Enterprise student laundry system fails

Enterprise student laundry system fails

Summary: As part of a cost control and accounting implementation, a major European university installed networked laundry machines for students. This failure is destined for the record books.


Disclaimer: This story is based on unverified facts, so no parties are identified. Nonetheless, the situation remains interesting and instructive.

As part of a cost control and accounting implementation, a major European university installed networked laundry machines for students. Read on to see why this failure is destined for the record books.

Light-hearted technology failure website, the Daily WTF, describes the situation [edited]:

Step One: Your Laundry Account. Go to your nearest laundry, insert your card, and a receipt with your username and password will be printed. It didn’t take too long for the small box printing receipts to run out of paper, [so] students couldn’t do laundry.

Step Two: Login Fails. For the few lucky who were able to get a username and a password, the next step was to log in to a web-based system in order to prepay for using the laundry. For the user’s convenience, the username consisted of 20 uppercase letters and was case sensitive.

Step Three: Install the Required Updates. As the login problems spread frustration among the poor inhabitants, the university was helpful enough to compile a how-to guide for logging in [that] only worked in Internet Explorer. In addition, the helpful guide showed you how easy it was to install the required updates/patches on your computer needed to do your laundry. Slowly, the inhabitants were able to access their laundry accounts, except of course for Mac/Linux users.

Step Four: 8.333333 Machines, Please. The pre-defined amounts you could choose [in the web-based application] from was not dividable by the cost of a single machine use, leaving many to wonder how to spend the last .333333 washes. A payback system [let students] get their remaining $0.566772 transferred back to their bank accounts.

Step 5: Reservations: Blocking the Machines. The web-based system let you reserve a machine for a certain time (though washing without a reservation was still possible).

Let’s say a machine takes 1 hour, and I reserve it from 12:00. This means that after 11:01 nobody could start a new machine, as it would crash with my reservation. On average, this would cause a half hour idle period for each reservation, or a 50% drop in efficiency. This of course assumes that you actually use your reservation. If not, you simply blocked the machine for an hour or two for those who needed it.

Step 6: Profit? To this day, students are still stuck with the nightmarish system. Some new habits have evolved, such as learning how to renew the washing machines’ IP addresses by disconnecting and connecting the network cable whenever there is a “network error” on the machines’ displays.


The basic principles for successful enterprise implementations are universal, regardless of specific application, type of business, technology vendor, and so on. These fundamental truths include:

  • Creating a business case that defines why the new technology is an important and worthwhile investment
  • Involving users in system design to ensure the system meets their needs
  • Testing the system thoroughly, to be certain it works as planned

The extent to which the software designers and implementation consultants violated these principles is extraordinary. Top enterprise blogger, Zoli Erdos, believes the system was:

created by unqualified third party integrators who probably did not bother to talk to real students and try to imagine their daily life, including laundry.

If you're interested in seeing a real-time, network-connected laundry system, click over to the Norwegian School of Management. Here's a screen capture:

In contrast, this MIT laundry room uses a text-based interface to display information on machine availability:

My favorite laundry room monitoring system is LaundryView. The display includes vibrating machines and 3-D rotation that users can control. Check it out.

Topics: Enterprise Software, Banking, Data Management, Networking, Software

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  • The laundry room problem was solved a long time ago.

    It's called a Quarter.
    • Add a Debit card Reader...

      And you have a complete solution.
      • Banks charge fees per debit transaction. [nt]

    • What problem?

      They're students: They dont wash themselves let alone their clothes!
    • Only one problem ...

      If you have quarters for the machines then you going to have a change machine which means having a lot of cash floating around. If the campus is in a bad area of town robbery is a good possibility.

      Best thing to do is use a debit reader to issue tokens with $5.00-$10.00 amounts on the card. That way you can offset the cost of transaction fees by having less transactions and avoid the dangers of cash on the premises.
      • Exactly.....Overkill at its finest....

        I haven't seen this much overkill for something in a long time. Especially for laundry. Come on technology is great, but sometimes simplicity outweighs technology and this is a prime example. Also talking about transaction fee's, how about the cost to setup this half baked idea. Not dogging the stoners out there, but was this in Amsterdamn?
      • Where I went to university...

        Every dormitory had a laundy room in the basement. So you weren't doing laundy in the neighborhood.

        As for getting a roll of quarters, hmmm. I think there was a bank on campus (of course, this is a few decades ago).

        However, I suppose one could use a roll of quarters as self defense.
  • RE: Enterprise student laundry system fails

    What problem is solved by this solution, even in a best case implementation?
    • Account / service mgt

      Click the link at the end of my post. It solves an accounting / cost mgt issue and helps students schedule around peak times. Worthless if the system doesn't function, however.
      • Ach!

        Really, after a few trips to the laundry room, you get a sense of when the peak times are.

        This is all about saving the vending company money--- eliminate the cost of the person who collects the money from coin slots, and avoids risk of theft from the money collectors.

        This is not about convenience to the person doing laundry.
  • We had networked laundry at Sacramento State...

    We had networked laundry at Sacramento State. I
    [i]hated[/i] them.

    First, you were required to buy a custom charge card. That
    was $4.50 for the card, plus $20 required to put on the
    card when you first purchase it. So $24.50.

    You go to the key pad, type the number of the machine
    you want, how much time (in intervals of 15 minutes), then
    swipe your card. It deducts the money [i]first[/i], then sees
    if the machine is working.

    The stupid machines worked 75% of the time, but 25% of
    the time it just ate your money. After you swiped your
    card and hit the pound sign to start, it'd sit there for 5
    minutes doing nothing. Then the display would turn off,
    reset, report that Firmware 401F is running, then not do

    If you were really unlucky (which happened to me on more
    than one occasion), it'd do that 3 or even 4 times in a row
    no matter which machine you tried to use. It just takes
    your money and doesn't put time on the stupid machine.

    To get your lost money back, you had to call a 1-800
    number on the back of the card. After treating you like a
    criminal because obviously their equipment works
    perfectly, they reluctantly decide to send you a refund. Not
    via a refund on your credit or debit account, min you, but
    via a cheque that takes 6 to 8 weeks.

    To wait 6 to 8 weeks for an $8.00 cheque just wasn't
    worth it. I'm certain they knew that, too.
    • Great story

      Technology run amok!
  • I see.....

    That this is the university that the Aqua Teen Hunger Force attend. Definantly a stoner campus!!
  • RE: Enterprise student laundry system fails

    The student laundry system story represents a symptom which, sadly, has become all too common
    in a world in which technology has been "making life more convenient." Ever waited on the telephone through endless menu options before ending up with the pronouncement you are back at the main menu? Or tried to reach a human being to talk to? Attempted to purchase a train ticket from a machine you had never seen before? Thought you could "easily" change a pass word? Got all tangled up in a self-checkout counter with the machine instructing you over and over to "put the item in the bag" after you had just done so?

    Those of us who remember the time when humans facilitated contacts between individuals and
    institutions, answered questions, and for the most part were actually helpful, tend to miss those days... However our numbers are quickly shrinking.
  • RE: Enterprise student laundry system fails

    I've never thought about Laundry in such depth, shows
    planning a system to automate living tasks is not a simple
    case of putting a CAT5 cable to an appliance.

  • RE: Enterprise student laundry system fails

    I think the issue is that this can happen to any system that is not properly planned!