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I really can’t wait to read the case study (novel?) on Healthcare.gov – the design, development, the rollout, the hearings, the politics, and beyond.  I wonder what would have happened if we’d had the internet when Social Security was implemented.

Members of Congress continue to compare the shortcomings of the website to ecommerce giants Amazon, ProFlowers, and Kayak. I find it interesting how suddenly members of congress are ecommerce design, analyst, and development experts. (I know, I know, we’re all “users.”)

Security of the site was a topic in the hearings today, with lawmakers buzzing over the fact that the site security was not vetted enough (according to a warning memo). Ironically, Rep. Mike Rogers R-Michigan told Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that, “Amazon.com would never do this.” Welllll…maybe not intentionally. Remember how awesomely bad Amazon.com and Apple cloud services  were hacked last year?

Older articles published prior to the rollout show that Sebelius asked for patience, acknowledging there would probably be glitches in the coming days and weeks after the launch of the site. And that glitches are common, particularly in what the industry commonly refers to as public beta period. The key being that during a beta period, glitches and hiccups are identified and resolved as quickly as possible.

Sebelius also hoped that users would cut them some slack if things don’t go 100% smoothly, referencing unpopular updates to Apple products, “No one is calling for Apple to not sell devices for a year or to get out of the business because the whole thing is a failure. Everyone just assumes there’s a problem, they’ll fix it, let’s move on.”

It’s curiously amazing how consumers give tech companies leeway when using their products while they suffer through their growing pains. Apple’s iPhone wouldn’t let you  copy and paste text for over a year after it went on sale. Windows 8 Start Button anyone? How quickly we forget.

Also, large technology companies like Twitter, Facebook, Amazon.com and Google are used to rolling out new features and fixes all the time from small, nimble deployment teams. Obviously, many of Healthcare.gov’s problems stem from the fact that there were 47 different contracts awarded; so exponentially multiply the anticipated number of code flaws per person on the team x the teams x the different contracts and companies involved. Oh yeah, add all the different databases that had to talk to each other.

Clay Johnson of the Department of Better Technology, a company that designs and builds software for the government, has been doing a great job of pointing out “you get what you pay for” when it comes to government procurement processes (my summary, his is more eloquent and evocative) and building this kind of site. If Amazon.com was the government ecommerce website selling everything under the sun, designed and built the same way as Healthcare.gov, launching the week before Christmas, how do you think it would go?

I was reading the most recent blog post on Healthcare.gov “Healthcare.gov: Improving the Account Registration Process”  (yes, the site has a blog) which lists the biggest improvements the site has made to Account Registration since the site launched.

In combination, the following fixes are allowing users to successfully create an account and be able to continue through the application process.  We can now process nearly 17,000 account registrants per hour – or five per second – with an error rate near zero:

  • We replaced the virtual database with a high-capacity physical one, which allowed more efficient, effective processing and significantly reduced the error rates, or account registration failures;
  • We’ve optimized software configurations to increase efficiency in system interactions;
  • We added capacity by doubling the number of servers;
  • We swapped out a directory component for another that can process more transactions simultaneously;
  • We improved the efficiency of database look-ups through software changes;
  • And we pushed through a patch release with four software fixes to address users that were having a hard time logging in to their accounts. 

Unfortunately, the site crashed in the midst of hearings today, October 30, just when the congress person was pulling it up for reference. But if what they say holds true, 17,000 registrants an hour is no small feat.

 
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