Thursday, October 24, 2013

I've heard this story before

As a computer guy, I have some understanding of the incredible complexity of the Federal Exchange, and a lot of sympathy for the developers charged with the task of building the plumbing to support real-time connections with multiple insurance company databases (many probably having home-grown systems, each with its own unique protocol for querying data and pulling it across the various firewalls).

This is what each State-run Exchange has to do, for the Insurance providers in that State.  Now multiply that complexity by 36 (the number of States who said "we don't want to build our own Exchange - let the Feds do it").

It's no wonder that many of the State Exchanges are working quite well, while the Federal Exchange is 'challenged'.  However (not surprisingly), I have a couple of thoughts on the current situation:

1)  The lead-in on NPR this morning, to the segment covering the controversy, stated something like: "There are hearings today in Washington into how the White House bungled the implementation."  Um, maybe the "White House" might have been able to devote more time to overseeing the roll-out if it hadn't been preoccupied during most of September in dealing with a group of wacko Republican representatives (sic) determined to shut down the friggin' government. Just sayin'.

2)  And here is where I do put some blame on the "White House", if this report is true.  It appears there was a late-in-the-game spec change, where, contrary to the original design (which would let people browse options without having to first create an account, like you can browse Amazon before signing in to buy), it was decided that, no, people will have to register BEFORE being able to browse, instantly creating a massive bottle-neck right at the beginning of the entire process.

How many times have we developers seen this?  Hint: over and over and over, and it seldom has a happy ending.

Once a design for a complicated system is agreed on, and work commences on all the components, changing a fundamental step almost always leads to a disaster down the line. Sometimes a critical design flaw is detected and you have no choice.  But, if it's not a no-choice-we-MUST-change-that situation, they never learn.

If, indeed, someone in the Administration dictated to the developers that this change HAD to happen, after considerable work had already been done, someone on the construction team HAD to reply, "well, if you insist on this change, keep in mind that it jeopardizes the entire schedule."  And, if some WH individual then said "I don't care, change it", that person should be the scapegoat for the current witch-hunt.

As a developer, I say "confiscate his/her suit and tie in public".

As a developer, who would like to see the ACA implementation succeed, I say to America "cool it, and let the developers do whatever triage is necessary to get it working".  This is a long-game project.  Problems in the first 2 months are going to be forgotten once it's running smoothly and many people find, to their astonishment, that they are able to buy health insurance for the first time in their lives.

My advice to people desperate for Health insurance - call the damn 800 number and talk to a facilitator, instead of venting your anger at your computer.

To the Republicans, I say, "since you have no interest in contributing to the program's success (a program, by the way, which originated in YOUR conservative Think Tanks many years ago), please STFU and get out of the way".  Yes, I know, never happen.

'Nuff said.


Marjorie Bennett said...

There is so much blame to share that it's become a Rorschak test for everyone's favorite complaints about software projects. I heard a guy on npr say that if only the whole thing had been Open Source, it would have been perfect. And plenty of people saying it should have been agile and incremental (with no idea of the complexities of doing that on a massive project). My favorite explanations are way-too-short-a-timeframe and no-one-responsible-for-overall-integration of the pieces from the ridiculously large number of contractors.

And I love this statement from CGI: "But the end to end testing was the responsibility of CMS [the federal agency]. Our portion of the system is what we testify in terms of what was ready to go live. It was not our decision to go live."

"It was not your decision?" Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-MI) pressed.

"It was CMS's decision," Campbell said.

"Did you ever recommend to CMS that it was not ready?" Upton asked.

"It was not our position to do so," Campbell said. "Let me clarify: CMS had the ultimate decision for go live or no go. We were there to support our client. It is not our position to tell our client to go live or not go live."

Let me clarify something. If you see me about to walk off a cliff please tell me. Especially if I've paid you a lot of money to build the pathway to the edge of the cliff.

SLitton said...

Nice Article Barry. Nothing Is Ever Perfect From Day One, Ever. They'll Get Over It. And If They Don't, No Worries, They Will Die Someday Too (Hopefully Without Insurance)