Another dot in the blogosphere?

Form before function

Posted on: August 28, 2017

I have a two-part reflection on how administration holds back meaningful change.

The first is an account of two recent experiences, the second something that sparked reminders from years ago. By the end of part 2, I suggest how administrators, like good educators, can learn when and how to step out of the way so good things can happen.

Last week I used a website to terminate an auto-payment function in my travel card. A day later, I received an ominous reply: Application rejected.

Application rejected, without saying why.

I was told WHAT happened, but not WHY it happened. I was also told HOW I could resubmit the application, but without knowing WHY, I would be rejected again.

So why was there no mention of WHY?

The administratively efficient thing to do is say yes or no. The more effective thing to do is tell you why. Administrators often get lost not just in rules and bureaucracy, but also in striving for productivity and efficiency. In doing so, they forget the effectiveness of actually helping people.

About a week before that, I wanted to stem the tide of senseless marketing material from an insurance provider.

PDPA and saying no to spam.

I logged in to my account to try to make the change highlighted above. Before I could do that, I had to accept a personal data statement and declare my income tax status.

Needing information about my taxes was administrative overkill when all I wanted to do what stop email and SMS spam. How is this conversation logical?

Me: I do not want your spam.
U: OK. Do you pay Singapore taxes?
Me: How is that relevant?
U: Just answer the question. Do you pay Singapore taxes?
Me: I still do not see how that information is necessary.
U: I need your answer or we cannot proceed.
Me: Fine. Of course, I pay taxes.
U: OK. Here comes the next bit about PDPA…

The Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) has been in place since 2012. Organisations that collect my data are required by default to follow that law.

I am not sure why I need to read statements about the organisation following the law when all I want is to say no-thank-you to marketing material. Maybe it was something called administrative transparency.

Mobile phone number not allowed as home phone number.

Speaking of personal data, the system insisted I provided my home telephone number. I put my mobile number because I do not leave my iPhone outside my door when I walk in.

However, the form saw no humour or logic in indicating that my mobile number was also my home phone number. I could not go further in submitting the form without a landline number. How about people who do not have landlines?

Forbes: Landlines in decline

I could not find any data about the decline of landlines from SingStat, but my guess is that we trend like any other developed nation.

TLDR? I have just described two examples of how administrators and administration often favour form over function. As a result, the administration that should help ends up hindering. It should enable but it disables instead.

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