10,000 points of failure, but only one is the user

Late one night, this IT pilot fish gets locked out of online access to his credit card account -- for the second time in three months.

"I'm pretty sure I entered the right password and other identifying data," says fish. "I call tech support and, in tones best suited to dealing with a petulant kindergärtner, a first-level tech walks me through entering a new password and PIN.

"It still doesn't work. Now I'm angry."

Fish argues his way through to a supervisor, then to a supervisory tech person -- who walks him through the password reset process yet another time.

That fails once more, but this time the tech at least has an explanation. "We have separate subsystems that verify different ID elements," tech tells fish. "Sometimes one of those systems goes down, usually for maintenance -- and then that system returns a 'not verified' code for that data element.

"We don't get notified when one of those subsystems is down, so there's not a quick way for even a supervisory-level tech to recognize right away what the problem is. Needless to say, the first-level people are totally clueless about this."

The tech's suggestion: Try again the next day, when the systems are likely to be back up.

"An hour on the phone to find out I just need to try again tomorrow," fish growls. "I offered my consulting services to help them fix their design flaws -- or at least generate a blast message to the tech support people when an authenticating subsystem goes down, and train them to tell customers to try again during the day.

"But I'm not holding by breath waiting for that callback."

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