After HealthCare.gov, 5 questions worth asking
Look on the bright side: Thanks to HealthCare.gov, IT procurement, enterprise architecture and project management are the talk of the town.
Granted, the conversations are uncomfortable for the agencies and contractors involved in building the site, but as the crisis coverage subsides, a real opportunity exists to use this attention to actually improve the system.
I won't presume to prescribe those improvements. The story is still unfolding, and there are (many!) others with deeper expertise and experience to craft the answers. But these questions should be part of that conversation:
1. Who should be the integrator?
The fact that no contractor was the clear lead for HealthCare.gov has been flagged as a critical mistake. It's not clear the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services actively chose to play the role of systems integrator, but this was the result in practice. Is that ever a good idea for complex IT systems? And if so, where is the line that agencies dare not cross?
2. Can agile help everywhere?
Advocates of agile development argue that rapid iteration improves the odds of success and that opposition within agencies is largely cultural. But when a project's key parameters have been legislated — or when politics make a pilot program impractical — can agile make a measurable difference?
3. Are the best vendors bidding?
Open-source proponents and experiments like RFP-EZ suggest that agencies can get more value by working with firms that have been scared off by FedBizOpps. When do federal procurement requirements demand experienced contractors, and when do they merely drive up the costs?
4. Do agencies have the right people?
Do procurement officers know how to write a statement of work — and outcomes — for complex systems? Are project managers talented enough to ensure that a lowest price technically acceptable contract truly stays technically acceptable? And can agencies develop straight-up IT talent to build systems in house and steer projects that will be contracted out?
5. Can you trust enough to share?
HealthCare.gov relied on real-time queries of multiple agency databases and put signups at the mercy of a slow response from any one of them. How can agencies embrace APIs and shared services while still taking risk management seriously?
Troy K. Schneider is editor-in-chief of FCW and GCN.
Prior to joining 1105 Media in 2012, Schneider was the New America Foundation’s Director of Media & Technology, and before that was Managing Director for Electronic Publishing at the Atlantic Media Company. The founding editor of NationalJournal.com, Schneider also helped launch the political site PoliticsNow.com in the mid-1990s, and worked on the earliest online efforts of the Los Angeles Times and Newsday. He began his career in print journalism, and has written for a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, WashingtonPost.com, Slate, Politico, National Journal, Governing, and many of the other titles listed above.
Schneider is a graduate of Indiana University, where his emphases were journalism, business and religious studies.
Click here for previous articles by Schneider, or connect with him on Twitter: @troyschneider.