I have been in the information technology arena for eighteen years, eleven of those in some type of executive management position, and the last eight years as the founder and chief executive officer of an information technology-consulting firm based in Atlanta, GA. During these last eight years, we have led multiple large-scale projects – everything from designing an intranet for a Top 100 asset management firm, to migrating an entire data center onto new equipment for a large food distributor, to redesigning a Microsoft Exchange global clustered environment holding several terabytes of email.
So where am I going with this, or am I just bragging about the work my company has done over the years? No, absolutely not; I wanted to lay the foundation of my professional experience, so that as I start discussing the Affordable Healthcare web site, you can understand that I fully comprehend the processes involved in a software development life-cycle.
Let me first travel back in history some. In 2008, President Obama started claiming he was ready to kick-start new U.S.-based jobs. In fact, one of his campaign promises during 2007, was to bring jobs back to America. In addition, during the first two years of his presidency, while his party held complete control of two of the three legislative branches, he signed one of the largest and most controversial pieces of legislation into law. If you have a heartbeat, you know the law that I speak of is the Affordable Healthcare Act—affectionately known Obamacare.
Now, I am not going to harp on whether we should defund it, or not. I am sure there will be future entries on my thoughts about that. Instead, I want to discuss the website in general from a technical prospective.
A website that has been having “kinks” as Obama called them in a speech today (10.21.2013). Kinks? Did I really hear him call the issues kinks? Ok, let us be completely honest here, they are not kinks, Mr. President, they are design flaws, major design flaws. How bad are the design flaws? In a recent USAToday.com article, several technology experts claimed that the site is using Web 1.0 technologies in a Web 2.0 world. In laymen terms, this means that the firm awarded the contract that designed the site, used ten year old development languages to complete the work. To fix or repair the code, will require several months of redesigning and re-programming of the code in newer technologies and languages.
What is scarier is the fact that according to a Washington Examiner news article, the website did not go through a quality assurance test until a week before the launch. Now, I have worked on several large-scale development projects, and as module of code come in from development, the modules should immediately go through an extensive quality assurance-testing phase, if any errors found within the code of the module, the whole or part of the module are kicked back to the development team. When this happens, the project managers involved will not check this module off as complete or release ready. I have to wonder, what was this software development company thinking waiting until the last minute to test such a large application? Folks we are not talking about a simple website like www.michaelkayebooks.com, we are talking something as large and complicated as Google’s search engine, or Facebook’s website.
Another item that I am having a hard time grasping as a professional in this industry is the lack of project management on both sides—the development company and the department from the government responsible for the website. There should have been project managers—certified Project Management Professionals (PMP)® from the Project Management Institute—on both sides of the fence keeping control of the project’s scope agreement. A comprehensive scope of work would have bill of materials, statement of work, the work order, and the actual contract. This will be as detailed as possible in regards to every feature function and requirement of the site. The project managers on both sides guard these scope agreements, so scope creep does not occur in a project. A scope creep can result from poor change control, lack of proper identification of requirements and objectives, weak project management, and poor communications between both parties.
How do we know there was a ton of creep within the three-plus years of development time? Let’s just look at the costs to build the site. A Canadian firm, CGI Federal, was awarded the contract to build the healthcare web site for $55.7 million, according to a recent Reuter’s article, over the course of the three years that it took to develop the site, the contract for CGI Federal is no valued at $292 million. That is 5 times more than the initial contract award.
Now, think about this:
- · The site was built with 10 year old code
- · The site was not tested until the week prior to going live
- · The project went 5 times over budget
- · We will be spending even more tax money to resolve President Obama’s “kinks” in his website.
However, most importantly, I thought President Obama wanted to create more jobs for America. Let me ask, why was this multi-million dollar contract awarded to obviously an incompetent company from Canada, instead of a firm based here in the good old U.S. of A?
Oh, yeah, I forgot, the jobs Obama promised were “shovel ready,” not high quality technology jobs America needs most. Then again, maybe President Obama is creating "shovel ready jobs", cause this website is one giant pile of horse manure and it will definitely take a lot of shovels to fix the mess.