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Charles on… anything that comes along

Saturday 13 May 2006

Filed under: — Charles @ 11:16 pm

Is it Siebel or the Dept of Work and Pensions which is completely crap??

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.

26 Responses to “Is it Siebel or the Dept of Work and Pensions which is completely crap??”

  1. Paul Guinnessy Says:

    You have a similar problem with BCIS (US immigration dept). After you submit the 200-odd pages of evidence to support renewal of your green card, you get a letter back in the post saying their super-duper electronic system allows you to track your case in real time. Doesn’t explain what planet you’re on to get it in real time. Everyone I know who tried finding out what is the status of their case got a “case number not recognize” for at least three months. After their green card turned up in the post they found they got in at last, with the following message then being displayed: “your case is being looked at” …

    I’m still getting the “don’t exist” message myself. If I didn’t know how screwed up they are I would be panicking (something I’ll be doing if I don’t hear anything by october).

    Seems draft that if you receive a computer generated standard response in the post, that it doesn’t transfer the data across to the other systems successfully.

  2. Mark Gould Says:

    “I want to know how many of their applications come online. I want to know how many work. I want to know how many donít work. I want to know what format records are stored in.”

    Make a Freedom of Information Act request.

    Let us know how you get on….

  3. Charles Says:

    Excellent idea, Mark! I shall head over and do that now. Though of course the FOIA application form is electronic…

  4. Mike Says:

    Imust say I’m surprised that you’ve experienced the problems you have. I used the on-line facility myself the other day and it couldn’t have gone more smoothly. maybe your PC’s crap not Sibel.

  5. Charles Says:

    So what did you do, Mike? Which form, which department? Was it a form that took three hours to fill out?

    As I’ve pointed out, I’m using an Apple Mac which has sufficed to fill in a lot of things on a lot of sites. And as I also said, the DWP site says that the combination of browser and machine “should work”. Not that they bothered to put in that most trivial of tests, a browser check. (The form uses Javascript, yet the browser-agent test seems to be unknown to them.)

    And as I also also pointed out, the login process and the form is shot through with usability errors that would have Jakob Nielsen throttling himself with his intestines were he forced to endure it for any length of time. It’s not my “PC” that’s in need of shaking out.

  6. Stephen Mackenzie Says:

    Not on the same level of annoyance, but the Jobcentre job search engine is also pretty brain dead. for a long time it didn’t work with macs at all (cos unemployed people *never* have macs, of course), and still doesn’t play nice with Safari. Full of contradictory instructions, slow, and, most annoyingly, there’s no way to specify locations precisely. Search for a job in Helensburgh, where I live, and it comes back with a bunch of jobs in… London.

  7. Chris Edwards Says:

    I’m just wondering whether the site itself complies with the Disability Discrimination Act* given that the first page demands that Javascript is active before letting you do anything. Similarly, insisting on popups (again activated by Javascript) is not going to make accessibility any better.

    Although the use of Javascript does not necessarily make a website inaccessible to screen readers, it seems a fairly safe bet to assume that this site is not going to make anyone with a screen reader happy. Insisting on a narrow range of browsers is certainly not inclusive design to start with.

    * The DWP as a whole may have a get-out, on the basis that it provides alternative ways of filling out the forms. But a complaint under the DDA could be interesting.

  8. Mike Brown Says:

    Nightmare, mate. Hope you get better results (as in, any at all!) by alternative means.


    - Mike

  9. Neil Says:

    I have just tried to return to a saved form on the DWP eservice and I got the same blank screen as you, so nearly a year later and it still doesn’t work.

  10. popstr Says:

    Siebel (7) is crap from beginning to end. I am working with it every day, and it is the worst piece of software i have ever seen (closely followed by Actuate Reports 7). The quality is very poor and the number of critical bugs is huge. The system is way too complex for the developers at Siebel/Oracle to handle, it seems. Apart from the “real” bugs, the system is very inconsistent and very often more complex than needed.

  11. I’m a Vain, Sharp Dad. » Blog Archive Says:

    […] […]

  12. Lucy Says:

    I have tried 3 times my self to fill out the application for disability living allowance and am having the same problems. it crashes its slow and each time I save and exit and go back in I get a blank screeb. So 2 years on and it seems still nothing has been done and it hasnt been fixed

  13. Lucy Says:

    I have tried 3 times my self to fill out the application for disability living allowance and am having the same problems. it crashes its slow and each time I save and exit and go back in I get a blank screen. So 2 years on and it seems still nothing has been done and it hasnt been fixed

  14. Charles Says:

    @Lucy - what browser are you using? It might be something to do with that.

  15. Peter Says:

    This is August 2009 and their site still doesn’t work - that’s with both Firefox and Opera. A trained monkey could have done a better job.

  16. mark Says:

    Same here,filled out a disability form and now it won’t let me get back in to it.I can open it to print, but it won’t open to adjust it,the does not respond. I am quite shocked that its been like this for nearly 3 years and still not working.

  17. WMD Says:

    The DWP does not work with a apple mac safari, fireworks or even crappy old IE on their website it says

    Operating systems and browsers
    The service is not currently available using Macs or other Unix based systems even though you may be able to input information.
    Seibels rubbishy half finished site falls over at the address capture

  18. Ian S Says:

    This wretched thing seems to have been coded for Netscape Navigator through Windows 98, and I doubt that the software has been altered one bit since then. I HAVE had some luck with it - it has worked maybe one time out of fifty - but it remains a jaw-droppingly outmoded eyesore - even six or seven years ago it would’ve been awful. I’ve tried it with every version of every browser you’d care to name, under XP. It’s just a shambles.

  19. Frank O Says:

    Unbelievable! I thought it would be a simpler to apply for my state pension on line. Not a chance. This utterly rotten interface wastes hours of applicants’ time, crashes and blanks out repeatedly. And I bet we’ve paid billions of public money for this joke ’service’!

  20. Brian H in Australia Says:

    I am simply amazed that there are still problems with the DWP’s poor excuse for a supposed ‘easy access’ site. I have to agree - Siebel’s eservice is the biggest load of crap ever. Because I live in Oz I can’t ring the ‘help’ line at a convenient time. I have tried unsuccesfully to complete the online claim form and had almost finished when it froze - never to be recovered! I have tried several times to get into my account to no avail. I am disgusted with the service.

  21. elizaibeth Says:

    I whole heartedly agree with you. It was one of the single most demoralising experiences of my life. I think we need a support group. Or atleast one of those help line thingies that they advertise at the end of Eastenders…. “If you have been affected by anything contained in the form please call our helpline” :D I am happy to read that I am not the only person the world that was angry enough to blog about it. The REALLY REALLY annoying thing is you wrote your piece 5 years ago and its STILL THE SAME system!
    My rant is here:

  22. Peter Nicholls Says:

    I am filling this very same online form in June 2012!!! And all the issues are the same!!!!

    “You must provide phone numbers type” yet, there is not box for this!

    “You must provide account holders name” I have!!!

    And there are not enough boxes for things, and things don’t save, or it is completely mind boggling complex to add in details.

    And it keeps crashing.

    Now I have finally found my way around filling it in, took 20hours with help, i have not spent 2 days trying to submit it….

  23. Peter Nicholls Says:

    OH, is this what Universal Credit online access will be like? Online is the assumed default…

  24. Peter Nicholls Says:

    I discovered the consultant who advised the DWP on the Siebel system, and emailed him recommending he returned his consultancy fee.

  25. Ben Curtis Says:

    And guess what - November 2012 - same problems. I’ve tried using 2 computers (one of which is 6 months old) and 2 browsers - chrome and internet explorer - and still I’m having the same issues that people were having 6 years ago…

  26. Luca Patrono Says:

    August 2013. Still unusable. Fields are completely missing from the form.

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