More on confusing technology

This week I’ve encountered yet another situation when technology seems to get in the way and complicate communication, rather than making things more simple. I’ve come away with a real sense that the technology interface is being used because it can be, not because it’s useful.

This story is about the renewal of my business name, Information Design Centre. Until recently, business names were registered at the state level. Every 3 years, I received an invoice for the registration, which was easy to pay. The process took a few minutes.

This year, I received a letter informing me that ASIC (The Australian Securities and Investments Commission) is now responsible for registering business names. The letter gave me an ‘ASIC Key’ – a numerical code to use to link my business to my online ASIC account. Of course, I didn’t have an ASIC account, but the letter gave me some instructions about how to set one up.

Like most readers, I scanned the letter, figured out that I needed to do something online, and tried to get the job done. As usual, I read quickly with my mind on one goal: get this invoice paid as quickly as possible, so that I can get on with some work.

In this situation, reading quickly was not a helpful strategy. I don’t know what I did wrong (or whether the system did something silly perhaps) but the account wouldn’t work. I tried several times over about a week, and couldn’t get into the account.

I eventually resorted to emailing ASIC (I’m always reluctant to phone because it’s almost guaranteed that I’ll be on hold for ages and that finding help will be difficult). It seems that the system deactivated my account! But of course, the message I was getting from the system didn’t say that.

Today, I managed to re-set the account, follow the excessively complex password instructions (the final of 5 password requirements is that it can’t contain 2 consecutive characters that appear in my user ID or name … now that’s not easy to think through!), and eventually re-register my business name.

I estimate that I’ve spent more than an hour on this task, which should have taken just a few minutes. I still don’t really understand why I have to have an online account with them! And as they went to the expense of posting a letter to me about the change, why not just post me an invoice?

Sometimes, the old, simple systems really are the best from the customer’s perspective.