Software Development Is Never An Exact Science

To the Editor:

Over the last few weeks I have had the opportunity to listen to a substantial amount of the rhetoric being delivered on cable news channels regarding the Healthcare.gov debacle. I have found it thoroughly entertaining to listen to pundits talk about the ins and outs of the rollout, or shall we say non-rollout. Not because the matter is to be taken lightly, but because these otherwise brilliant individuals have willingly taken on the task of judging success or failure in a field that they know nothing about. They might as well be trying to evaluate the reasons for the success or failure of the space program or of peace in the Middle East. Oh wait, they do that too. The thing is that, unlike the latter two topics, for which they have presumably studied extensively and in which they may have had some firsthand experience, they clearly have no idea what it takes to deliver a solution like Healthcare.gov.

For those of us who have experienced the evolution of web applications it should come as no surprise that the White House bought into the philosophy of “just get it out there and we’ll fix it later.” Consumer web sites are delivered on a trial basis all the time. Commercial applications such as Healthcare.gov on the other hand, need to work right out of the gate and must be vetted incessantly to make sure that they do not result in the embarrassing nightmare that it has turned out to be. It’s one thing to deliver consumer portals that allow for easy viewing and entry of information. Getting transactional and integration processes to work is a whole different ballgame that requires highly specialized skills and expertise. These activities take time that no one in today’s highly competitive world is willing to accept, and it is likely that this mindset contributed to the Healthcare.gov failure.

It is unfathomable to think that we have spent millions of dollars on a solution that needs to be revamped. Yet, it is not entirely true that heads would roll if this had happened in the private sector. There are still plenty of cases where we inexplicably put up with unstable or intrusive technology. The difference is that those are often made available to us for “free” and are not crucial to our daily lives so if they don’t perform up to par we accept mediocrity and find other ways to get the job done.

Software development has never been an exact science and projecting successful completion of a large project is extremely difficult. Show me a CIO/CTO who isn’t struggling with this due diligence quagmire and I’ll show you one who is not really interested in the success of their organization. The bottom line is that the White House must learn to take a more direct, balanced approach to major system rollouts.  Giving IT more oversight will go a long way towards allowing us all to sleep at night.

Julio Carbonell

13 Greenbriar Lane, Newtown                    December 3, 2013

More stories like this: Affordable Care Act, Healthcare.gov, software
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