from your postcode where you live. Then on the same page there’s a question: “If you live in Wales, would you like to receive further communication in Welsh? Yes/No” (they’re radio buttons). First, it should be two cascading questions: Do you live in Wales? If so, do you want future communications in Welsh?
But as neither applies to me, I ignored the question, which was the last on the page.
And when I clicked to submit the page (to who knows where, as we’ll find), what happens? Yes – it flags the fact that I haven’t answered the question, even though it might know from the last line in my address that I’m not in Wales. Similar idiocies crop up all over the place.
The first time I actually completed the form – it took three hours – and pressed “submit”, nothing happened. Ah, I thought, that’s because.. why is that? I didn’t know. But I could find my form. Or at least see my form. I logged in to my account and there was the form. But clicking on “Edit” brought nothing. No error message. No nothing. I called the helpdesk. “Oh, we’ve had a couple of people say that,” they said.
What that’s saying is that the claim exists. But I couldn’t get at it. So they tried to access my form. I gave them my name and password. “I’m sorry, we can’t get into it,” they said. They tried and tried and couldn’t get into it. The “technical team” tried. They couldn’t do it either.
I don’t know about you, but at this point something goes ping! in my mind. If this is done in any sane manner, then each field in each web page you fill in is saved as a field in a MySQL or Access or whatever database, isn’t it? That’s how web designers design systems, right? That’s how databases work, right? Table, record, field. So if the record insists it’s there, you do a dump of the record. You use your admin tools and you dump the record – in text form if necessary.
Does this happen with the DWP? Does it hell. Despite my insisting on speaking to the “technical team”, and getting passed on to people who had increasingly less vague ideas of what a browser is and what an Apple Mac is, nobody had the faintest idea how my three hours of labour had been stored – if indeed it had, because some suggested clearing all my cookies (I am truly not going to wipe my access to dozens of web sites for a government department that hasn’t bothered to consult a usability expert), to which I replied, absolutely amazed: “Are you saying that my three hours of work was stored as a cookie on my machine?” That did offer the faint hope that it could be resurrected. Except nobody knew.
I’ve tried to do it again and got the same result. Let’s admit it: the Department of Work and Pensions has done no proper user testing on this (else they’d have a more user-friendly interface for bad fields) and the people who are made answerable are either too lazy or too stupid or too indifferent to improve the system.
I want to know how many of their applications come online. I want to know how many work. I want to know how many don’t work. I want to know what format records are stored in. I want to know why nobody knows such minor but important detail like where the hell records live.
So what have I done? Downloaded the 52-page PDF. Tomorrow, I print it out and fill it in. Then I start the attempt to get the benefit we’re entitled to – no thanks to Siebel or the DWP’s IT people.