19 March 2012

Electronic Government - Taking Hassle and Shifting It Online

So recently, I received a notice from the City of Hoboken letting me know that I could renew my parking permit using their nifty new web portal HPUonline.  Unfortunately, it appears they've hired a bunch of idiots to run their page - a government tech outfit named enfoTech (from what I can tell it looks like some kind mill run off of cheap and low-quality programmers somewhere in China).

Signing up was a pain, but preferable to footing it over to city hall.  But when I actually attempted to renew said parking permit their tech barfed w/ one of the stupidest error messages I've seen recently (show here).  Essentially what this error means is that the fools who coded this page didn't consider the possibility that a street number could have a dash in it.  It is about the easiest error you could imagine.  I wasted a bunch of time seeing if I could change my address (nope) and searching for help.

Of course, once one is on this ill-designed interface, one quickly discovers that there is no help functionality or email address listed!  So, looking at the copyright, I see that the website is run by the previously mentioned enfoTech.  Apparently, this outfit provides all sorts of software services to local governments - from (mis)managing waste-disposal to parking permits.  So I go to their online web form to fill out a trouble ticket.
I'm immediately impressed by Hoboken's choice of provider - they managed to select a company so incompetent that it's own web support form fails to work properly (see screenshot above).  Thanks for saving my money and wasting my time!

So instead, I email both enfoTech's support and the city of Hoboken's directly.  After weeks of receiving no reply, I'm forced to go to the Hoboken city hall in person (twice - I have to wait on line about 2 hours between the two trips), where they discover they can't renew my permit either (same problem).  After some more waiting, the clerk (who was very helpful and sympathetic) escalates this to the manager and then to the director, Ian Sacs whose brilliant idea going with the cheapest possible provider was.  From what I understand, Sacs fails to believe there is a problem - that is until he finds himself unable to renew my permit!

Anyway, they did a manual override and I got my permit renewed, but it was a tremendous headache and several hours of my life wasted.  Given this Sacs guy is making 6-figures from what I hear, this is pretty lame performance.

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