Well, we just killed off that myth! Good mission critical systems come from good mission critical systems people – not political hacks or pseudo-experts.
With today’s Congressional testimony of Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, we are finally seeing the importance of good systems people and how they can impact the success – or failure – of a major real-time mission critical application. Many people take for granted that software engineering is no big thing and the less you really know about systems, the more you can gloss over major problems without understanding their impact or their resolution.
This would be my advice to her and to the Congressmen trying to talk like they know systems: Just as one course in first-aid doesn’t make you a brain surgeon, one course in technology doesn’t make you an expert in real-time systems.
It is clearly evident Secretary Sebelius is NOT a systems person. Some of her answers to hard questions were laughable at best, and pretty sad at worst. She should not be the one hung out to dry. Who is the top “systems person” who was in charge to oversee the rollout and implementation? Was there one, or was that role not even defined or deemed necessary?
It is also evident that many, if not all, the members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee don’t have a clue about rigorous design standards and mission critical applications. Congressman Waxman said, “The Affordable Care Act is working. I would urge my colleagues to stop hyperventilating.” He said the problems would be fixed.
Hyperventilating? Wake up Waxman, the system doesn’t work! The system has security issues and most of all, there has been no plan to system test the application from end-to-end. Please Mr. Waxman – Yield your time to someone who knows real-time systems cold and is not a “pseudo-expert”.
LOOKING INTO THE SPOTLIGHT
With all of this on the table, this is not a one or two-week fix. With the magnitude of this system and all the interworking it needs to have with other data bases, it is not a one or two month fix either.
Plus, and this is the HUGE indication that they are systems-clueless in Washington DC, the fact that they are not going to shut it down until it is fixed is the wrong direction to take to correct the defects and do no further damage. The government cannot hobble along with a system that is insecure and also inaccurate. There is a bakery listed as a enrollment site within the depth of the website. How did that get there? How did it already get 150 people trying to call in and enroll into the program?
Seriously, try to save face by turning off public access to it until you can guarantee accuracy as well as security. Yes, that could take months but it is much better to take it slow and set the course right, than continue to run “full speed ahead” in the wrong direction with a system that has so many security and accuracy holes in it, it is more like a sieve than a solid ship for healthcare solutions.
I see all of this having a great positive impact that is finally coming into the national spotlight: Real-time mission critical applications are complex and need to have close and extensive testing before being released for public use. You do not entrust this to amateurs. And, you do not gloss over real problems.
What is really scary is to hear people who work in IT commenting “it’s no big deal. We release bad software all the time”. If that is the case, you should not be working in IT. You have no focus on quality and no focus on a sense-of-urgency within the profession.
All this solidifies what I said in an earlier column:
“This was not a small systems project, nor one that did not have impact on every family in America. Evidently, Washington DC does not have the caliber of systems people in charge that it thinks it has. Probably a lot of people with big egos and small skill sets claiming to be “experts” in software engineering and mission critical applications. Well, if you’re an expert, I’m a god.”
CARLINI-ISM: To quote Harold Geneen, former Chairman of ITT and I hope Mr. Waxman reads this –
“Words are words,
Explanations are explanations,
Promises are promises, but
only Performance is Reality.”
Copyright 2013 – James Carlini