No army in the world can fight an idea whose time has come. So said prolific visionary Victor Hugo. One could certainly argue, especially in the age of Big Information, that healthcare exchanges represent one such idea. However, just because an idea is good, doesn’t mean that any implementation plan will guarantee success. And all too often, huge changes to any large system can do more harm than good. (Remember the Hippocratic Oath? First, do no harm!)
All is certainly not lost, though. Today is the first day of the rest of Obamacare’s life. So, looking on the optimistic side, here are some data-driven considerations for fixing the centerpiece of the so-named Affordable Care Act:
1 Got Splunk?
Credit Mark Smith of Ventana Research for pointing out this obvious course of action. At the just-finishing Teradata Partners Conference in Dallas, TX, the master of research methodology noted that a healthy dose of Splunk’s trouble-shooting functionality — which leverages powerful indexes of machine-generated data — could do wonders for solving the “glitches” that persist. Another vendor that offers similar capabilities is Glassbeam, which goes beyond indexes and more into dynamic discovery. These tools can work magic for solving highly complex systems management issues. In the hands of professionals who can make them sing, such applications can expedite troubleshooting by orders of orders of magnitude. (And there are many other useful tools for troubleshooting, many of which we showcased in our Operational Intelligence Market directory, including ExtraHop Networks, SQLStream and Vitria: http://insideanalysis.com/markets/operational-intelligence/)
2 A Stitch in Time
At the core of our data management industry, the Apache Foundation continues to innovate in game-changing ways. The new YARN framework promises to revolutionize the already revolutionary Hadoop ecosystem by embedding a sophisticated scheduler above the Highly Distributed File System. The immediate value is an alternative to MapReduce, which Java programmers know is a prodigious yet complicated protocol that few developers fully understand, and only a handful have mastered. Is the healthcare.gov architecture employing any of Apache’s open-source projects? Or have decisions been made to stick with expensive closed-source apps? Open-source would seem to be a no-brainer here, partly due to the mantra of that paradigm: “Bad code goes away!”
3 Focus on Strengths
We live in a multinational, globally competitive world more than ever, especially when it comes to software development. A trend now for at least a decade, off-shore code jockeys are involved in every aspect of enterprise software design, testing and delivery. Many of them are very good at what they do, and are far less expensive than stateside developers. Trouble is, too many are not on the approved General Services Administration (GSA) lists; as is the case with a slew of the most cutting-edge applications available today (which roll out almost daily, and in legitimately mind-blowing fashion). All of which speaks to the other elephant in this room: mission-critical systems for the provisioning of health insurance should not be saddled with the old-world constraints of federal purchasing procedures, especially when serious punishments await citizens who do not comply. Politicians should be good at politicking; but let’s leave the enterprise-grade development to business.
4 Show Us the Data
On a recent episode of The Daily Show, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, told Host Jon Stewart that she didn’t have the data as to how many people had signed up. This is preposterous whether or not her statement was true. Knowing how many people successfully enroll should clearly have been a critical design point of this system. Besides, sharing data only helps us overcome challenges; circling wagons invites skepticism while protracting serious problems. And once the public knows what healthcare plans cost in other states, that means health insurance providers will need to achieve competitive advantage by making their operations more efficient, via streamlined processes, more effective software systems, and better customer service. Across the board, we all want more transparency, but definition 1, not definition 4: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/transparent?s=t
5 Easy Does It
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither should anyone expect a system such as healthcare.gov to become seamless too quickly. Truth be told, the stories of major Information Technology (IT) projects collapsing despite multi-million-dollar price tags are many, and there are some especially egregious examples in our own government. One big difference with this disastrous launch is the amount of hype that surrounded it, and the fact that it’s decidedly public-facing (oh, and those penalties, too). Careful is as careful does. Many in the media and elsewhere have continuously injected the argument that “politics” got in the way. This is nonsense because “politics” is an abstraction; only people can get in the way, not amorphous Platonic ideals. (And remember, it takes two to tango.) Ideas can only inspire. Real people — and machines using data — must get things done. If the site is not running smoothly by the time people are required to have insurance, the penalties must be delayed, lest we transition from byzantine to draconian.
Of course, we all know that critics are a dime a dozen. Actions speak louder than words. To that end, if anyone in the administration is reading this, please know that your humble correspondent will gladly offer hours and hours of free consultation to help healthcare.gov get up and running. And here at InsideAnalysis, we know, quite literally, the best and brightest in the world of enterprise software. Rest assured, many of them would be happy to help as well. Holla back!