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FCW : November 15, 2013
November 15, 2013 FCW.COM 21 On Oct. 20, the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services nally communicated with the public about their plan for xing HealthCare.gov with a "tech surge." "Our team is bringing in some of the best and brightest from both inside and out- side government to scrub in with the team and help improve Health- Care.gov," they said. It s a good step. Admitting that something has gone wrong is a big deal, especially for a modern presi- dential administra- tion in the 24-hour, hyper-partisan news cycle. But the solution of "bring in experts"? Yikes! With the total cost of HealthCare.gov speculated to be anywhere from $100 to $500 mil- lion, I d have hoped that plenty of "experts" have been in there already. The problem isn t just the result of bad programming. It s the result of bad systems and bad architecture from the get-go. When you try to build the world s biggest shopping mall and the only place you can buy your support beams from is a balsa- wood mill, your building is going to collapse. The best thing that any out- side experts can do in any reason- able amount of time is replace some drywall and paint. Otherwise, your experts are going to have to gure out where the balsa wood is falling apart and replace it with iron. That takes time. Nevertheless, the opportunity to use HealthCare.gov s troubles to cre- ate a model of suc- cess is something I couldn t pass up. The great news is that we have failed! Everybody s pissed! And while that might sound like a crisis, for a guy like me it smells like opportunity: There s nowhere to go but up. That means the situation is ripe for innovation, and I couldn t be happier that U.S. Chief Technology Of cer Todd Park is helping to lead the cleanup crew. So Todd and the rest of the experts tasked with xing this problem: If you re reading this, here s your playbook for how to turn HealthCare.gov into an amazing win. And the win is not just for the Affordable Care Act, but also for the system that created the asco we re in now. 1. Admit failure and make it consequential The rst thing that you ve got to do is hold the responsible parties I understand you go to war with the army you have, not the army you want. But you have the ability to get the army you want in a matter of days. How to x HealthCare.gov A former Presidential Innovation Fellow argues that it will take more than a surge of tech experts to cure what ails the health insurance exchange portal BY CLAY JOHNSON COMMENT Entry expedited clearance service for international travelers. "At the end, it is all about under- standing the capabilities and con- straints of systems one has to use," Mashruwala said. "As Apple has shown over and over again, best design occurs when you understand the user environ- ment fully." "Keep the design of the system and the citizen interaction simple. Simplic- ity is the key to scalability," Nadhamuni said. He now runs Khosla Labs, which he formed in 2012 with Sun Microsys- tems co-founder Vinod Khosla to focus on solving large-scale problems with technology. Nadhamuni also advised against allowing speci c vendors to take such a dominant role that it could become hard to change providers in the future. Another tip: Let users browse and com- pare plans without having to enter a lot of personal information. "We opted for open source and open standards in Aadhaar to ensure low cost of ownership and maintenance as well as to avoid vendor lock-in," he said. "This is in general a good approach on government projects. You can t be religious about open source. Some components may be proprietary, but they need to be wrapped with stan- dards and [application programming interfaces] to enable replacement of a speci c vendor [or] component. This approach requires a very high-quality government technical team that speci- fies the solution requirements in a greater level of design detail." Nadhamuni said he would also rec- ommend stringent service-level agree- ments from IT suppliers. "The SLAs need to specify the system traf c and load as well as downtime limits," he said. The system also needs rigorous load testing to ensure it won t buckle, and all components need to be made independently scalable. "The architec- ture should allow one to throw extra hardware at the problem as the load increases and should not necessitate a more major software design or code change," he said. ■
October 30, 2013
November 30, 2013