Singapore Airlines website develops engine trouble and other ‘how not to be an IT hub’ tales

A reader drew my attention to a Singapore Airlines story, saying “one of the . . . staunchest SIA users I know has now given up his pps to use Cathay.”

Reason? Our flagship airline’s website has been sputtering for days, a shocking development for an airline whose brand is built on excellence and customer service and whose future, as they themselves know very well, depends on business flyers. The latter will not tolerate hiccups in booking or changing flights or online check-ins; for them, time is money.

Apparently, the problem has been ongoing since at least Sunday (four days ago — a veritable eternity in airline booking time), as one of the posts on Singapore Airlines’ own Facebook page (below) indicates. The reader who emailed me also noted that none of this has made it to the Straits Times and other media: “Guess its because its SIA that the Singapore press hasn’t mentioned it.”

Frankly, there’s nothing I can add, except to reinforce what Junxiang Wang wrote: “I don’t need flashy graphics.” It’s a common complaint, usually the result of  a business manager who knows nothing about infocomm technology (nor about user psychology) being in charge of overseeing a company’s website. He is dazzled by a website design vendor who makes a fancy pitch for the job, and next thing you know, the company has a website that shows off the webdesigner’s skills, but does nothing for the company; in fact it ends up annoying the latter’s customers.

* * * * *

This morning, I was annoyed by something else — the umpteenth time I have noticed the same absurdity. It was an e-mailer from a government-linked academic institution inviting me to a seminar.

“To register, please download this form and send it back to us,” it says, with a link.

Clicking it, a Microsoft Word document was downloaded, into which I was expected to fill in certain blank lines with my details. Many readers may have encountered something similar. Let me tell you why I was annoyed:

1. It merrily assumed that everybody in Singapore has a Microsoft Word application on his computer. This doesn’t come free; it’s proprietary software.

2. This particular one was a “.docx” file, using the latest version of Microsoft Word and may not be compatible with older versions of Word.

This academic institution is not the only one doing this. Lots of other institutions and government departments do likewise.  The effect therefore is that of bureaucratic coercion to buy Microsoft software — and not only that, to keep paying for the latest upgrade. Why is the Singapore government helping Microsoft make money?

There are plenty of free applications out there where you can set up a simple event registration (see http://www.eventbrite.com, for example — it’s even better than Facebook which requires that you must first be a Facebook member to sign up for events on that social media platform). You can even use Google forms that automatically places replies in a large spreadsheet, if you want to do a simple analysis of respondents.

Why is it, after boasting about getting the best brains into our civil service and related academic institutions, they still use Microsoft Word, I cannot understand. My guess though is process inertia: They’ve been doing this for years and no one bothers to ask searching questions. From the smallest inconveniences to the biggest bungles, this is a common thread.

(Oh yes, another government-linked institution not only sends out Word.doc registration forms, they ask invitees to fax the forms back. Fax! Which indicates they have assumed that everybody’s computer is connected to a printer, and that everybody has access to a fax machine. Have they never heard of people doing work while in Starbucks?)

About five years ago, I was consulting with a company when I happened to see a similar thing. They were organising a seminar and asking those interested to register for it by emailing in return a Microsoft Word document. Since it wasn’t related to what I was doing for the company, I didn’t get much involved beyond suggesting they might do it differently. However, what was memorable about that instance was how the office handled the replies. The clerk was printing out the reply forms (in duplicate!), filing them and manually updating a sheet of paper listing the names of those who signed up for the seminar. They were using infocomm technology as little more than substitute for the postal service.

I don’t know whether the same backroom process (printing and filing into arch files) still goes on in the academic institutions or government departments that in 2011 continue to use Microsoft Word for event registrations, but I won’t be surprised if this is the case.

* * * * *

About two or three weeks ago, SBS Transit’s  bus arrival information system was in the news when it went blink on third party applications. It wasn’t a software glitch, but a deliberate denial of access to others. So much for an “intelligent” city that hopes to encourage development of web applications.

For those who don’t ride our buses let me first explain that SBS Transit has equipped their vehicles with a satellite tracking system. The company has an application that outputs the estimated arrival time of a bus at any bus stop. You see this on active display boards at several downtown bus stops. You can also interrogate the system, which they call Iris, by texting to phone number 74744 a short text message comprising <bus stop number> space <bus service number>. Iris will respond with the expected arrival time of the next two buses on that route.

Actually, the system is not all that reliable, although I have not used it often enough to observe any particular pattern of unreliability. Sometimes no bus arrives despite the system telling you it ought to be nearly in front of you; other times a bus pulls up when the system doesn’t know of it.

What hit the headlines however was when SBS Transit suddenly disallowed third party applications from accessing Iris and drawing data from it.

One example of a third party application doing so was the site streetdirectory.com, useful when you’re on the move armed with a tablet or smartphone. Let’s say you’re navigating your way to a bus stop with the aid of a street map. Some distance ahead of you is a bus stop, and you want to know whether you need to walk faster. Is the bus going to arrive at the stop before you?

At streetdirectory.com, the intention was to deliver you the information when you click the bus stop symbol shown on the map. But SBS Transit has now denied access to the Iris dynamic database and what you’re left with is this:

You are now compelled to dial 74744, enter in the bus stop number (which you can see on streetdirectory.com’s inset box) and the bus service number. That’s unnecessarily inconvenient. So what we now have is technology available but cannot be used.

The likely reason, as readers may quickly guess, is that Iris is a paid service (5 or 10 cents per request), and SBS Transit was unhappy that third party applications circumvented it. But hang on, isn’t public transport a public service?

71 Responses to “Singapore Airlines website develops engine trouble and other ‘how not to be an IT hub’ tales”


  1. 1 Jeremy Tiang 15 June 2011 at 18:28

    Sterling work as always, Alex. BUT I am distressed to see you have succumbed to the common misusage of ‘revert’ to mean ‘reply’. That is NOT what ‘revert’ means! Would you mind very much changing it to ‘Iris will get back to you with the expected arrival time…’ or something similar?

  2. 6 Agents Provocateur 15 June 2011 at 18:31

    Read your post on the bus, decided to check out SIA’s site. Thought you might like to know that their mobile interface is fearsome unpleasant – I didn’t even make it to the site proper.

    This post also reminds me of the SMRT site, which used to force you to click through several poorly laid out pages to reach a crippled route-planner, while their stock price had pride of place on the front page.

  3. 7 blackholesun 15 June 2011 at 19:12

    NTU is another culprit of using IT like a pseudo postal system. Does not instill much confidence in the “technological” branding. Many aspects of their IT is amazingly prehistoric too. This is what happens when the ones on top wrestle away every meaningful bit of autonomy. This is the culture of the nation.

  4. 8 blackholesun 15 June 2011 at 19:16

    NTU is another dinosaur with IT. Does not do much for their “technological” branding. This is what happens when the ones on top wrestles away every bit of autonomy. Of course, it is the culture of the nation. And we wonder why we are hardly as innovative as others.

  5. 9 Dog 15 June 2011 at 19:28

    I agree that it is unreasonable to expect everyone to have a fax machine (I’ve faced that problem before myself), but Microsoft Word is so ubiquitous that everyone should be able to open Word documents.

    Also, you don’t actually need Microsoft Word installed to open Word documents. Most word processing software (including freeware) can open Word documents. As for .docx documents, I understand that you can open them using older versions of Word by installing a free update.

    Complaining about institutions using Microsoft Word because you don’t use MS Word is like complaining about institutions disseminating information through email because you don’t use email. It is like complaining about institutions asking for payment via credit card because you don’t have a credit card. Sometimes, something is just so common that it becomes your responsibility to get on with the programme. That is what living in society entails – you can’t expect your every idiosyncrasy to be accounted for and catered to.

    • 10 yawningbread 15 June 2011 at 20:47

      You’re missing the point. To “have” Microsoft Word, you have to pay for it. It ain’t free. It’s one thing if it is a business, then you can say, well if you lose or annoy your customers, it’s your business. It’s quite another thing when it’s the government which is not supposed to show favoritism to any software vendor.

      • 11 Dog 15 June 2011 at 22:18

        Alex, how practical it is to demand that the government not show favouritism to any particular vendor? It is virtually impossible. The government *has* to use one particular software provider, after all. Even if it uses “free” platforms like Google docs, it is still showing favouritism to Google (just because Google doesn’t charge money doesn’t mean it is not earning from advertising revenue). And then we would have people complaining about why the Government is sending clicks to Google.

        There are other problems with the government using freeware that is not developed by a profit-making company. Such freeware is often distributed “as is” and there is no support for them if anything goes wrong. So either the government uses software from a reputable provider, or it has to develop its own, which costs money (consider the silly Malaysian initiative to provide a government email address to all citizens).

      • 12 yawningbread 15 June 2011 at 23:53

        1. I am not saying the government should not purchase/use proprietary software.

        2. I am saying that when it interfaces with the public, it must be conscious of not doing so in a way that coerces the public into having to buy the same software. If it has to use some software, free apps should be preferred over apps that citizens are then compelled to pay for.

        There’s a huge difference between 1 and 2.

      • 13 sgcynic 15 June 2011 at 23:49

        “It is like complaining about institutions asking for payment via credit card because you don’t have a credit card. Sometimes, something is just so common that it becomes your responsibility to get on with the programme.”

        Recall in the past our public libraries rigidly requires all to pay fines and fees via Cashcard. One cannot pay the librarian using NETS or cash, and has to top up one’s Cashcard via NETS and then pay using the Cashcard (provided one has the card in the first place). It is not one’s responsibility to get on with the “programme”. It is the onus of the organisation (especially in the case of a government institution serving the public) to design and implement a system that works for the end users. I guess it’s primarily monopolies who can flex their clout and force all to get on board the system,or a service provider who is too lazy or arrogant to think in the shoes of their clients. Often this makes the difference between an excellent, acceptable and mediocre service.

      • 14 twasher 16 June 2011 at 07:28

        Dog:

        It’s not true that there is no support for freeware. There’s (obviously!) support for Google Docs and open source projects like OpenOffice have support as well. Both are ‘reputable providers’ by any reasonable definition of ‘reputable’.

      • 15 so1trg 16 June 2011 at 10:29

        fyi.
        The entire Singapore Armed Forces including Mindef has stopped the use of Microsoft Word and its entire suite of application like powerpoint and excel for a good 5years.
        In line with cost cutting measures, the SAF/Mindef has successfully transited into using free Open office software.

      • 16 Rajiv Chaudhry 16 June 2011 at 12:56

        I have been using Open Office for many years. It is fully compatible with MS Office.

        It was previously supported by Sun Microsystems, until Sun was bought over by Oracle. Oracle now provides support for those who need it (mainly institutional users). I have not needed any support over the past 10 years (except on one rare occasion) so, as far as I am concerned, it is rock solid.

      • 17 leo 19 June 2011 at 04:25

        alex – perhaps discussing on word processing softwares is not your forte. or maybe you should have considered/researched more on this issue first😀

        however, your reasoning maybe be kinda flawed. so if the government isn’t supposed to show favouritism to any software vendor, then how can we ever get things done? So let’s say Microsoft wins a tender to provide word processing software to the government, then do we accuse the government of showing favouritism? Or should the government insist on using freeware/open source software?

        also, Adobe Acrobat is also proprietory software – thus going by your reasoning, such application forms cannot be in pdf form as well. then maybe you wanna suggest another file type that we and the government can adopt?

        why, even let’s say our government says “let’s use notepad and wordpad as our word processing software”, are you gonna accuse the government of forcing Singaporeans to buy computers with Windows OS, because they are the ones that come preloaded with notepad and wordpad?

        do bear in mind that many freeware are very unfamiliar with Singaporeans (or rather the other way around), and actually if you do not consider cost then MS Office is the best bet. Also, having used OpenOffice myself during my NSF days, yes it is indeed fully compatible with MS Office. And I will still prefer MS Office to the more shabbily designed OpenOffice.

        probably nitpicking a little too much😀

      • 18 pkchukiss 26 June 2011 at 21:34

        Modern Web page technologies can provide most of the functions that these organisations need, with maximal compatibility with major modern browsers. In terms of accessibility to the general population, it is the best choice for the uses you have highlighted (filling in forms).

        However, it is not cheap, nor is it easy to hire a designer to create a new form for each activity organisations want to collect data for, and the lack of easy-to-use tools to enable administrators to create these forms themselves would necessitate a regression to easy-to-learn tools, such as PDF and Word documents.

        Granted, there are existing easy-to-use tools to create forms in, but they not only lack the extent of customisability demanded by organisations, but also the latitude of savviness on the users to use them.

    • 19 twasher 15 June 2011 at 21:23

      As someone who refuses to install anything by Microsoft on my computers, I can attest that the free alternatives to Word like Google Docs or OpenOffice sometimes have problems with formatting in Word documents, especially with the .docx format.

      There have been previous attempts to get the government to adopt the OpenDocument format, to no avail:
      http://harishpillay.livejournal.com/33269.html

      • 20 Kai Xiong 16 June 2011 at 02:44

        Dog,

        Your example of email is terrible because email is an open standard. Email users are empowered with choices, many of which are actually free. Why? Because any developer can read the freely available SMTP (the Internet mail exchange protocol) specification and implement software to support email.

        The problem with the Word document format is that it is closed and solely owned by MIcrosoft. Its technical details are governed by Microsoft. The company is free to change it at will and ensure competing software can never properly support the format. The end result is that users are forced to buy software from Microsoft in order just to reliably access Word documents.

        By choosing Microsoft for document exchange, the government is indirectly forcing citizens to buy Microsoft software, simply for communication.

        And just what is a Apple or Linux user to do? Microsoft Word doesn’t run on anything other than Windows, which is also from Microsoft!

        The solution to this is far simpler than what you might think. Use an open format like the Open Document Format (ODF, extension .odt). ODF is supported by OpenOffice/LibreOffice, Microsoft Office and very many others.

        The government can continue to use Microsoft software while the rest of us can pick something else that better fit our needs. Everyone can be happy.

    • 21 jem 16 June 2011 at 07:54

      There is another difference between using Microsoft Word and an online application e.g. Google spreadsheets.

      Using the Microsoft Word way requires the user to do a lot of work, and is error prone. First, the user has to download the form, and as Alex mentioned, has to have a reader installed. Then the user has to fill out the form, save it and email it back. One common error would be the user sending back the original (blank form) instead of the filled in one. Another would be the different formatting between different software capable of reading .doc(x) files.

      Then on the other end, someone has to receive the emails, and batch process the data (most likely manually, because it is not simple to automatically process data in .doc(x) files).

      On the other hand, if the user enters his data through an online service, there is less confusion, it is easier to perform some basic error checking, and the data can be captured, processed, and displayed in real time.

      Most importantly, doing things online does not require the user to interrupt his current activity. He can just click through, rather than having to stop, download and switch to an email program/email website. I think this step is the most significant in terms of inertia.

      Even if MSWord were not used, the old email-me-a-file way is still rather painful for the end user.

      • 22 xtrocious 17 June 2011 at 15:06

        Hi Kai Xiang

        Just a note – Microsoft Office is available for Mac🙂

        But I think Alex’s point is that it should be in an open-source format like RTF text or even PDF so that everyone can open it…

    • 23 patrick 16 June 2011 at 11:03

      Dog, I totally agree with you here. I can appreciate Alex’s complaints about SIA but the part about Microsoft Word is just nitpicking. It is totally reasonable to expect everyone to have Word, and the fact that the institution has been using it for years when communicating with members of the public, without enough complaints to force a change, tells you that Alex is probably the first guy to find fault with it. Alex also pretends that the government is inadvertently coercing the public to use Word when it is the public which first chose to use Word on a wide scale. If anyone’s to blame, it’s Microsoft.

      • 24 jem 16 June 2011 at 13:44

        I assure you Alex is not the ‘first guy to find fault with it’. It is a valid complaint that has been around for quite some time, if you would care to do some searching online.

      • 25 gazebo 16 June 2011 at 23:28

        your logic is completely flawed. for example, you claim that just because there wasn’t a change, implies that there weren’t enough complaints. that is plainly false. complaints could have fallen on deaf ears for one. or people may not have complained, and just chose not to use the service. there are plenty of possible reasons.

        in any case, you are missing YB’s point. the point isn’t whether everyone uses microsoft word or not (by the way, i don’t.). the point is that there are other standards readily available, which are universally accessible. and almost cost free to switch to.

      • 26 patrick 19 June 2011 at 00:50

        “your logic is completely flawed. for example, you claim that just because there wasn’t a change, implies that there weren’t enough complaints. that is plainly false. complaints could have fallen on deaf ears for one. or people may not have complained, and just chose not to use the service. there are plenty of possible reasons. ”

        If the institution could afford to be deaf to complaints all this while, then there has never been enough of it. Prepare to languish in the minority while the rest of the world takes the practical route. Also if people did not complain and chose not to use the service, then they did not care enough and they felt no coercion whatsoever from the government. It’s time Singaporeans stopped blaming the government for the consequences of their own indifference.

        Also, no, you miss the point. Alex thinks that by using Word so extensively in its public communications, it is somehow endorsing Word and helping Microsoft make a profit. This accusation is false. The public chose to adopt Word on a large scale without any coercion by the government. You people think that the government is some magical entity when it is really a collection of human beings who, by necessity, have only responded to the public’s embrace of Microsoft Word for the convenience of the public. Why don’t you ask yourself why so many people use Word in the first place? Did they blow hundreds of dollars on Office software just because they wanted to RSVP some invite to some godforsaken events? Or was it because all their friends and family, and basically the vast majority of computer literate people in the world, used Word? Is there any cause to accuse the government of favouritism? This is an absurd accusation by someone who’s obviously clutching at straws for more ways to slander the government.

        I had to laugh when you said it’s cost-free to switch to universal formats like OpenOffice. Never did it occur to you to consider how the government would need to spend taxpayers’ money to retrain its army of public servants in a new word processor, as well as train new hires who were already accustomed to Microsoft Office. Then you need to contract IT providers to reprogramme the entire computer system across the government to use OpenOffice. All this hassle and cost for 90% of the people just because the other 10% are stubborn. By the way, if you really hate Word you can jolly well use OpenOffice to open .doc files sent by the government and your friends. Nobody else has to stop using Microsoft Office. That’s the beauty of OpenOffice.

      • 27 53891 19 June 2011 at 21:03

        ‘ I had to laugh when you said it’s cost-free to switch to universal formats like OpenOffice. Never did it occur to you to consider how the government would need to spend taxpayers’ money to retrain its army of public servants in a new word processor, as well as train new hires who were already accustomed to Microsoft Office. Then you need to contract IT providers to reprogramme the entire computer system across the government to use OpenOffice.’

        Patrick

        Civil servants need training to use a new word processor? If that’s true, either the programme or the users need to be chucked in the bin

        Switching to OpenOffice may not be cost free but you have no basis for saying it’s not cost effective without researching and comparing the costs of switching vs not switching.

        You think the status quo is always the best and cheapest. Your attitude reflects the very reason why Singapore has pathetically low productivity and creativity.

    • 28 R 24 June 2011 at 23:38

      open office is a beautiful thing

  6. 29 Calling us a hub does not make us so 15 June 2011 at 19:48

    My old boss used to call his boss a “visionary”
    A nice way of saying all talk but cannot execute.

    But that’s the way it is in Singapore.

  7. 30 YH@2 15 June 2011 at 20:01

    LTA’s publictransport@sg website still has the bus arrival times though. It would be dreadfully embarrassing if LTA was denied IRIS data!

    Perhaps the denial of service was because they *think* that 3-rd party apps are making profits from it. I wonder who paid for the satellite data collection? My guess would be the taxpayer (via LTA) or singtel or sbs – and all are ‘govt linked’. There can be enough political will to make such data free and freely available. I thought we wanted to be an app developer hub too…

  8. 31 Michael 15 June 2011 at 21:14

    I was one of the people who was ‘stuck’ in Sydney on Sunday trying to get my check-in confirmed online. If it wasn’t for the fact that I had a prepaid SIM card which allowed me to call the reservation line, I wouldn’t have known what to do as Monday was a public holiday and there was no way I could just turn up at the Singapore Airlines office to check in with a front desk officer.
    What was more frustrating was that while I was unable to do the check in myself, the person on the other side of the reservation hotline was able to access my details and even knew I wanted a seafood meal (which I had chosen before I flew out to Sydney almost 2 weeks ago)
    The amount of anxiety (it’s not that simple just to take the train to the airport and expect things to ‘work out’ over there) was uncalled for and it added a sour note to the end of my wonderful trip to Sydney.

  9. 32 R 15 June 2011 at 23:04

    Hi yawningbread,

    don’t disagree with your post but just a point of information — actually if a user is able to access streetdirectory.sg, he should have an Internet connection, and with an Internet connection one is able to go to sbstransit’s website to use Iris as a free service too.

    Here’s a link to the iris page: http://www.sbstransit.com.sg/iris/overview.aspx
    Cheers

    • 33 yawningbread 15 June 2011 at 23:45

      The SBS Transit site is no substitute for apps like StreetDirectory’s. To use Iris, one needs to know the bus stop identification number. You won’t know that if you’re still walking to the bus stop. So you have to get online and refer to a map. With SBS/Iris, you can get a map if you scroll here and there to find a button and you navigate several layers deep (and slow-loading too); with Streetdirectory.com, you just key in your road name, and the map will load quite quickly. Then the pros and cons:

      After you’ve found the bus stop identification number, with SBS Transit, you have to navigate out of the map and drill to some other page where you can interrogate Iris for bus arrival times. Compare that to the blocked app by StreetDirectory.com, where all the needed information would have been available on the same screen once you’ve found your location on the map.

  10. 34 Dickson 15 June 2011 at 23:17

    SIA website sucks. Right now, there’s an Error message when I try to click onto it so I can’t get through. When the site is “up”, every click takes 10 seconds to register – ie. you click, countdown 10 seconds / do something else, then you hear the “click” sound and wait for a response. I was told certain links are not hyperlinked too. And after laboriously tolerating 15-20 mins of trying to make a booking, keep your finger crossed that you do not suddenly get an error message and have to start all over again.

    When reported on the Straits Times, SIA spokesman said “these are typical teething problems with any new IT implementation”. But this is not just typical teething problems. Its basic. It shows that insufficient (or, none?) testing was done before going live.

    I hate to bring politics into this, but to me, this saga is emblymetic of the Singapore government’s “we’re the best, we know best” attitude. And top management’s denial of ground reality. After all, its the best airline in the world, its won multiple awards, every IT project has hiccups – what’s the problem ? See the parallel – we’re the best govt in the world, everybody says we’re the best, we know best, we can do no wrong.

    I don’t even bother to complain about the problems I have with the website. They’ll probably tell me my PC has problems that’s why its slow. And its “typical IT” implementation. Just like I don’t bother complaining about overcrowding in public transport etc because I’ll just be told I’m a “whiner” and many Third World countries have it worse.

    And the worse thing is – if you call their reservations hotline, there’s now a message that says they apologize for their website problem, and the queue in the reservations hotline may be long. And after several other messages, there’s another message that says – we apologize for the delay in answering your call. Your call has been put on queue. You may want to go to our website instead of waiting !!!

    So the disgruntled passenger just votes with his feet and goes elsewhere. Just like the truly disgrunted citizen also votes with his feet .. if he has the financial resources to do so.

    And most Singaporeans are probably stuck with SIA since its the home airline which offers the best connectivity. So they have to endure it. While non-Singaporeans have better choices elsewhere.

    • 35 yawningbread 16 June 2011 at 00:12

      Where in the Straits Times did you see this? I read Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday editions and didn’t come across any mention of Singapore Airline’s website troubles.

    • 39 Leuk75 20 June 2011 at 23:52

      Yup you are right. The troubles are still not fixed. With the previous old website, things were more intuitive although the graphics don’t look as pretty. It was a breeze to online check in, make flight changes and redeem flights for my folks at home.

      Now the check in takes longer, essential information such as name and passport number have to be re-entered but the fields are “bugged” such that sometimes it can’t be done and I have to resort to calling the helpdesk.

      To be fair, the helpdesk folks have been helpful and remained polite and efficient but it is really a waste of time and precious manpower for such mundane issues which business travellers are used to doing on their own online. Hopefully with all the negative feedback given, they will fix it up quickly or else I suspect that many business folks will simply move off to other commercial carriers with this drop in reliability.

      Pity the whole form over substance approach to the new website. Its becoming a disturbing trend in Singapore e.g. post 65’s MPs doing hip hop, the emphasis on wearing the niqab as a display of being a good muslim, exam grades over lateral and creative thinking.

  11. 40 Zip 15 June 2011 at 23:41

    Don’t get me started on the IRIS data. I was a happy camper using an iPhone app – tranSGuide; it helped tell approximately when a bus service will arrive at a bus stop. I’ve tried several others similar apps, they work pretty much the same and were fairly easy to use. That was until SBS choked off the signal to all of them. Now I’m forced to use SBS’s own app – iris. What a piece of junk. It’s an embarrassment. It’s not intuitive and forces you to set things that you’d otherwise not require in the other apps. I feel that I’ve regressed to the stone-age… I keep wondering if some kid can write a very usable app like tranSGuide, why can’t a big company like SBS create something even close?

    • 41 Jack Jack! 16 June 2011 at 11:26

      I echo how you feel! tranSGuide is the best iPhone bus guide as compare to other! SBS shouldn’t have block it and replace with IRIS, which is a piece of trash!

  12. 42 Anonymous 15 June 2011 at 23:54

    Don’t know how the situation is now, but I remember an occasion where the capital ‘P’ “Policy” at one institution I was in was that they do NOT support Apple hardware/software. As a result, IT administrators were able to hold back decisions made by senior management, causing delay in work.

    Irony was that it was an educational institution, where would expect openness and a divergence of possibilities.

  13. 43 Peter Tan 16 June 2011 at 00:36

    http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_672815.html
    There seems to be something on ST further back.

    I agree, not a great way to surf.

    • 44 Rajiv Chaudhry 18 June 2011 at 14:19

      Hi “The”,

      Yes, I guess you could say so, although it is now “ex”.

      I remember attending a seminar a couple of years ago at which Alex was encouraging (exhorting?) everyone to use their real names online. I have taken his advice to heart.

      If you would like to drop me a line, I can be reached at rajivcha@gmail.com

  14. 45 The 16 June 2011 at 08:44

    /// 2. I am saying that when it interfaces with the public, it must be conscious of not doing so in a way that coerces the public into having to buy the same software. If it has to use some software, free apps should be preferred over apps that citizens are then compelled to pay for. ///

    I think the problem is even deeper than that. In their effort to go cashless and paperless and for their own convenience, the government agencies have tried to do almost everything on line. For their own convenience, they inconvenience the consumers.

    The key issue is – their assumption that every household has a computer. That the old folks are computer literate.

    I had a hard time trying to help my father who is nearing 90 to terminate his business. Went to ACRA, but they insisted that you go online to terminate. They have some sort of arrangement with a commercial outfit near the ACRA office to help people in the submission, but you have to pay a fee for that.

    The biggest bugbear with doing anything online with the government agencies is that you have to get a SingPass first. And getting the old folk to do that is a real pain. Okay, they close one eye and allow whoever is helping the old folks to know the password.

    Similarly, my father had a hard time trying to scrap his van as LTA always insist on doing things on line. And there are a few procedures online just to scrap a vehicle.

    My point is, why insist on doing things on line? Why not allow those who are of the older generation, or who do not own computers to do things the good old ways?

    • 46 Poker Player 16 June 2011 at 10:45

      “I think the problem is even deeper than that. In their effort to go cashless and paperless and for their own convenience, the government agencies have tried to do almost everything on line. For their own convenience, they inconvenience the consumers.”

      Worse – they even break the law. Remember when the National Library stopped accepting cash? They even got people with legal backgrounds double talking around the fact that cash is legal tender. The typical Singaporean reaction to this would be to say that it is a small matter – the American reaction would be to sue on point of principle. That’s why their individual rights increased over the course of history, while we improved on the British by introducing bankruptcy as a complement to detention as a tool for political control.

  15. 49 Senang Diri 16 June 2011 at 10:15

    Hi Alex.

    Great stuff again🙂 You are simply amazing.

    I used to be the boss of an IT outsourcing company ( 12 year + ).We dealt in multi-million contracts with large organizations ( SIA was one of our early clients ).

    What you are describing is something quite common in some of the large GLC’s and government agencies/statutory bodies.

    We used to have a poor impression about SIA’s IT department – so it’s no surprise that it took their revamped website to expose their weaknesses.

    And off course the floods revealed PUB’s frailty …but more than 10 years ago PUB had problems with a foreign IT company that ( if I remember correctly ) screwed their SAP implementation …I was told by some sources that PUB also recruited some Indian programmers at cheap rates and paid a heavy price🙂

    But wait …the icing on the cake must go to government agencies like the CPF Board …they put out a tender more than 10 year ago for a revamped CPF system….the lowest bidder was IBM and they proposed a solution that was a joke….they were apparently trying to use a system developed elsewhere and map it for use in Singapore

    the rest is history…CPF took a couple of years and swallowed their pride before suing IBM for millions

    I could go on and on

    But off course we must give credit to the fact that the nation’s core IT infrastructure ( including government e-services etc ) are by and large serving the public well….but, we may be entering a new phase whereby the GLC’s and government’s performance in using new and emerging technologies is mediocre at best..

    Btw, who is the Minister in charge of IT…does he have an IT background ?

    • 50 stanley 16 June 2011 at 10:35

      IBM is running SIA’s data center and IT help desk. No idea who designed and developed SIA’s website.

  16. 51 Anonymous 16 June 2011 at 10:36

    This is why I sold my SIA shares long ago. The company isn’t what it used to be, for a very long time.

  17. 52 yan 16 June 2011 at 11:40

    So, that’s it, it was or still is down. I was trying to book a flight to Adelaide, and was very very annoyed. Thought the system is too-up-to-date for me – well, having the impression that anything Singapore is high tech, and “bestest”. Defeated! So, I go back to my own golden airline – MAS!

  18. 53 TK 16 June 2011 at 15:50

    SBS newest tagline stands for “Si Bei Slow”. And the reason why they kicked out 3rd party apps is explained in link slide 12. With all the bashing on their “superior” system, how are they supposed to monetize it now? Better that they make money from other countries than increasing our fares right?

    http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,2056669_2249184,00.html

  19. 54 Rabbit 16 June 2011 at 18:20

    Now, those are another good examples why Singapore productivity has gone haywire. If such glitch seem eternal or never get noticed, it drags down our productivity level because business will be put on hold, individual will be late due to some careless souls in the govt sector. I am not sure whether spending nearly half a million on cushy chairs can be more productive than getting the technology more user-friendly.

  20. 55 steve 16 June 2011 at 20:08

    I’ve been annoyed by things like this from time to time.

    I remember I was once using the service of a government or related website that worked only on Internet Explorer!

    With regards to using Microsoft for everything, it’s the “got vendor support” mentality that’s widespread among many software developers working on corporate or government projects. Why? Because if something goes wrong and can be traced to the software, you can depend on the Big Brother (Microsoft) for support – like playing a blame game.

    That explains why open-source free software such as PHP (a web scripting language) is unpopular compared to the licensed ASP – the latter is Microsoft’s first server-side script-engine for dynamically-generated web pages. There, Microsoft again!

  21. 56 Calrson 16 June 2011 at 21:52

    This reminds me of when I tried to register as oversea voter during the 2011 GE, the system does not support Apple Mac users. This is backward I think. Who design the system?

    • 57 xtrocious 17 June 2011 at 15:10

      The tender may have only called for the specs for one system, instead of multiple systems…

      Or the designer could have just been pure lazy…the organization also did not know better and accepted the solution as it was presented!

    • 58 twasher 17 June 2011 at 21:05

      Actually, I registered using either an Apple or a Linux computer (cannot recall which). If it can support Linux, it can almost certainly support Apple. So it was at least able to support *some* non-Windows systems…

  22. 59 David 16 June 2011 at 22:52

    Since we’re on this topic, I’d like to point out something of interest as well: despite the setting up of GeBIZ (http://www.gebiz.gov.sg/), where registered companies are required to submit their invoices online to government ministries and statutory boards (as written on the website), companies still have to bill hard copy invoices to government agencies for audit purposes. This totally defeats the purpose of the portal and runs counter to the initial aim of going ‘paperless’.

  23. 60 classicfolk@yahoo.com 17 June 2011 at 19:34

    Other than technology issue, there was also another human factors my company encountered couple years ago when trying to tender for 2nd hand damaged PC from Singtel. However, Singtel required that my company get NEA approval since the PC contained “toxic” element. NEA told us it was not necessay because PC was not in their list of “toxic” items and thus no such approval is needed to tender for 2nd hand PC. We wrote to Singtel who insisted that it is mandatory to get NEA approval. There were several stuborn emails between the two organisations that not only time-consuming to deal with but added further dilemma to our complying company who tried to do a proper business here. Eventually the tender was won by another govt-linked company and we were left clueless how they did it without having to face the same problems our organisation faced. Something invisible at play?

  24. 61 Young | Upstarts 19 June 2011 at 15:48

    According to some people on the inside, a particular Vice President from the IT division insisted on meeting his own deadlines – and KPIs – and decided to push out the website despite the fact that ongoing UATs were showing regressive errors.

    He’d rather let Customer Affairs deal with the fallout, which wasn’t “his problem”.

  25. 62 Ava 19 June 2011 at 16:33

    fyi. SIA’s website woes started the very day they implemented the new website. Way more than 4 days. Users have had trouble logging in, credit cards charged twice and no ticket issued/registered in the system after completing the booking process. Absolute disaster. And they are still defending the issues as “teething problems” after 4 weeks!

  26. 63 Unhappy SIA cusotmer 20 June 2011 at 08:53

    I have faced issues with SIA – website down and when called was routed to call center in India! Waited 40 minutes getting passed from one person to another. Gave up and just hun up. Why can’t they hire more people to take the calls and have someone who can understand what we say? India call centre?

  27. 64 Tasha 21 June 2011 at 12:47

    personally, i hate when someone sends through a word document form and when I open it in my word, it moves all the boxes or formatting around. I know its more proprietry stuff, but what’s wrong with Pdfs? Especially the ones with the areas you can type into, it wont stuff up the formatting but you can still use it.

    I completely agree with the fax comment. Faxes are ancient technology. Email all the way!

    (ttat being said, i got an email yesterday from one of the hotels I was enquiring at in Singapore from October last year saying they would revert to me shortly. Uh, bit late now, been and gone people!!)

  28. 65 sally 21 June 2011 at 18:54

    check out how civil servants check their pay and make claims.

    https://pacgov.agd.gov.sg:443/ipac/portal/jsp/login/index1.jsp

    sigh.

    • 66 twasher 22 June 2011 at 09:04

      There was a similar system for pay and claims, also designed for IE only, in a research institute in Singapore I used to work in. It was even more ironic in that case because it was an institute focusing on computational research, so a large number of research staff used Linux or Mac for their work. So every time they wanted to do anything administrative, they would have to log out of their primary operating system, boot into Windows, and use IE to access the stupid system. At least in the civil service most people would be using Windows as their default OS anyway.

  29. 67 wMulew 21 June 2011 at 22:36

    I agree, the new SQ site has problems, I’m having some issues with it too. To be fair, they launch it less then a month ago, all new stuff go through the same cycle with bugs be it the latest game, software or websites.

    If u bother to patch your software(no real reason you shouldn’t and it’s on auto update by default), your office can work with the newer file versions.

    SBStransit.com.sg/mobileiris = Free
    They spend a lot of money implementing that so I think it’s fair they charge a profit making org money to use it. Google allows free use of their services coz they earn their money from advertising, the same way Streetdirectory.com does it.

  30. 68 crappy 28 June 2011 at 07:55

    For a country that thinks of itself as being at the leading edge of technology, our government, government-linked and private companies have not harnessed technology to make life easier for themselves nor for consumers.

    Most of the disappointing web sites have been mentioned, but there are many more. For me, REACH has been a huge disappointment through its various revamps.

    Few web sites here are designed from the user’s perspective; they feel as if the IT departments have gone ahead and interpreted what management asked for. Yet neither want to assume the responsibility for their sites.

    The bigger question is whether this is symptomatic of some of the thus far hidden ills that plague our country; a result of rushing too far too fast without solid underpinning?

  31. 69 Frank 28 June 2011 at 22:46

    Guys, if you really care about SIA’s website you might want to sign this petition to have the old website back.
    We’ll take it to the CEO here in Singapore.

  32. 71 Anonymous 15 July 2011 at 10:36

    Just moved to NYC and SBS should take a leaf out of MTA’s book. Spotted on an in-train ad:

    “Our apps are whiz kid certified. Instead of developing transit apps, we gave our info to the people who do it best. Search the web for ‘NY transit apps’ to see what we mean.”


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