Flatline: The launch of Healthcare.gov

The ‘launch’ of the Healthcare.gov in the US has been interesting to watch. Well in the way that sometimes people can’t help but want to see the aftermath of a car crash!

Perhaps the most high profile website launch I’ve ever seen in the .gov space it is the face of ‘Obamacare‘ – a policy so controversial it has literally shut down the Federal government over there!

I’d been aware of the web elements a little bit since I read about the work Development Seed were doing on the project and their CMS free approach. This however turned out to be little more than the shop window to the service and each US state provided its own web application with its own suppliers and technologies and in theory it was all stitched together with a common entry point.

The Wall Street Journal has done a good job of capturing the problems (as you’d expect) and Alex Howard has been a useful guide through mass of hyperbole that has been written (the failure of the website has become a political football it has to be said) on Twitter and his blog.

As far as I can tell it is a tale of common failures with Government IT projects in both the US and UK but writ large. The huge IT consultancies over the pond (cousins to our ‘systems integrators’ here) won the contracts to supply the key elements of this web service – because nobody else was really in a position to compete due to the way it was procured. Then they struggled to deliver in the strict timescales while also trying to ring out every penny (cent) of profit they could and ended up delivering a flawed product, littered with errors and simply unable to cope with demand. Now they are scrambling to fix things on the fly but the reality is the damage is done and it will be difficult to regain public trust in the website in the future.

It is like a case study for everything GDS have set out to root out of the UK system but I fear we are a long way from escaping it here. Recent reports on the Universal Credit programme as well as ongoing stories of NHS IT projects prove that.

Hopefully we are traveling in the right direction though and for all of the digital civil servants in the US caught up in this storm who could probably see problems coming but did not have the power to stop them. I feel for you and you have my sympathies!

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