Online passport applications – not ready

The short story is that you shouldn’t use the uk online passport application unless you have no time constraints.

I used it with over 3 weeks to spare, only to discover you become a 2nd class applicant, unable to upgrade or even talk to the regular phone service as they don’t have access to ‘that’ system.

I can see what the decision process was: they had to meet a target of providing online applications by a certain time. There wasn’t enough resource / time / budget to do it properly and integrate with the current system. So they added a new system.

This then involved hiring another team just to work on online applications, separately from the main department. So when you try to upgrade your application (as I thought you could), you’re stuck.

If the all goverment technology projects were forced to do proper requirements gathering (rather than blindly adhering to targets), I would guess that a lot would be binned before they spent money, and a lot would cost a great deal less (or at least not increase halfway through!).

Still, hanging around in Newport for 4 hours gave me time to try adding a blog post from my phone with Opera Mini. It was going great – WordPress and Opera mini get on very well. Until it got to the actual post.

Obviously this was taxing my thumbs, but I would have persevered, except that it wouldn’t let me add enough text! I got up to the first line of the third paragraph, and could not enter any more text. To be fair, I think it’s probably a limitation of my phones editor (on a Nokia 6630), as Opera simply uses your phones editor for text entry. I think that’s a good approach, and I’ll be upgrading to a better phone soon anyway. I also managed to set the post to private!

Update – Computer Weekly weighs in

The worry with these things is that you’ve just had an unusually bad experience, and usually the system is fine. However, it seems that the Government is taking Google’s continual ‘beta’ concept and applying it to things people rely on.

From the 18th July issue “Public pays price as government goes live with unproven systems“:

Only after Computer Weekly made inquiries did the passport service admit that the new system had failed and it was asking some of those who had applied online to make a new application on paper.[…]
Most passports are issued quickly [by the staff …] They should not be blamed for the decisions of senior civil servants and ministers who seem to deem it acceptable to tackle flaws in new technology based on the misfortunes suffered by captive taxpayers, patients and claimants.

That effectively summed up my experience, the people at the passport office were great, and the system they used worked fine. However they groaned whenever someone came in having applied online, and had to start again.

UK passport office logo with a beta sign imposed. They should really have a big ‘beta’ sign next to the service!!