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STAARS WAARS: May the Source Be With You

By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—Registering for STAARS takes more technical skills than navigating the Millennium Falcon through an asteroid field.

Having some business before the State that requires we register with STAARS, gives us an opportunity to experience, first hand, the workings of this software. Even though we are quite sure that our account will get flagged at the click of the submit button, with bells and sirens blaring throughout the Finance Department, I wanted to get the full STAARS experience. Let’s say we didn’t get off to a great “STAART.”

To say that the interface (pretty pages) is in any way inviting or intuitive, would be a gross overstatement. It would seem to have been coded by a team of Jed I. Clampetts. Those of you who mainly do business on your SmartPhone, cancel your contract now, because it is impossible to navigate. Even on a full 15-inch screen, the buttons had me jumping around the page like a mouse in a room full of snapping rat traps.

As it takes the vendor through a series of forms, if a mistake is made, the page displays the error in a way that is absolutely baffling. For example: when it did not like the password given, it displayed:

Error 1: Unable to add new user

Error 2: Password change failed. Password must contain at least one character in the range A-Z

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This was a bit of a guessing game, trying to figure out the issue. Since the password already contained 7 perfectly good characters between “A-Z” and some numbers, because I know the password police quite well, this was a bit puzzling.

Finally, on a whim, I tried adding a capital letter to the password. So excited at the thought I had outsmarted the system, I changed the password and clicked submit. Thus began the game of “passwords don’t match.” Then finally, *poof* out of the blue, it worked.

Let’s move on to the next error: Billing Address.

Could have sworn that was entered on the first page. I was there and watched me do it, or was that a figment of my imagination, that we wouldn’t want them to know where to send the check? Note to self: have eyeglass prescription checked.

Well, how many errors can you make on a given form?

Next up to bat: The EIN number.

On a long form of questions regarding the business, only a few of the required fields were marked. Consequently, when the EIN field was skipped, it flagged another error that took me through a dizzying set of new windows, even though the missed information had been corrected. Another case of “pretty sure that info was provided,” since for most of my career I have been the keeper of the ever-so-sensitive Federal Identification Code Number. Oops, right?

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There had been several offers by people familiar with the system to help walk me through the process (and who had also advised that no one be in the same room during this experience). However, I decided to try it as any ordinary vendor would. After about an hour of foul language and confusion, I reached the end, where the software congratulated the process and gave me a vendor number. Success!

In what seemed like a galactic time warp, my first error at 3:21 p.m. but it would still take until 4:27 p.m. to wrangle through the process. As the paperwork/bookkeeper/bureaucratic process queen, this was not my first rodeo. I have ridden the bureaucratic bull, kept score in the debit/credit barrel races, and wallpapered stalls with letter-sized paper printouts. But, this pony seemed the height and weight of the Trojan Horse, and just as slow.

Now, we had reached the confirmation phase, but could find nowhere to verify that my work had indeed been successful; but I called the client anyway to give them the happy news. They put the necessary information in the system only to have it kicked back because, “It displays that you are not an active vendor on the vendor customer table.”

Having had a stint in IT for many years, I happen to know what this meant on the backside of the system. It would appear that my vendor information did not post to the database automatically as it should have upon pressing the submit button. Are they manually adding the vendors to that set of database tables? Are they chiseling it in marble with a pickaxe?

The font was so small, I felt like Rick Moranis trying to see through the eye holes of his Dark Helmet. At times, to read the pages, I had to go in search of my magnifying glass (see earlier prescription reference), and since I spend most of my day staring into this light source they call a computer, logging in and out constantly, I would like to warn others, who have real jobs like, paving roads or building bridges, that they will definitely need their spectacles, a box of stress balls, a bullet to bite on, and copy of Passwords for Dummies.

After several hours and simple determination on the part of the client to make this purchase move forward, STAARS finally accepted the purchase order request. Now, it was off to the Finance Department, where it would probably alert the fire department, as it set-off alarms in the Capital Building, as it flamed, screaming down the hall like an asteroid headed for Bill Newton’s desk.

To our surprise, it was approved on August 3, and sent back to the buyer for final approval.

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Once the buyer signs off, STAARS will supposedly generate a PO and email it. However, I expect it to show up in the original etched marble marked COD. As the UPS driver rolls it out of the back of his truck, I expect the sheer weight of it will make it a permanent fixture in my yard replete with scorch marks from flames of impact.

Until the next phase in that odyssey called The Comptroller’s Office… As Yoda says, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

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