It struck me the other day (not for the first time) how difficult most online transactions are with official bodies. Not just councils, although they have their fair share, but other agencies and even companies delivering services on their behalf.

This didn’t strike me out of the blue. I have recently been ‘invited’ to take part in a short course (the invite may have followed a minor misdemeanor) and so off I went to the website given to try and find out a bit more.

My main aim here was to discover where is the course, how much does it cost and when do they run? Pretty simple questions but the time and location were particularly important to me given I am due to give birth in about 5 weeks time!

I managed to find the answer to my first two questions fairly easily but the dates / times of the course are hidden behind a log-in. A log-in I can’t use until the course provider have sent me something else in the post.

I assume this information is hidden behind the log-in because they only want to tell people who have been especially ‘invited’. Or because they keep the forthcoming dates in a booking system and can’t / won’t update a content page as well. Either way, it suits them not me.

And (after I’d done some long hard thinking about what got me invited, of course) I got to thinking about how many other systems are set up to suit the organisation not the end user. It almost seems too obvious to say it but – isn’t this the wrong way to be going about things?

In the turbulance of the current climate where (particularly) council’s are looking to channel shift citizen’s to using online (where possible) to reap a saving haven’t the systems got to be created that mean citizen’s actively want to use them? Maybe I’m just lazy but if something asks me for unecessary information or breaks or takes me longer than another channel I’m not going to try it more than once.

These systems can be created (DVLA car tax renewal is the at the top of the tree here) but I wonder how many council’s are actively considering ditching existing systems or making improvements as a necessary step to channel shift and achieve the sought after efficiency savings?

Where suppliers of third-party appsare being contacted,  in how many of these cases will someone from the organisation’s online team be involved? How many cases will include user testing?

I’m sure the mere mention of these things will bring some senior managers out in a cold sweat of doubt about how worthwhile online self-service is. Really it’s an invest to save opportunity though – the better the app, the easier it is, the more efficient it is for the user the more likely they are to give it a go, return and even tell others about it. All of that brings with it the potential for the biggest savings.

On the other hand, add yet another app which inconveniences the user and makes them think twice about using it again as well as use some choice words about your organisation means that all you’ve invested in is another online cul-de-sac.

As I say, it’s almost too obvious to state it but the current landscape of scant few usable, useful online services for users shows it’s something which hasn’t been considered too successfully so far.