Commentary

A plugged-in nation needs access to 24/7 help

Support needed as people go online for home and business matters after office hours

The Internet has made round-the-clock access to services viable. Naturally, such services would benefit from a round-the-clock helpdesk as well.

The best examples are found in critical sectors such as telecommunications and finance.

Broadband service providers have technical officers troubleshooting subscribers' machines even at ungodly hours and over the weekends.

The 24/7 call centres of some banks, such as DBS and Citibank, are also equipped to handle

simple technical queries, such as how to reset one's password for online access.

A 24/7 technical hotline is one of the most underrated enablers of the conveniences touted by the Internet. I would go as far as to say that it is critical to Singapore's reputation as one of the world's most plugged-in nations.

Imagine the embarrassment when you are locked out of your online account due to some password problem and there is no one to call because the helpline is open only from Mondays to Fridays and during office hours.

This was what happened to my friend last week. While trying to use his bank's online small and medium-sized enterprise banking service, he got locked out of the Internet banking account after three failed password attempts. He had forgotten his password.

This happened at around midnight. According to his bank's website, the support hotline is available only from 8.30am to 6pm on Mondays to Fridays.

Growing desperate, he tried calling the bank's general 24-hour hotline. But the call centre was under maintenance until the next morning. The next day, he called the hotline again and was told he could reset his password on the bank's website.

Most consumer banks allow users to reset their passwords on the spot on their websites. But my friend had to wait three days to receive a new bank-generated password in the mail.

His experience is, unfortunately, not an uncommon one. Here, many commercial and public services do not provide technical help over the weekend and on public holidays. Even if you suspect that your account has been tampered with, you cannot call them to report suspected fraud as their helpline operating hours are limited to weekdays and office hours.

The Singapore Exchange - whose Central Depository website lets some 300,000 online investors access their stock information - is one example.

SingPass - a password system for accessing more than 200 e-government services - is another example.

One reason why organisations do not extend technical help beyond office hours is the additional manpower cost involved. But most people go online at night to attend to personal or household administrative matters - be it to transfer funds or pay bills and parking fines.

Even if round-the-clock technical support is not possible, the very least critical service providers should do is to extend their helplines' operating hours.

Sure, it may not be viable for every government agency to maintain a round-the-clock technical helpdesk, but how about pooling resources to create a hotline that can be shared across agencies?

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2015, with the headline 'A plugged-in nation needs access to 24/7 help'. Print Edition | Subscribe