Chris Keall: Buggy, poorly-designed vaccination booking software confuses users

UPDATE: After deadline, a spokesperson for the Northern Region Health Coordination Centre, which is coordinating the Auckland, Counties Manukau and Waitematā DHB’s pandemic response, sent the following statement:

“Thanks for drawing this system error to our attention, we are in the process of having this fixed.

“The booking system developed earlier this year when Auckland began its vaccination programme was designed to support the initial phase of bookings until the national booking system was ready. We have adjusted the system over time in response to user feedback to make it easier for the community to make bookings.

“We will shortly be transitioning to the Ministry of Health’s new national booking system, which will provide an improved experience for people making their vaccination bookings. In the meantime, we encourage anyone with difficulties making a booking to call our Vaccination Helpline on 0800 28 29 26.”

The Ministry of Health said on March 30 that the booking component of its new national booking system would be ready late May.

A spokeswoman said at the time, “The national online booking system is being built on the same Salesforce platform as the CIR [Covid Immunisation Register] uses but with an additional plug-in called Skedulo. This platform has been successfully used internationally for similar booking systems. The system will be rolled out nationally in late May to support the ramping up of Covid-19 vaccinations, particularly as we move towards the middle of the year when the general population are able to access their vaccinations.”

On June 9, in response to a Herald query about whether milestones were being achieved for the new national system, as it is rolled out in stages, a Ministry of Health spokesperson said:

“The Ministry is pleased to confirm there have been no delays to the CIR rollout.”



After grappling with an online vaccination booking system, my top tip is: avoid it and call the toll-free number (0800 282 926) to get times arranged for your first and second jab.

My experience with the automated side of the system went from bad to worse, culminating in twin onscreen messages that told me that I had been both successful and unsuccessful in creating a new booking.

“Yes, we’ve got a wee glitch in the system,” a call centre operator told me after I decided to go old-school and pick up the phone.

“The online system is showing slots that aren’t actually available.”

Cue a “You know I can’t book your ghost slots” joke.

Maybe. Readers weren’t laughing.

“Reset your password” was the element that one 82-year-old North Shore man got on his phone.

“But I didn’t even have a password, it was the first time I’d logged into the site,” he complained to the Herald.

Although highly tech-savvy and used to using computers and cell phones the man said he was “totally flummoxed”.

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“How daft is this?” he said.

“It’s really important I get vaccinated as I’m in such a high-risk age range,” he said.

“But the technology has just let us down.”

I had put off calling the booking helpline, anticipating a monster wait time, but in fact the line was picked up after only four minutes, and a polite and efficient staffer manually booked my first and second jabs within a couple of minutes.

I wished I’d called the 0800 number immediately rather than tangled with the $38 million mess of an online system [as per the update above, it now transpires it was late and hadn’t even lurched in my direction yet]

But, I did, so let’s rewind so you can share my pain.

A few days ago, I got a bluntly-worded txt message inviting me to book a Covid vaccination online. (No reason was given for my early call up in the template message; I assuming it’s because my partner is immuno-suppressed, so apparently qualified for Group 2 – or we assume. The Ministry of Health did not respond to her questions, but that’s another story).

My first thought was: Is the txt genuine? A neighbour, who is over 65, asked me the same thing when he knocked on the door and showed me his call-up text. Frankly, I didn’t know what to tell him. There was a sender number, but the Ministry of Health’s vaccination appointment website doesn’t give you a sender number, or any other tips on how to identify a genuine txt (Crown cyber-security agency Cert NZ has offered the advice that a genuine message will never solicit any payment details. If you’re in any doubt then, again, the answer is to call the 0800 number).

Reset? What?

Anyhow, I threw caution to the wind and clicked the link, and was taken to a mobile website that asked me to enter my ID (supplied in the txt) then asked me to reset my password. Going my feedback from Herald readers, this reset request has caused a lot of confusion, given it implies you’ve already got some kind of online account with the Ministry of Health, created God-knows-where. I was confused myself. What it should say is: “Create your password.”

After I had selected a location, the booking system then allocated me an arbitrary day and time for my first dose. It didn’t suit, but that seemed no problem, because there were “Manage My Booking” and reschedule options.

I choose a new time and date, but after I had, the “Select” button disappeared.

That seemed to be an annoying mobile development glitch, but one that I seemed to have worked around by visiting the desktop version of the booking site, where the “Select” button behaved and stayed onscreen.

I again selected a new time and date (for this morning, in fact) then got a confirmation message onscreen.

First thing today, I thought I’d better double-check the time, but when I logged into the website, it had reverted to my original appointment time, in mid-July.

That’s when I tried to reschedule again, and this time it came up with the trio of messages – one saying I had been successful (onya!), one saying the system had been unable to reschedule my appointment, (boo!) and a third saying the appoint window was no longer available (ugh – can I go with the first message?).

A colleague got the same contradictory messaging (he was on a Mac, me on a PC).

I forwarded a screen grab of the triple-treat to the Ministry of Health, along with some questions, and I’ll update you on any response that rolls in.

Meantime, I’m disappointed with the bare-bones, dysfunctional side of the booking system, which is part of wider, $38 million upgrade of our online vaccination management system that was awarded to a consortium lead by Deloitte and Salesforce, and includes Amazon Web Services and Salesforce-owned Mulesoft with a no-tender contract awarded under an emergency exception to the usual competitive tender rules, given the pandemic.

An initial, bare-bones system created by Deloitte, Salesforce et al had no booking component, but one was added after they drafted in Australian startup Skedulo, which specialises in online scheduling.

Obviously there are time-pressures with the pandemic that mean there were never going to be the usual level of bug-testing or opportunities for taste-testing with users for either the new national system, or various stop-gaps deployed in the meantime.

And Ian McCrae, head of Orion Health – the developer of the vaccine register used between 2005 and the outbreak – is not impressed.

“I’m hearing from lots of people that navigating the new Covid-19 booking system is a nightmare,” the Orion boss told the Herald this morning.

“It doesn’t have to be that way. This is basic stuff in health IT.

People are being told they are eligible for a vaccine and then the system tells them they aren’t, McCrae said.

“The text message systems doesn’t match with what people are experiencing online and when people get to book it’s tricky to know if they’ve actually booked an appointment.

“For $38 million, New Zealand should have got a much better system and no one is being held accountable.”

McCrae added, “The way the Ministry of Health has handled this has let New Zealanders down. Perhaps they should ring the Australians, New South Wales got its booking system going in 20 days for a fraction of the cost.”

The Orion CEO says he understands the NSW system came in around the $3m mark. Earlier, he said his company could have delivered an entire vaccination system upgrade, including all the booking and other cloud features being delivered by the new consortium, for between $1m to $3m (it’s worth noting that McCrae, who partners with AWS and Deloitte in other contexts, pins the blame for the situation on the Ministry rather than any bidders).

While he acknowledges there was no time for a months-long tender under the usual rules, McCrae says Orion and other local contenders could have had valuable input to even a truncated tender lasting only a couple of weeks.

Andrew Mayfield, CEO of Wellington company Optimal Workshop, which advises Fortune 500 companies of creating user-friendly, understandable content, said, the problems people, such as yourself, have faced throughout this process are a really great illustration of why focusing on user experience is so important.

“A process like this often involves connecting many different systems together behind the scenes and ultimately it can be very difficult to hide the complexity.

“However, the end result needs to be simple for everyone to use, on a wide spectrum of devices and in all manner of individual contexts.

“In any digital project it can be invaluable to spend time studying how people use a new or updated process, app, or website, which is how you can identify problems before your end-users do.

“It’s often the smallest things that trip us up or slow us down. Word choices can make a huge difference to what we find confusing or clear, for better and worse. Readable web addresses help us decide whether a link is trustworthy or not. The messages you’ve received leave a lot to the imagination. It raises questions like, ‘Who sent this? Do I already have an account with an expired password? What is Dundefined? [a phrase that appears in the URL people are asked to click in the txt messages]?’

The online booking site has no cancel button, and no DIY option to add details such as your street address or email, or a summary of your vaccination status – all promised features, albeit with the project not wrapping up until March next year.

Mayfield says the online booking system would also benefit from having a “” address that would be more familiar and trustworthy.

The Ministry of Health has been asked for comment.

Salesforce said it did not comment on projects in progress. Deloitte deferred questions to the Ministry.

Earlier, the Ministry told the Herald that the new National Immunisation System was on track, and had met all of its milestones. The NIS, which is being implemented in stages, is due to be completed in March 2022.

The Minstry said earlier that the national booking system would be ready by late May.

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