There is an adage common among software developers, “Writing software is like sausage making: it’s ugly to watch but the end result is usually pretty good”.
There’s another one: “Garbage in, garbage out”. These twin principles come to mind when one considers the troubled roll out of the new HealthCare.gov, which was outsourced and done on the cheap, partly because Congress refused to fund its creation.
The Affordable Care Act itself is sound, as has been established by my earlier analysis as an insurance-industry insider. For an analysis of the actual software itself, this reporter wears his hat as a software architect with 16 years of experience, most of it in the insurance industry and some of it on Wall Street.
Watching the continuing troubles of HealthCare.gov, it is clear the software that was produced by the offshore company is,to use a technical term,a mess. The UI,”User Interface,” does look pretty but at first glance it lacks flow;meaning the user does not know what to do first. This reflects the lack of experience among its designers.
Humans do not fall out of the womb knowing how to design a usable user interface. That skill is elusive and is even the subject of a professional area of expertise; Human Factors Engineering. However, it has become apparent that the technical implementation of that design,something fully out of the control of the business-oriented designers,is fatally flawed.
The greatest tragedy of all is that the same Obama software engineering powerhouse that created the magical software that enabled the 2012 election win, was not involved in the design or coding of HealthCare.gov. Sadly, that’s because they were not allowed to be involved because of government rules.
Now, as the clock is ticking, the team that botched the software development of HealthCare.gov have come face to face with another adage of software development;
“Nine women can’t have a baby in one month.”
That means, when faced with a complex piece of software engineering, it is not effective to start piling more and more engineers on the problem. That just muddles it and interferes with the process.
Time is not on the side of the Obama team trying to solve this problem. But the reality is, they must take a clear approach to solving this. Offshore resources are cheap and usually sloppy and inexperienced, that’s why they are cheap.
Cheap sausage is pretty gross and so goes for offshore software development. That’s why most companies that specialize in software for their business have abandoned the offshore model; it does not work. We can only hope that President Obama is served well by the team refactoring the design of HealthCare.gov.
Edited by SS