As someone who has served in just about every role in the IT industry - from developer to architect to project manager, to CEO - there is an easy fix to the healthcare.gov fiasco. It can be fixed in a foolproof way that takes all of the pressure off of the administration, and it could be done by Monday morning (it's Friday night as I write).
Others have done a good job describing the myriad problems with the site's architecture. Maybe the problem lies with the contractors. Maybe it lies in the nature of the government procuremnet process itself. Perhaps the specifications weren't timely nailed down. The wrong architecture and system components could have been used. No matter, I promise to fix it regardless.
Here's the solution. Ready?
- Keep the front page and the info pages the same. Don't change the look and feel.
- Rip out the entire back-end.
- Write a simple form that allows an applicant to enter all of their relevant information - the same information that would be required to fill out a paper insurance application.
- When the user completes the form, display a screen letting them know that they've successfully applied for healthcare through the exchange and that they will be receiving forms in the mail in short order.
- Write a simple back-end that transmits the form to the appropriate insurers for the market. This could be as simple as a print-and-mail, emailing a pdf, or if we have another day or so, a queue of xml docs that each insurer can pull through a RESTful api.
And we're done.
Of course, the system that I describe doesn't have the online binding, the instant price shopping, or the integrated system checks that interface to the IRS and other income verification systems. The magic here is that consumer has no expecataion of what to expect from this experience. When I apply for insurance today, I typically fill out a paper form. Even having the online form would be considered a nice efficiency.
These features (and the alleged millions of lines of code written to support them) could be added once the bugs have been properly worked out and tested.
Mr. President, Mrs. Secretary - I could put together a team of developers to have this working by Monday. I guarantee that it would be scalable, foolproof, and that everyone visiting the site - regardless of the load - would be able to successfully apply for healthcare (we'd use Amazon cloud services to host the system and a simple open source stack - no wait for hardware or software provisioning).
What is interesting to me is that no one in the chain of command here has had the time, opportunity, or perhaps the power to address this type of high-level options analysis. This is the type of thinking that has pulled me out of numerous delicate situations in my career.
Get something working, no matter how small. Build confidence that it works, then iterate. Big bang launches rarely work well.
It's not too late to salvage this development mess that is unfortunately turning into a political fiasco. Having a web site that doesn't work gives opponents of the Affordable Care Act - rightly or wrongly - a reason to point to failure. The public is - by and large - confused between the differences between the Act itself and the coverages it affords and the web site. Fix the web site by Monday for me, and we can get back to discussion of the underlying policy and its merits.
Matthew is the CEO of Live Microsystems, Inc. He was previously the CEO of Livewire Mobile until it was sold to OnMobile in July. Matthew has a BA from Duke and a JD from The University of North Carolina.