A user story for the Australian Taxation Office and e-tax

As a taxpayer

I want to be able to do my tax return online using a Platform of my choice

so that I’m no longer frustrated with a third rate User Experience using second rate technology on a single Platform.

I’ve been giving the ATO a version of this feedback for three years now, I’m pretty satisfied that it is falling on deaf ears. So this year, following a frustrating three hours using the service, I thought I should simplify the requirement into an Agile User Story to help speed up their development process.

I further suggested that perhaps we need to refuse to submit tax returns so they will start to listen to this and other feedback like it from many others over the last five years. I hope that action won’t be required, but for users of platforms other than windows and those who know good UX in online services, our patience with the current situation has worn thin and is possibly now frayed beyond repair.

Surely it’s time for them to try a different approach so many Australian taxpayers can stop feeling like second class citizens when they want to put their tax affairs in order?

Product Managers, know your limits for the benefit of your customers.

A product or a service is as much how you sell and support it as what you build. User Experience, costs and benefits aren’t some add on for someone else to look into on the side, they are a core part of the consideration for anything you do.
I used to think it was odd that people in Digital industries called themselves Producers when really they were just Product Managers for web based services. But now I realise – if you consider the role of a producer across many creative industries and more – that’s just what we do.
Large organisations have a myriad of Producers who ensure that different types of products and services are conceived, created, sold and managed by bringing the right groups of people with other skill-sets together to help all that happen.
The problem, however, is that many of those producers are often expected to perform all those roles rather than just ensure the people who do it best are available to do so.
While many of the best Software Product Managers and CEO’s in the computer industry were once Programmers, they may not always have been the best person for that role in their organisation. Those we do remember were probably great producers, understanding their own limitations and  making sure they had the right team in place to perform the roles where they knew they were limited. Thus ensuring the best products were built for their customers.
George Lucas might know how to produce, write and direct, but his best work was when he had others write and direct his films for him.

Apple’s Marketing did not stop you from getting your new iPhone

While marketing is absolutely a key part of the success of any product or business, the simplistic view, often used, that Apple’s success can be attributed solely to their “marketing” is the type of laziness most “clever analysts”, who have never understood Apple, often fall into.

If you didn’t get your iPhone 5 when you wanted to, let me show you some of the 10 million who have. There’s probably a couple of hundred pretty close to you right now if you ask around.

Just because any business has failed to deliver you something when you needed it may not actually because of some stock control dictated by a marketing strategy. Managing a just in time operation like one which can get millions of new devices to a large number of stores and customers in a short period of time is complex. Apple’s bi-annual successful launches of iPhone and iPad speaks to the fantastic supply chain and logistics operation they run.

Without an efficient and effective supply chain and great products, any marketing strategy  is just that: a marketing strategy. Any company which relies entirely on marketing without product or supply chain to back them up are not going to last very long. No matter what the analysts or your entitlement tells you.

I’m not alone in having some negative experiences with Apple products once in a while. It’s hardware and software, I’ve been working in the space for nearly 20 years, there’s always going to be a percentage of lemons and bugs before and after release. The ongoing demand, sales, and loyalty for the products, however speak to our experiences being the exception rather than the rule. I encourage all of us (pointing at myself as much as anyone else here) who have a criticism of Apple or any business which has failed us to remember our own problems are most often not the experience of the overwhelming majority. If they were, we’d lose trust in first their capabilities, then the products and eventually the business would fail.

Currently I’m suffering from an abysmal user experience with iTunes Match on my iPhone 4 running iOS6. In short, it’s using cellular data despite my applied settings saying don’t. Do I think that’s being experienced by the majority of their users? Even with the amount of firstworldproblem whinging going on about it by me and others, probably not. Do I think it’s a bad experience for those impacted which will likely lead to complaints to carriers when a number of customers start querying their data usage? Absolutely. Will those complaints be serious, many and have consequences for both businesses? I’m unsure as only time will tell.

I’ve been criticised in the past for “excusing” Apple’s flaws or not participating in the pile on which they tend to attract for even the most minor issue. Perhaps that’s true, perhaps it’s more likely that I’m thinking about the issue more objectively than those who, despite spending their time claiming to disdain everything Apple does, share their feelpinions at length when they aren’t even personally affected. If only they used such energy to fix issues a little more pressing to society than whether your $800 device is scuffed or that by holding it a certain way causes your cellular signal to drop.

That a company has few things to be criticised for isn’t a sign of me “excusing” them. Rather, I would say it’s sign that they are generally doing a good job. Conversely, it should be self-evident why I or anyone else appears to be more critical of other companies. I’m certainly not going to participate in the false balance which often propagates throughout technology commentary.

I’m unashamed to say that I generally celebrate Apple’s success, but I’m not foolish enough to think that there aren’t exceptions to that success. If I comment on any business, it’s probably because I’m interested in understanding why they’ve been successful or failed. I don’t judge a business’ success or failure solely based upon the products on my desk on their home, but I’m certainly not going to make specious arguments like Apple’s success is solely to do with some sort of marketing wizardry unknown in the rest of capitalism.

Meeting Expectations

In my day job, we’ve spent a lot of time in recent months being indoctrinated into a system which is supposed to reflect customer happiness toward our business. Surprisingly, to a cynic like me, it appears to be working as much to change the mentality within the business as it is to the customers attitude toward us.

Tonight I needed to print out some photos my daughter took on our recent holiday, but I didn’t want to print them in basic single page or contact sheet style, so I went hunting.

Traditionally I would go straight to an internet search engine, but now I’ve been indoctrinated to try the Mac App Store first. And as long as it delivers quickly me to free services like CollageIt – which gives me a beautiful series of templates to choose from – it’s likely to remain my first port of call. Up until recently more often than not I didn’t immediately find a solution to my problem, but I’ve noticed recently that’s changed for the better. So for now, as long as the results meet my expectations, I’m likely to continue to go there first.

Much like how a company changing its culture to focus first on the customer leads to improved customer satisfaction and loyalty because expectations are being met, perhaps?

It isn’t the collage of my daughters pictures created by CollageIt, but it is one with pretty good depth of field that we used.

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