I’m a volunteer firefighter here in New Zealand. As well as doing all the operational firefighting stuff, I have some responsibility for administration within the brigade and externally. As part of this role I have to utilize Fire Service systems and email. Which is where the trouble begins.

Being an independent in my work-life, I have the luxury of choosing the systems I want to use. I’m pretty wedded to Google apps and having an Android device means that my email, my documents and my social engagement occurs seamlessly between devices. I use social systems extensively and dabble with point applications as and when necessary. All of which means that my life exists in a bunch of different places. It was about a decade ago that I finally gave up the idea of a portal being a viable gateway to all that I want to do. Unfortunately corporate IT hasn’t quite got that far. Below is a screen capture of the eye-wateringly bad UI that the Fire Service presents to me as an internal user. This UI is accessible from a PC at the fire station that has a locked-down DSL connection and only connects via Citrix. This same lock-down ensures that I have zero ability to actually have anything useful on the PC – Google chrome? No way. Even the latest version of Internet Explorer? Nope. Luckily I am allowed to access the portal via a standalone machine without Citrix. Feast your eyes on this;


Anyone remembering Yahoo in about 1998? At least they had the sense to introduce an “alternative menu” which removes some (but not all) of the eye bleeding components. But with this UI, not only does the UI get screwed up by my choice of browser (in Chrome the search box is unusable while many of the iFrames are inoperative), but the general layout in so mind numbingly bad that it literally makes me reluctant to interact with the system. But wait. It gets worse.

In an attempt to ensure consistency and transparency across it’s widespread organization, the Fire Service has rolled out a tool called Station Management System that is supposed to be the central hub for regular station interaction and scheduling. One of the tools within SMS is the OSM or Operational Status Management tool which ensures all members are competently trained and ongoing revalidation of core competencies occurs. OSM produces a detailed report of what skills are current and need corrective action (see below).


To which one would expect updating an overdue skill would be as simple as performing the training, clicking on the particular task and updating it to show currency. Alas not, to update a simple skill like (for example) the use of fire extinguishers, someone needs to manually create a specific task from an extensive list of pre (and often ill) defined tasks, add it to the station calendar, and then manually mark that task as complete. An incredibly time consuming and labor intensive process that is unnecessary, unfriendly and ultimately discourages use of the system

It’s a specific example, but more generally it shows just how little enterprise IT folks really think about the reality for their users. Instead of tools that allow users to do what they need to do as quickly and intuitively as possible, they seem to delight in creating barriers that stand between an actual activity, and compliance around particular systems.

The last word in all this goes to a fellow firefighter who made the following comment;

..it seems to me we’d have been far better off sticking with the old clunky system rather than cheerfully giving whomever X-million dollars to give us a shiny-new-whiz-bang (ooooh! Silverlight!) clunky system. Woulda coulda shoulda. Guess that’s why I’m ops mgr for a fairly small network provider rather than CEO for a big national. I just don’t have the vision it takes to blow stupid large amounts of money on crap IT.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

  • What a shocker!
    In New Zealand the IT sector is dominated by systems focused individuals and companies who ‘know best’. Management knee jerk reaction to anthing IT is to delegate IT systems management the task of introducing IT tools and utilities. As a result you often get this sort of ham-fisted outcome. Absolutely no discussion with those who have to use the application and generally imposed within a highly locked down IT infrastructure that secures the originator a job for life. We come across it everday – the applied science of appalling GUI, web site and workflow concepts.

  • I wondered how long it would be till I saw Firenet discussed online! Great topic…

    I have worked with a volunteer firefighter and have seen their intranet. We used it as a ‘what not to do’ reference when redesigning our own intranet.

    Unfortunately most public sector/non profits are under resourced and do not even have a designer/UI specialist. Instead of outsourcing the job or even bringing in freelancers the inhouse developers or others in IT, take care of everything. It is a real shame the product tends to only reach the final users until it goes live.

    We can only hope that at some point they will realise engaging with the users at the beginning and throughout the redesign process is crucial to the success of a project and for user ‘buy in’.

  • On Corporate IT–All That Is Bad | The Diversity Blog – SaaS, Cloud & Business Strategy

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