Tuesday, December 20, 2005


I normally don't blog about work-related stuff, and especially not complaints about work-related stuff (well, except as it relates to my sleep-schedule). But in this case, not only do I need the cathartic release, but I also regard this as something in the nature of a public service announcement, warning people away from an unbelievably craptastic product. (Also, absolutely nobody at work actually seems to disagree with me on this subject, my boss included, so it's not like I'm worried about them getting mad at me.)

The thing is, the organization I work for is looking at switching over from paper timecards to an electronic timekeeping system, and we got volunteered to be one of the first groups to try out the new system. Now, let me state for the record that I'm all in favor of electronic timecards (assuming the security issues are properly addressed, of course). This is the 21st century, after all, and doing stuff electronically is in theory the most efficient way to go. Besides, I'm in favor of getting a machine to do as much stuff for me as possible. That's why I drive an automatic.

It's a great pity, then, that PeopleSoft's software is insanely inefficient and requires you to put about ten or twenty times as much effort into filling out an electric timecard than you would for a paper one. Here are just a few of the blindingly stupid features of this incredibly amateurish piece of crap:

The table in which you are meant to fill out your hours will not fit on a normal sized screen, requiring you to scroll awkwardly from side to side.

Each employee has a five-digit account number. (A few people have two, because their hours are split between two different departments. ) This number has to be filled in on the time card. By hand. On each line. Every week. Over and over and over. The computer will not remember it for you. It will not fill it in for you. Oh, and if you don't remember which kinds of hours you're supposed to use it for and which you're not, it'll give you a highly misleading error message and then get so confused when you try to correct it by replacing the number with a blank field that the only way to proceed is to delete the entire line and start over.

Speaking of which... There are check boxes so you can select lines to delete from the table, but the "delete" button is nowhere near the table itself. It's tucked up neatly out of the way in a corner with a bunch of buttons for entirely unrelated functions.

This is the one that really gets me. You enter one line for each type of hours you have, and on each line you need to tell the software what kind of time you're entering. For this, there is a handy little table (which, if you have many lines on your timecard, is likely to partly scroll off the top of the screen) telling you what to type in for what kind of hours. Regular hours are 1, overtime is something else, vacation is, I dunno, 50 or something. It's impossible to remember, and there's not any kind of logical system to it

Let's contemplate that for a moment, shall we? You have to look up an obscure numerical code to tell the system what category of hours you worked. No dropdown menu with choices. Not even any simple letter codes like, oh, V for vacation. You have to look up an obscure numerical code. What the hell is that?! That's the extreme antithesis of user-friendliness. That's making human beings serve the computer instead of vice versa. That's completely failing to even get the friggin' concept of what computer automation is for. Aaargh!

When I mentioned this to someone, they said that, yes, people has asked the company's representatives about this and were told that it was that way "because the software requires a numerical input for that." To which I responded, "Then the software is bad!" That's so bad, it offends not just my aesthetic, but my moral sensibilities. That's not the way to treat your users. It's just... not. It's shameful.

What else? Oh, yes, this one tripped me up today, and was actually what set off the entire diatribe in the first place, in a final-straw kind of way. When you go to the timecard page, it automatically sets you up with a "card" for the current pay period. Fine. The thing is, if you then select the button for "next period" or "previous period," it does not change the date to the next or previous period. All it does is tell you what the next or previous period is, and you have to go in and hand-edit the date field. Because, gosh, we'd never want someone to be able to do with one click what they can accomplish with a click, a mouse-movement, and some typing, nor would we ever want to lure them into a sense of complacency by having the obvious and expected thing happen.

And all of that, I should mention, is just the stuff I encountered spending a couple of brief sessions trying to do very, very basic things. God only knows what horrors I'll find if I actually go looking. I have to wonder whether they did any user testing on this stuff at all. I mean, surely, if they gave it five minutes with an actual human being, it would have been immediately clear how flawed the damned thing is. Possibly they figure that, if you give yourself a touchy-feely name like "PeopleSoft," then you don't actually need to do anything else to actually serve the needs of people. After all, it's the PR that counts, right, not the actual quality of your product?

I'm told their requisition forms are even worse. I shudder to think. But apparently we're stuck with this system, whether anybody likes it or not, because the mandate to use it cames from very high up. Somebody told me they have some kind of arrangement with the National Science Foundation (aka the people holding our purse strings). I'm not sure if that's true or not, but if it is, I'm seriously thinking of complaining to my congressman.

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