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Recently, I registered for Flinkster – a car sharing service operated by Deutsche Bahn. At first, I was pleasantly surprised at their rather straightforward online registration process. Little did I know then that their registration process also involved handing in a printed and signed document for confirmation of identity.

Turns out I was in for a Kafkaesque farce of a process. Not only was I required to also hand in my passport and driving licence for identity verification, which could easily have been done by entering the details in an online form, but watching the Deutsche Bahn customer service employee doing his registration process magic was fun, too. A rather bizarre variety of fun, though. These were his exact process steps:

  1. Print the exact same document again.
  2. Copy the input from my copy of the document.
  3. Check my passport ID and driving licence.
  4. Pick a car access card from a pile.
  5. Look up the card number in a printed list.
  6. Copy the 4-digit passkey for the card from that list, write it down on a sheet of paper and hand it to me.


I’m not in any way exaggerating here. The final step especially left me speechless. Apart from its ridiculous inefficiency this process is insecure as can be. Printing and keeping personal passkeys for everyone to see? You’ve got to be kidding me.

I can’t for the life of me figure out why anyone would want to settle for such a blatantly inefficient and insecure process other than an extreme obsession with paper and things printed on dead trees.

I’ve reluctantly resigned myself to the fact that we’ll probably never have a truly paperless office at least not any time soon but this takes the biscuit.

Why is it so hard for service providers to verify my identity and authorize me for driving a rented car in a completely automated online process? Passport and licence IDs can be verified automatically. Send me an eMail and SMS for authentication and mobile number verification. Transfer a tiny amount of money and have me enter that amount online in order to verify my bank account (even PayPal with all its usability quirks got this one right …). Send me an SMS with one-time access codes for the cars. No key card and completely insecure and hence useless passkey needed! These simple changes would tremendously improve the user experience.

Don’t even get me started on that arcane paper-worship ritual they have for a registration process described above. If I have to turn up in person why is it so hard to just verify my carefully prepared documents and do everything else electronically? Just view my previously entered personal information in your customer database and have a passkey generated and sent as an SMS to my mobile phone right away. No awkward and highly insecure passkey lists. Problem solved.

I can only imagine that those involved in designing this process suffered from a kind of tunnel vision caused by the ways of doing things they were used to at that time. This is a prime example of why it’s a good idea to take a step back from time to time and think about what you’re actually trying to achieve when designing a product or service.

About the author: Bjoern
Independent IT consultant, entrepreneur
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