Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A lesson for IT Consultants from the Obamacare rollout

Much has been made in recent days of the shortcomings of the new Obamacare web site - Healthcare.gov; people are basically all asking the same question - why did they build it that way? The answer is because that's the way they were told to build it.

Picture the meeting. It shouldn't be hard. I've been in dozens of of them, and so have you. You're in a big room, and there are tons of people packed in there - some you know, most you do not. There are all the contractors who have been hired to do the programing. Some project management types over here. And scattered through the room are 1 - 3 representatives from every agency, department, and fiefdom that could have any possible interest, no matter how tangential, in the Affordable Care Act. All with their own agenda, and not one of them thinking about how to provide visitors to the website with the best possible online shopping experience.

To be fair, the programmers came in thinking about it a little, but their ideas are quickly brushed away in the avalanche of 'must have' and 'top priority' requirements as the consultants return to their Pavlovian response - "we'll do whatever you want". Why would they so quickly abandon their principles? Because they have been so abused by the bureaucracy they have forgotten that they owe the client, not only their typing skills, but also their best judgement.

Think about it. Every single thing on that web site is the specific request of somebody in that meeting. Having to sign up before viewing health coverage plans? Somebody demanded it. The 30 minute time limit for email to expire? A government policy. And so it goes.

So, fellow IT consultants, the next time you are tempted to take the easy way out and just give the client whatever they ask for, remember the Obamacare rollout fiasco. Nobody's blaming the bureaucrats who demanded these 'features'. All anybody will remember is that it's broken, and you built it.

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