“The Computer System Says So!”

March 31, 2010

I suppose this post is mostly a rant/reflection of my recent experience at the New Jersey DMV, but I also have some general thoughts about the excuse store employees, support organizations, insurance companies, etc use to get information out of you. What I am talking about is that classic line: “I’m sorry sir, but our computer’s require it”. Oh, well, if that is the case I’ll gladly give you all my personal information! As long as the computer needs it!

This week I set off to try and register the motorcycle I ride under my name. I have been riding it for 2 years, but under my Dad’s registration and insurance. My Dad generously offered to let me have the bike as long as I was willing to pay for everything, which is certainly a more than fair deal. To set this up, you have to understand that I have the following documents: my dad’s registration, my dad’s insurance info, the insurance I put on the bike (because my dad is stopping that now), as well as the current and valid NJ Title for the bike. I figured this was more than enough information to transfer the title and register the bike under my name.

So, a couple days ago I left work on my lunch break to visit the DMV (only 5 minutes from where I work). I give them all the information about the bike, but the VIN number is not 17 characters! *GASP*. Now, you have to understand here, the bike is a 1981 Yamaha XJ650 (pictured below). I am not sure that there were such rigorous requirements in 1981 about VIN numbers on bikes and it definitely does not have a 17 character VIN, assuming it was even called a VIN in 1981. I was told that I would have to provide a _pencil tracing_ of the VIN number in question before I could register the bike. All this despite the fact that I had 4 other, quite legal, documents that had the VIN number on it. The reason I was given: “Well, we switched computer systems and the new system requires the pencil tracing, but going forward you won’t need it”.

Do you think that is a valid reason? I sure don’t. When they transfered the data they couldn’t select, that because this bike was already registered, that this was not needed? Are you kidding? Look, I deal with computers all day, and I’m pretty sure there would have been a way to work around this. In fact, the system must already have an override to indicate that I had a pencil tracing. By the way, they would not accept a digital photograph, only a pencil tracing (humorous given that the pencil tracing is much harder to read).

All that being said, the thing which really upsets me about this is: the computer system was used as the excuse for why I needed the pencil tracing, when, I’m pretty sure that was not the actual problem. I didn’t like it, but I was willing to play along and get the tracing. However, I would have at least liked an honest explanation of why I needed it.

I think this is a more wide spread problem, though. For example, when I called a local insurance agency about the bike they too complained about the VIN number and gave the same reason. I politely let them know that I was no longer interested in getting insurance with them.

As a side note here, I would like to say something about dealing with people that tell you this sort of thing. I really tried my best to politely inquire of these people. Most of them are probably not the person who made the actual decision in question, and it is not their fault that the system was designed poorly, or in some cases that they were not properly informed about procedure. I worked in retail for 3 years and I know very well what it is like to have a customer come up and be in your face for 5 minutes about something you have NO control over. So do everyone a favor — be polite. I think it is fine to ask why, but if it is clear the person does not know (or has no way of knowing), let it go! Often times you can always take your business elsewhere, without being rude about it. In fact, I will go so far as to say that there is no reason to be rude to these people. Raising your voice or not listening to them will just make them want to help you less.

Anyway, the solution? Well, it’s simple, just be honest 🙂 .  Tell people the real reason you can’t do something! Knowing why something can’t be done helps me to bring us to the solution faster. Computers only do what they are told, so some human made a decision at some point that lead the computer to prompt the user that certain information must be entered. You can tell me the computer “won’t let you go further”, but so what. That is all predefined in the code, that doesn’t help me any.