The Austin Chronicle

http://www.austinchronicle.com/postmarks/2012-11-06/1380314/

Failures of City's Utility Website

RECEIVED Tue., Nov. 6, 2012

Dear Editor,
    So I realized today that I needed to pay my utilities bill, which I usually do via bill pay from my bank account.
    Since I did not want to risk having to pay the exorbitant late fee, I decided to attempt paying my bill through the city's (new and supposedly better) website.
    Why was I hesitant to do this? Well, when the city released the new site, they did not migrate usernames from the previous site, so I had to go through the entire registration process again. Understandably, I was not happy to have to re-register my account and I sent my gripe to the city. I got a vanilla answer, "to serve you better … blah blah.” Again, my username that used to work was no longer functional. In the software business, that is a big no-no, forcing users to have to re-register. Why? If the previous user/password scheme was not as robust, why not force users to change their credentials after they log in, and associate their new user/password with the previous information? I even offered my software development skills for free to help them make this change. But I digress.
    So I'm at the city's website, and, alas, I don't remember my username. I tried a couple of logical choices from my past, but the new password was not sent since I failed to answer a couple of security questions correctly. Again, this is overkill. Usually, when a user forgets his password, a link to reset his/her password is sent to the email associated with that account. The user who initiated the password-change (if genuine) has access to that account.
    Anyway, I went to plan B. Let's say I forgot my username, which is completely true.
    Get this: There is no way to get it without calling the city of Austin. I attempted to re-register (I was trying to save myself a trip to H-E-B) to no avail – the error message I got was, "There was an error … blah blah …."
    I was peeved, so I attempted to write the above complaint, but unfortunately, the text limit of the email is limited to 255 characters. Needless to say, this was frustrating. Shouldn't someone be held accountable for these egregious errors in designing a billing system in a city with so many high-tech users?
Regards,
Haneef Mohamed

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