Monthly Archives: October 2011

farewell to cyber-

A couple of weeks ago I visited a website I occasionally use, CyberHymnal and reflected that you hear a lot less of the cyber- prefix these days.  It’s essentially a 1990s usage (CyberHymnal was started in 1996), and has dated in the new millennium.  For many the term ‘Internet’ has taken over the semantic area that ‘cyberspace’ used to denote, and the prefix has not thrived independently of the word which gave it birth.

As a classicist, I’m not terribly sorry about the loss of this, as it was always annoying that the root kubern- meaning ‘to guide’ had lost its final letter.  Perhaps we just don’t think of computer-mediated activity as being purposive and directed any more, or more likely the prefix has just fallen out of fashion.

I will leave this subject with fond memories of another ‘cyber-‘ institution of the 1990s (and still in existence), Cybersitter, a package for censoring undesirable content from computer screens.  When implemented at one public library, it caused much merriment as it zealously ignored word boundaries in its eagerness to obliterate the rude words on its list.  I was told that a phrase on one of my pages now read ‘StockporX XXXelf’, for example.  Cybersitter was discontinued after one enquirer found themselves looking at the page of Her Majesty’s CustomX & XXcise …

Proactis wishlist

Recently we started using Proactis for submitting expense claims and invoicing. There are a number of comments I could make about Proactis’ performance (for example that expense claims seem to take longer than they used to to process), but for now I’ll confine myself to its Web interface and a few things that have struck me as I’ve started using it, mostly in regard to terminology.

The terms used on the Web forms are not those used in emails to Proactis users.  For example ‘EL2 activity code’ in an email = ‘Completer’s Budget Check’ on the form, ‘EL1’ or ‘Element Code’= ‘Charge to Grant no.’  Sometimes I wonder whether Proactis should be added to our modern language courses.  At least it should be possible to read an email in conjunction with a form on screen and see what the email refers to. Either the staff who deal with processing Proactis submissions should be trained to use the terminology on the form, or the terms used by these staff should appear on the form (in brackets or failing that in an online help field linked from the form).  I’ve been referred to the training documentation, and while this may be useful it isn’t directly linked from Proactis forms, and one shouldn’t need a separate document to ‘translate’ emails into the terminology used on the forms.

‘Nominal code’  This field appears when you submit a claim, but does not appear as such when you review it.  A vaguer term would be hard to find; the only clue is that it should refer to a name somehow.  It’s actually a top-level way of referring to your department or section.  A particularly irritating feature is that it is impossible to change one’s default nominal code so I have to alter the default in the same way on each and every claim I make.

Very hard to edit the ‘comments’ for an expense item If I wish to do this, the only way to change the comment is to delete it and replace it. Although it appears possible to make changes in the comment box, the changes aren’t saved. Worse, it is possible to think your changes have gone through when they haven’t.

‘Awaiting coding’ Alongside a claim, this means that a claim has been received but hasn’t been processed yet.  The wording suggests that the next action should be on the part of someone processing the claim, but it can mean that your receipts haven’t arrived yet and so it is up to the claimant to investigate. No prompt is sent to the claimant to ask them to do this. One claim of mine was stuck for weeks until I found this out.

Add Multiple Expense Items These words appear when you add an item to an expense claim. There are various things this could mean, but none of them are what actually happens when you select the words, which is that you go to another screen where you are asked to submit details of the item you’ve just added.

Searching for claims It’s not clear that you can leave all fields in the search form blank and retrieve all your claims.

Deleting a claim If you mess up a claim and have to restart it, it is not obvious how you delete the rejected or draft claims, so they pile up. [Sep 2012 – the term you want is ‘cancel’, although that to me implies withdrawing something you have submitted, which is not the case with draft claims]

What is a link? Many words in the interface are hyperlinked, but these links are not made into buttons or emphasised by being a distinctive colour so it is hard to tell at a glance where they are (they tend to have little symbols beside them instead).

Keeping a record You can view claims that have been rejected or are in the pipeline, but you can’t use a claim that has been previously accepted as a model for a new one.  It disappears from the system completely. This means that when you make a new claim you have no record of the codes you had to work out last time, and you have to work them out again.[Sep 2012: There is a box ‘ignore paid claims’ which is ticked by default. Not sure if it has always been there. I would rather it weren’t ticked by default but you can’t change this. There’s also small pull-down menu to get all archived claims included, which is easy to overlook.]

Editing a previous claim Having recovered your claim, you hang on for dear life to your staff number and that mysterious ‘nominal code’ and try to change the details of the claim. I have not yet found out how to add items to the claim, only to delete or edit them, so let’s hope that you don’t have more things to claim for than before. Nor can you change the unit cost of an expense item or the receipt number. Nor can you delete comments, so your comments on the previous claim are still there, to mislead the person processing it.

Proactis should only be used in Internet Explorer The user is greeted with this message on the Proactis home page. Grow up! Web software needs to work with all major browsers. Not doing so potentially discriminates against disabled users who may rely on a version of Firefox or some other browser which has been customised for accessibility. It’s particularly ironic at Bristol University, where the officially supported browser is Google Chrome.

Proactis is joining that select group of services (my former account at the NatWest Bank branch in Manchester Precinct centre is another) which actually seem to get things wrong more than they get them right. However, the word on the ground now (April 2013) is that its days are numbered.