Software Lessons and the Big Bang

Watching the rollout of The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) one can clearly see the parallels from many other major software releases by the Federal Government: An exasperating, maddening experience for wearisome users, that will persist, for a long, long time. The best solution; roll back the ACA software now.

How do I know? Well, I managed several enterprise business systems and once tried the ‘Big Bang’ approach. That’s right, we launched all the functionality, for all the requirements, for all the users, in one vainglorious software release. The results were, to say the least, disastrous!

This did not deter us at the time. No, we soldiered on for weeks, working round the clock; slogging through two million lines of code to find the one offending bit. That is, until the suffering users screamed, our executives ordered a roll back and, my boss reminded me that, “It’s very hard to paint the wheels on a moving locomotive.”

Properly chastened, I learned a valuable lesson: everyone has a problem software release once in a while. So we adopted the soft launch approach and never looked back. All subsequent releases were deployed to a limited user base with a manageable feature set; we monitored production, listened to the users, for big issues we rolled back, but most of the time we just tuned the servers and tweaked the functions and user interface. The end result: a happy user population, and my weekends were mine again.

The point of this story is that The Affordable Care Act application is overloaded and each additional user’s click of the mouse is adding to a ‘denial of service’ attack from the software’s point of view. Thus I make the following suggestion, but first a disclaimer. I am only looking at this from an IT perspective and not commenting on the legal, political, or even the moral merits of The Affordable Care Act, or whether it will really lower healthcare costs as its name implies. Indeed, anecdotal evidence suggests it will not. Only time will tell.

So here goes. Lets begin by giving the common folks the same courtesy as was extended to big business and delay full implementation of The Affordable Care Act for one year while the “glitches” or “bugs” can be sorted out. For now, pick a ‘Blue State’ that will work to make it a success. Then pick another ‘Blue State’, then the next. Once demonstrated in these states, rollout the software to the total user population. The risk of course is the application doesn’t work or the advertised benefits don’t materialize.

Anyway, as an IT professional, that’s my two cents.


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