DMV Adventure

Went to the Santa Rosa office of the DMV the other day to replace my current licences plates with radio amateur plates. 

Interesting experience.

Surprisingly, the wait wasn’t very long, but when I got to the window, I could immediately see that Sheryl who seemed to be nice enough, was having problems finding the codes to put into her computer. 

The problem appeared to be a very poorly designed computer system.

There were two issues. The proper code for ham licenses, and how to get the computer to accept my call in KG6WYZ in the field for the license plate number.

First, Sheryl asked her cubicle partner if she know the codes or where they might be found in the reference binders that were on her desk.  Her cubicle mate didn’t know, but thought the proper code for ham licenses were listed in a foldout sheet in her binder.

Neither one of them could find the proper code.

So, Sheryl got up and went back to an area where there were some other reference binders.  She didn’t seem to have any luck there, so then I noticed her speaking with what looked to be a first level supervisor who was on the phone in a cubicle behind the windows.  She apparently didn’t get any help there either.

I then saw Sheryl go to the back of the room where there are windowed offices looking out on the floor. Having worked for the State of California in the past, I know there is a strict pecking order in offices, and those office are occupied by the honchos, who don’t really like to be disturbed by questions that they can’t answer. I noticed Sheryl hanging around outside the door along with several other hangers on, but she never went into the office.

Smart woman.

She came back to the window and told me that she needed to have the plates off my car, so I went out and took the plates off and brought them back in to the window.

When I got back with the plates, she was still trying to guess what the proper codes were for the ham license and how to get the computer to take my callsign.

After guessing and trying several letters, she finally got the computer to take the letter “H” as the code for a ham license.  Now all she had to do is figure out how to get the computer to take my callsign in the field for the license number.

By trial and error she discovered that if she put a space in front of the callsign, the computer would take the data.

All of this could have been easily avoided if the designer of the California Department of Motor Vehicles computer system had thought to put a help screen on each page to explain how to enter data in each field on each page.  This is done all the time.  It’s called contextual help.  It’s not a new concept.  And since the documentation for the system is already in those binders back there behind the windows, it’s not a difficult job to make such help user friendly and available on every screen in the system.

With a properly designed system, Sheryl could probably have handled three more people in the time it took for her to try to figure out how to make the system work. In addition, she wouldn’t have to had to bother the lady next to her, who had to stop helping the person at the next window so she could look though her reference binder for the proper codes.
Her immediate supervisor wouldn’t have had her telephone call interrupted, and she wouldn’t have had to go back to the big cheese’s window office.

Just trying to help out here.

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