Barriers to Payment

January 07, 2011

In his seminal 1970 book, Up The Organization, Robert Townsend outlined many good ideas for how to better run a corporation. One that always stuck with me was his idea of calling yourself at work to see what barriers had been erected to prevent people from getting through.

In today's Internet-driven economy new barriers exist that are every bit as difficult to surmount as an overly-protective secretary or administrative assistant was 40 years ago.

For example, as I am taking a class in the spring semester here, I need to pay my student fees. As a University employee I am eligible for tuition reimbursement so all that's left for me to pay is $131.50.

For several months now I have been using Google Chrome exclusively as my browser, so when I see a blurb on the sign-in page about Safari users I ignore it. Once signed in the Student System I access the Student Center and then the outstanding payments section. It helpfully shows me an accounting of last semesters bill and payments. Clicking on the payments tab I finally see the $131.50 I owe.

Clicking the make payment button I am led to a page that lists the fee twice, so I click on the first one and get an option to add it to a shopping cart. I do that and next I click on checkout which results in an error page saying I am not authorized.

Huh?

Try all of that again with the same result.

Call the Help Desk and learn that neither Safari or Google Chrome work with this particular application. In 2011. Great. It's not like the Internet is brand new, you'd think a major provider of student systems like PeopleSoft would know better.

The help desk solution is to, "Use Firefox or IE." Not real happy about that as a solution, but okay. Download Firefox and access the Student System. Click randomly a few hundred times until I get past the checkout button and see a notice that payments cannot be made via Debit card, only Credit card or electronic check. Are you kidding me with this sh*t? Kill the browser in disgust.

Via instant message chat I ask my wife, Sibylle, if she'll hunt up a check book and give me the magic numbers from the bottom of a check so I can give the University money. In the meantime we have a nice chat about Bootstrap the cat and his favorite play toy, sunshine in the mornings, and how wonderful life is.

Happen to notice the Safari users notice again, and actually read it this time, before signing into the mess that is iSIS a second or third time today. It says that while you can't directly access the payment section of the system, you can go to CashNet via this nifty link here. Why that wasn't offered along with the "you aren't authorized" error earlier I have no idea.

Using Google Chrome and the nifty CashNet link I set off to pay my bill. Hmm, I need to know my not-a-Social-Security-number identifier, called a WID (Wildcat ID). Fortunately I have this written down as it's 9-digits and I don't know it by heart. That and my last name get me it to the payment system. Of course this system doesn't know what my bill is, so I have to manually enter the amount. And then the Routing number (twice) and the account number (just once) and my name, and my great-grand-aunt's maiden name spelled backwards. Okay, maybe not that last bit.

Finally I press pay now and my bill has been paid.

I realize that people put up with this because they have to pay their tuition and fees, but that's no excuse for the incredibly cumbersome process implemented here.

  1. Limiting people to specific browsers was a bad idea in the 1990s, doing it now is just stupid.

  2. Not accepting a perfectly reasonable method of payment is also stupid. What if I don't have a checking account or credit card? It is possible in this day and age to have your employer pay you via what amounts to a debit card - how do those people take classes?

  3. Using a third-party site to actually collect the funds is fine, but throw some branding on there to assure me that I am send money to the University and not some guy in Kenya.

  4. Get off my lawn.

Author's profile picture

Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.