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True Story (part 3, the horror returns)

Entry 1615 posted in: 6. Self-Made Monsters

I duly want to apologize to the person of the Isabel helpdesk for shouting at him, on Monday morning, that he could fuck himself just before I smashed down the phone.

I only wanted to know if the Isabel utility was compatible with Windows 7 - that's all - but getting an actual answer on that simple question was something else.

Isabel is, or better was, the ingenious software that was devised by a conglomeration of Belgian banks to help the industry automate their bank movements. In the past when a company had to make payments they had to send over the bookkeeper or someone else who had the authority to sign legal papers over to the bank where he, not many female bookkeepers around in those days, had to stand in the queue with all those other bookkeepers from other companies wanting to do exactly the same thing. Basically all that was physically done was handing over some signed papers and receiving some stamped papers in return.

For once the Belgian banks did something smart. They created a company that devised software to send over bank movements by phone and that worked for all major bank accounts. It was safe, reliable and fast although most bookkeepers regarded the software as the devil's work because they used to have three hours long lunch breaks by claiming the queue at the bank had been very long and slow.

Of course you had to pay, quite a lot actually, for the program installation and there were, still are, monthly fees to pay for every add-on you desired to install. That is a bit silly as the software actually makes the banks save time and people so they should actually reward the companies for using it but the day a bank gives something away for free will also be the day that chicken get teeth and women will address their spouses with the sentence: headache who moi? When I bought a house and had to take a loan at a ridiculous interest rate all I got from my bank was a plastic pen.

Over the years something called the Internet, first by phone, then DSL, later cable, was invented but Isabel pretended this revolution had never happened and still claimed that only regular telephone connections were safe enough to transmit financial data. The developers were probably right, not because the Internet wasn't safe but because they were too old school to program the changes.

When all the banks individually started to give Internet accounts to their clients this was a situation that Isabel couldn't hold anymore. Try selling the story to a multinational that the janitor can do his personal banking affairs for free on the web, but the financial director, using an expensive professional tool not.

A couple of years ago Isabel finally managed to offer a secured Internet access provided that you paid that little monthly extra of course, noblesse oblige. The software still cripples a couple of years behind and anno 2009 it is impossible to share the software over a local network (at least without hacking into it) and although the website promotes version 6.0 nobody is entitled to install it.

The company I work for has several independent entities and so it is funny to see how every morning different bookkeepers are queuing behind the only Isabel machine we have got. A positive side effect of this is that you always get to know the latest gossip that floats around, Bernadette from 3D is now screwing Patrick from 2C, but an undesired result is that everyone leaves his personal Isabel logon card lying on the desk and that the different passwords can be found on post-it notes stuck to the screen. (This is also done out of necessity, the janitor from the example above can do all his bank payments from the beach on the Bahamas but if the bookkeeper goes on holiday for three weeks all payments will automatically stop until he gets back.) This is simple proof of how a fail-safe secure system will degrade into its opposite thanks to the über-silliness of its programmers.

The machine that is running Isabel is getting a bit old and so I wanted to replace it, but I wanted to know if the software would work under Windows 7. The Isabel website is typical for big companies, it contains hundreds of FAQ pages, but will – by default – never show the page you are looking for. There is also absolutely no possibility to ask support a question by mail and the mail I send to info@isabel.be returned saying that the box did exist but had exceeded its volume.

I had already lost over 45 minutes and finally I decided to contact the helpdesk that we can call because we pay a small but substantial monthly fee for that. The Isabel helpdesk computer started with a series of menus that I had to run through: the first time I must have pressed the wrong button somewhere because the machine advised me to consult the FAQ on their website and abruptly ended the communication.

I called helpdesk again, now paying close attention to the questions asked and even repeating the questions if I thought I had misunderstand something.

I ran successfully through the different questions of menu 1.
I ran successfully through the different questions of menu 2.
I ran successfully through the different questions of menu 3.
I ran successfully through the different questions of menu 4.
I ran successfully through the different questions of menu 5.
I ran successfully through the different questions of menu 6.
I ran successfully through the different questions of menu 7.

We will now pass you through to one of our helpdesk people, the machine said after 8 minutes of button pressing extravaganza. Yes, I thought, yes! At last a living soul, I felt like Robinson Crusoe who finally saw a ship after 36 years of misery on a desert island.

The phone rang. A man robotically said: "Subscription number."

He did not say: "Good Morning. This is the Isabel helpdesk, how can we be of service to you?" All he said was: "subscription number", and he didn’t even bother to put a please at the end, fearing that every instance of that word would cost him five years of his life.

I answered using my sweetest Jack Nicholson voice: "Good morning. I would like to know if Isabel 5.0 is compatible with Windows 7."

He replied as robotically as before: "Subscription number."

Suddenly I snapped. The sweet Jack Nicholson in me turned into the axe-carrying Jack Nicholson killer of The Shining. "GO FUCK YOURSELF!", I shouted, and then I smashed down the phone.

It was a very irresponsible, immature and very stupid thing to do but the bookkeepers that were waiting in front of the Isabel machine have now got a new story to spread all over the company.

Other helpdesk stories on this blog:
True Story
True Story (the sequel)