Where did I put my blinders II? The Final Conclusion

Hello happy reader,

When we last left our hero, he was ranting about the need for interoperability in the world of IT. This installment of the Bitstream concludes the discussion so I can clear the decks for some Zigbee news…If you remember, I had told you about my usually good regional bank selling me on the merits of their new electronic banking service for SMBs. I had informed the functionary, Keith Chung, there was nothing wanting in their existing e–banking service but was assured that the new WebDirect service was a direct replacement for the existing service and I could just carry on as usual. I has assumed that they were upgrading their infrastructure and wanted to migrate customers to the new service. “OK, I’ll sign up,” sez I, thinking no harm would come of this and, I was almost right.

Fast forward a month and I have a need to dig into financials…So, I head over to the site, hunt around for the correct login page (can’t use the obvious one…nooooo, must find the hidden page) and attempt to login and…it doesn’t work. Try again…still no joy. Try another browser cuz I know sometimes web dweebs are lazy…nope, still no workee, as JarJar would say.

Next I dig out the phone number and call the web support line…wait for the rep, explain my problem and am told that “…WebDirect does not work with Macintosh.” “Pardon?” sez I…“WebDirect does not work with Macintosh. It clearly states that in the agreement.” Stupid me, I assumed the functionary who sold the service would have advised me of any caveats but nooooo, that would imply a level of knowledge and professionalism not possessed by the individual in question. Did I mention his name is Keith Chung? I asked the phone support rep why they chose to create a new service that was closed to 20% of their customers. He said something to the effect of “…we can’t waste time testing for other browser configurations. We built it for Internet Explorer.”

Upon hearing that, I busted out my other Web Kit–based browser, Shiira, and went to change the user agent. Woops, that functionality had been removed in the current release. So, on to the endlessly configurable Firefox, where I located and installed Chris Pederick’s User Agent Switcher extension. BTW, changing a browser’s user agent is useful for, ahem, interoperability testing. I then headed over to the bank’s site, and began the setup process once again…

This time, I was able to get much farther into the setup process but, in the end, no joy. So, I’ve wasted a bunch of time only to find out that:

  • Keith Cheung was ill trained on this service offering and lacked the experience to ask salient questions during said training.
  • My bank’s IT department is not only ill equipped to work in the 21st century but, they seem mighty lazy to boot!

Any business that consciously chooses to exclude a significant portion of their customer base deserves a metaphorical sprig of holly through the heart. With basic testing tools and well documented web best practices, anyone can design and build a web service these days without resorting to closed solutions. Need proof? A quick survey of the seventeen financial institutions I personally employ shows that only one is goofy enough to have a browser and platform–specific web site; Bank of the West. 

Remember, this is a public–facing service, not one trapped on an intranet where browser and platform can be dictated by fiat. In this difficult economic climate, I find it amusing and a bit pitiful that some overworked IT supervisor snowed his or her boss into signing off on this project as spec’d. I know my customers wouldn’t agree to such shortsightedness. I just finished a site overhaul for a client and I tested the crap out of it with many browsers and platforms before we deployed. It’s improvident and myopic not to.

Would Ernestine Thelander, VP Cash Management Services, care to weigh in on this topic? How ’bout you and your IT kids? Have you been trapped into closed solutions by ignorance, error or the misguided desire to preserve legacy business methods at the expense of future compatibility? If you find yourself drawn into a discussion of the pros and cons of interoperable versus closed, remind the suit that lost customer good will is very difficult to recover and, “Open” does not mean vulnerable. The “safe” solutions isn’t always safe and, easy is usually synonymous with lazy.

To wrap up this rant, I’ve gone back to using the “old” web service and, if they retire that in favor of the new lameness, I’ll move my business to another bank. On that note, I bid you “Adieu!” Enjoy the upcoming long weekend and, continue to geek!

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