BOI: The Hand Giveth, The Hand Taketh Away

Bank of Ireland continues to befuddle me as a company. In some areas they absolutely excel, but in others they’re the worst of the worst. In meatspace I’ve dealt with their branch staff quite a bit in recent years because of several long-winded account changes, and apart from a few – inevitable – errors, they’ve been a pleasure to deal with. Friendly, helpful and competent, their staff run with problems until they’re fixed, taking responsibility and apologising for issues that pop up along the way. On the face-face-face front, companies could learn a lot from BOI.

Step outside the branch network though, and it can be very slapdash, particularly when technology is involved. The IVR systems are long-winded and circuitous, the websites are ugly and befuddling, and having watched people run through their own internal forms on my behalf, I can only imagine how much time is wasted going forward and back in their systems trying to get things done. Their Business OnLine system, though, should be used by experts in usability and design on how not to design a web app.

If you use BOL, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, visit it and take a look, but please, don’t click on anything yet if you run anything bar Windows and IE, as you could actually break something. And in a brilliant way, as will become apparent. When you arrive on the site, a little window will pop up telling you that “Business On Line [is] Loading”, and that you should “Please wait”. While you’re waiting – it’ll be a while, because it will load for a period of ∞ seconds – have a look around at the design and layout.

Quite apart from the fact that they’re generally just awful, you’ll notice that it wasn’t just the application developers that didn’t understand cross-platform and cross-browser development, the designers don’t either; check out the lovely rounded corners in Firefox, for example. The layout is atrocious too of course, with links scattered about the page seemingly at random. Still “loading”? You may have noticed the “PC Compatibility” link while waiting, and been tempted to click it, but don’t if you’re running Firefox please, because it’ll crash. Yes, the “PC Compatibility” page will crash your browser.

If you actually are running Windows and Internet Explorer you’re probably ok, but make sure you install Java first. No, not Sun Java or any other commonly available Java VM, they won’t work; you need the Microsoft JVM. The one that isn’t available any more. BOI will give it to you when you’re trained on their system, but getting it after a reinstall can be a bit tricky if you’re in a rush, you’ll need to google for “msjavx86.exe” and install it yourself. Don’t forget to update afterwards while you’re at it, as that version isn’t secure, and you can’t install the update without installing that. Efficient, eh?

If you’re a user of BOL you may have been told that a new version is on the way, like I was a year or two ago when I first started using it, but I’m afraid that was either a lie or bullshit, because there’s no end in sight. In a week when they’ve upgraded their consumer-level online banking system to something approaching a decent web app – but still not even close to a good one – a customer care rep has confirmed to me that the timeframe for rollout of a BOL upgrade is being calculated in years. And not just a couple of years either:

“at the early stages of this project we may have been given an unofficial timeframe of one maybe two years but now the project has enlarged and has turned into a large scale project incorporating a number different sections. It has grown enormously since the very initial stages of scoping the project and they are not in the position as of yet to issue us with timeframes for the completion of the project”

Let’s be clear on something here folks: this is a web app. Myself and two colleagues are talking about building a web app project at the moment, and the longest part of our lead time is 3 months, while we wait for one to come back to Ireland. When he does, we’ll spend a month on the near side hashing it out, a month firing it together, and a month on the far side on cleanup and pitches, for a total of 6 months. If it were a web app for a bank, we might spend another six months security consultations and code reviews, maybe even a full year. But 2 years plus, when it was obvious 2 years ago it was shite? Fuck off.