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How Much Is Oracle To Blame For Healthcare IT Woes?

timothy posted about 5 months ago | from the called-larry-ellison dept.

Bug 275

Nerval's Lobster writes "The state of Oregon blames Oracle for the failures of its online health exchange. The health-insurance site still doesn't fully work as intended, with many customers forced to download and fill out paper applications rather than sign up online; Oracle has reportedly informed the state that it will sort out the bulk of technical issues by December 16, a day after those paper applications are due. 'It is the most maddening and frustrating position to be in, absolutely,' Liz Baxter, chairwoman of the board for the online exchange, told NPR. 'We have spent a lot of money to get something done—to get it done well—to serve the people in our state, and it is maddening that we can't seem to get over this last hump.' Oregon state officials insist that, despite payments of $43 million, Oracle missed multiple deadlines in the months leading up to the health exchange's bungled launch." (Read more, below.)"This isn't the first time Oracle's name has circulated in conjunction with the Affordable Care Act's digital drama. In November, USA Today published a piece suggesting that 'communication breakdowns' with Oracle Identity Manager had led to 'bottlenecks' in the registration process for Healthcare.gov, the federal online health exchange, which in turn prevented some users from signing up for healthcare. But a single contractor doesn't lie at the root of the federal Healthcare.gov's spectacular debacle: despite months of preparations, large sections of the site remained unfinished on launch day, and the completed parts crashed as soon as users began entering the site. According to multiple sources, the Medicare agency tasked with overseeing the project failed to adequately test, much less integrate, the site's complex elements ahead of launch day. Even if it didn't hold that much responsibility for the federal Website's issues, though, Oracle could find itself the target of much more blame in the Oregon case, where it was reportedly the sole contractor and overseer."

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275 comments

What a joke (5, Funny)

Murdoch5 (1563847) | about 5 months ago | (#45584881)

This after Oracle came out explaining how Open Source is not only dangerous but a cancer to development. I'm so glad Oracle has shown with out a shadow of a doubt that Open Source software leads to broken systems, I would hate to not know this, good work Oracle, from now on I'll always pick the closed source guys ...

Re:What a joke (2, Funny)

TWiTfan (2887093) | about 5 months ago | (#45585577)

Agreed, the whole reason the Obamacare website failed is because it was built by a big evil corporation on proprietary software instead of by a group of plucky college students building it on OSS out of a coffee shop. Global warming probably also played a role.

Re:What a joke (4, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | about 5 months ago | (#45585595)

As much as I loathe guys like Mark Zuckerberg, I'll wager giving some of his script monkeys a few months to come up with a functional ACA website, and they'd probably do it, using largely open source tools to pull it off.

Re:What a joke (1)

TWiTfan (2887093) | about 5 months ago | (#45585717)

Yeah, they could run the server farms out of their dorm room! And put Josh in charge of securing all Americans' personal healthcare files!

No company can build well with a bad spec (3, Insightful)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 5 months ago | (#45584889)

Oracle services may at times make a hash of things.

But we are too quick to blame Oracle and the developer of healthcare.gov for problems that come down to what is simply, a bad and incomplete spec that is impossible to build a good system against.

Indeed the "re-launch" of Healthcare.gov recently only works so much better because they scrapped the requirement that an application had to be completed in order for you to see prices (so you would not see the real price). The application process still is deeply flawed; but you can at least see raw static data now...

So don't place too much blame on Oracle for not succeeding at a Herculean task.

Re:No company can build well with a bad spec (5, Interesting)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about 5 months ago | (#45584957)

It isn't healthcare.gov, it's CoverOregon.com, Oregon's own bungled system that only somebody who wants their identity stolen would fill out the "Download this 19 page PDF, fill it out, and mail it to us" "working website".

Though, you may be right- considering what is NOT working at CoverOregon, seems to be the part that links to Healthcare.gov

No, it's both (3, Insightful)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 5 months ago | (#45585017)

I am talking about both because both face the same issues. They are trying to build a website against a spec that was never complete until very late, and even now had fundamental problems in implementation because of what they are trying to do.

Re:No, it's both (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45585295)

I keep hearing this, but it is hard to take it that seriously when other states' own exchanges are doing fine (so far).

If the specs really were that bad then I would expect the majority to be a disaster but that doesn't seem to be the case (again, so far).

Re:No, it's both (2)

Quakerjono (1561915) | about 5 months ago | (#45585619)

I think Oregon tried to be much more ambitious than other state exchanges, which is what brought its complexity level more in-line with what HealthCare.gov. Oregon saw its portal as being a one-stop shop for anyone in any aspect of health insurance, meaning individuals, businesses both large and small, providers, insurers, anyone. Other states presumably had a much more narrowly defined approach to their state-run exchanges, so while they may not be comparable to HealthCare.gov (and working better in most cases), CoverOregon.com really is.

However, even if Oregon delivered a crap spec that was way too ambitious, if Oracle wasn't raising red flags earlier or, even worse, was still saying they could deliver when they had an incomplete or poorly-characterized spec of what to deliver, then wouldn't that clearly be on Oracle. It sounds like there was just a major communications breakdown between the state of Oregon and Oracle and Oracle didn't do its due diligence to reestablish communication in a timely manner.

Re:No, it's both (5, Insightful)

Obfuscant (592200) | about 5 months ago | (#45585877)

I think Oregon tried to be much more ambitious than other state exchanges,

That would be a fine argument if what failed was ambitious stuff. What wasn't working from day 1 on Cover Oregon was the ability for individuals to find out what any plan would actually cost and then to actually sign up for a plan. Those are two very basic features of any e-commerce site. Could you imagine anyone trying to claim that Amazon was being "more ambitious than other sites" because they wanted to tell you how much an item costs and then let you actually buy it? I don't know about you, but when I see a website that says "We have the following products, call for pricing and ordering..." I go somewhere else because I know these people aren't serious about their web presence or sales.

Yes, Oregon has some different requirements overall because of the existing state healthcare programs, but that should not stop someone from being able to get a price and say "I'll buy it".

Re:No, it's both (2)

Cornwallis (1188489) | about 5 months ago | (#45585443)

Same goes for Vermont's site. Total crap. The Oracle Identity Manager appeared to be rolled out with default settings - including default text where Vermont-specific naming conventions should have been inserted but weren't. I don't think you can blame Oracle for this. In Vermont, as at the Fed level, this is massive incompetence by CGI and the state IT bureaucracy. The legislators don't seem too concerned. After all, Vermont was FIRST. That makes it RIGHT.

Re:No, it's both (4, Insightful)

Will.Woodhull (1038600) | about 5 months ago | (#45585889)

And if Oracle was open and above board, it would have walked away from the contract very early, as soon as it was evident that the spec was incomplete and could not be implemented. That's what any reputable small business owner would do when faced with a similar problem. As soon as you realize you can't do the job, you quit. And start your legal guy on maximizing the smaller amount that is fairly due to you for the work that has been completed. There would be clauses in the contract to cover that.

Oracle is at fault. Or rather, persons in power at Oracle are at fault.

Re:No company can build well with a bad spec (2)

mlts (1038732) | about 5 months ago | (#45585107)

The ironic thing is that after the NoSQL fiasco of healthcare.gov [1], I was convinced that anyone running Oracle, MS SQL, or DB/2 on the backend would have something decent up and running.

This isn't rocket science. Grab example schema from a private insurance firm, adapt them to this task, and go from there.

I'm completely surprised by this... Oracle is one of the top tier database managers of choice for the big leagues, so I was expecting this to be a cakewalk compared to other tasks.

[1]: Why is a RDBMS that (as far as I am aware of) fails the ACID test being used for such critical data in the first place?

Re:No company can build well with a bad spec (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45585319)

Private insurance firms use EDI.

Re:No company can build well with a bad spec (3, Interesting)

mosb1000 (710161) | about 5 months ago | (#45585383)

This isn't rocket science. Grab example schema from a private insurance firm, adapt them to this task, and go from there.

This is almost certainly what was done, it's exactly the kind of hair brained scheme businessmen and politicians always want to try. It is needlessly conservative. Get a good developer and make a schema specifically for your project. Like you said, it isn't rocket-science. There isn't some dark magic involved in developing a schema. You make a list of all the data you need to track and then you find a good way to break it out into tables and normalize it.

Don't try to shoehorn some existing schema into your project, you'll end up tracking data you don't need and storing data you do need inefficiently.

Also, having worked with both NoSQL and relational databases, I'd suggest you not shy away from NoSQL simply because it is not as established. You can still develop and enforce a schema in a NoSQL database, but it is more versatile in terms of what you can store and less versatile in terms of what kind of queries can be run. You should chose the technology that is best suited to you application and not be afraid to explore technologies you haven't worked with before.

Re:No company can build well with a bad spec (3, Insightful)

minstrelmike (1602771) | about 5 months ago | (#45585733)

...Like you said, it isn't rocket-science. There isn't some dark magic involved in developing a schema.

The dark magic is required when dealing with managers.
The very first thing anybody tells me about their website is that they want to track users.
That of course, is the very last thing you actually want to do to people who are merely browsing but trying to convince managers of that is impossible.
And if you're a contractor, do you want the job or not?

Re:No company can build well with a bad spec (4, Insightful)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about 5 months ago | (#45585533)

Allow me to rephrase:

After a project that I was biased against [1] failed, my bias was confirmed and I knew that my preferred solution would be much better.

I have a half-baked plan already, so surely the real thing can't be much more difficult.

Now I see evidence that contradicts my bias, so I'm completely surprised.

[1]: Why is a project I know little about using a database I know little about?

One of MarkLogic's strong points is that it uses that "example schema from a private insurance firm" as its starting point, keeping records arranged in the proper hierarchies for use in the healthcare industry. Yes, you could reproduce the constraints using another database, but why go to the extra work? Oh, right, there's that consistency point... but a quick search [google.com] shows that MarkLogic is claiming ACID support [marklogic.com].

So for a project in the healthcare sector is using a healthcare-oriented database. This doesn't seem to be a bad idea. The questionable part is how there are fewer MarkLogic experts than Oracle gurus, but that's not really a showstopper.

Re:No company can build well with a bad spec (5, Funny)

sandbagger (654585) | about 5 months ago | (#45585537)

>Grab example schema from a private insurance firm, adapt them to this task, and go from there.

You clearly have never worked with code from an insurance company. It's code that goes back to Rome, with layers of crap built on top of layers of crap. The code comments have remarks from developers begging for the sweet release of death.

Re:No company can build well with a bad spec (2)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about 5 months ago | (#45585703)

The ironic thing is that after the NoSQL fiasco of healthcare.gov [1], I was convinced that anyone running Oracle, MS SQL, or DB/2 on the backend would have something decent up and running.

This isn't rocket science. Grab example schema from a private insurance firm, adapt them to this task, and go from there.

I'm completely surprised by this... Oracle is one of the top tier database managers of choice for the big leagues, so I was expecting this to be a cakewalk compared to other tasks.

[1]: Why is a RDBMS that (as far as I am aware of) fails the ACID test being used for such critical data in the first place?

The problem here is that you have decision makers looking at the NoSQL fiasco and going "we don't want that -- we'll do this with Oracle!" and then checking that issue off their list as if all their DB issues were solved. I've seen this time and again, where the manager of a DB project will decide on the data storage technology they plan to use, and then assume that the problem of implementing a schema and developing a front end to the data store is all but complete, and just needs a few employees thrown at it "in their spare time" to make it so.

Then people get upset with their datastore provider when it doesn't magically anticipate their unvoiced (and ovten unknown) requirements.

The truth is, ANY DB can be used to this purpose -- albeit some have workflows already developed that might more closely match what is required in the implementation. The big problem is when those allocating the resources decide that their implementation should be a cakewalk, so they fail to invest in identification and development of the missing pieces.

Re:No company can build well with a bad spec (2)

kilodelta (843627) | about 5 months ago | (#45585727)

Part of the problem is that Oracle is pretty prevalent in the commercial world - not so much in the State or Federal government spheres. And big business throws huge amounts of cash at projects like this so eventually they get a product.

Now having worked in one state office that DID use Oracle it was just a stand-alone database. That was it, nothing more extensive than that.

But in another state office there wasn't a shred of Oracle in it. All open source - standard LAMP suite. And it didn't break. Imagine that.

Re:No company can build well with a bad spec (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45585883)

> Why is a RDBMS that (as far as I am aware of) fails the ACID test being used for such critical data in the first place?

At some traffic point all systems fail. There are multiple googletalks on this subject. DB/2 is not much more sophisticated than MySQL. MS SQL does a fantastic job on large datasets compared to DB/2. Oracle is so maddingly fragile (through their stored procedures and async operations and performance tweaking) and complex now, I'm surprised anyone pays for it.

Scaling is still a problem that none of these databases do easily. Their system is probably a mix of highly volatile, not so volatile and static data from multiple sources. So I'm not surprised. Oracle and DB/2 are BAD CHOICES in almost every situation. Oracle and MS SQL fall down based on data usage and you risk being left with a ton of logic wrapped in stored procedures because you wanted to avoid the pain of scaling as long as possible rather than dealing with it as early as possible and seeing how badly it works. This is the common case with sharding in most production systems that I've encountered.

Re:No company can build well with a bad spec (4, Interesting)

MachineShedFred (621896) | about 5 months ago | (#45585601)

I just find it comical that this is one more in a long string of IT projects taken on by the State of Oregon to be completely botched together, launched to endless faults and problems, then fixed over a period of months if not scrapped altogether. And they have the balls to blame someone else.

To anyone that's lived in Oregon for any period of time over the last 10 years, this is business as usual.

Re:No company can build well with a bad spec (1)

thaylin (555395) | about 5 months ago | (#45584987)

Umm, first this is not healthcare.gov we are talking about here, but a smaller state level version. Second if the Oracle project manager is not getting the specs right than the problem still lays at their feet.

Re:No company can build well with a bad spec (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 5 months ago | (#45585035)

Umm, I am talking about both Oregon and the national site, since both are built for the same purpose, and in both cases the companies building the website are being blamed for the site not working.

The Oracle project manager is getting the specs right; the people creating the specs (government) are not giving Oracle what it needs to build a fully functional site.

Re:No company can build well with a bad spec (1)

thaylin (555395) | about 5 months ago | (#45585077)

From my software engineering class in college, and from experience, that problem still layss at the feet of poor project management from Oracle. It is their job to ensure that they get the specs they need to make it work. Note the article did not say the requirements changed, but that Oracle missed deadlines.

Re:No company can build well with a bad spec (2)

StevenMaurer (115071) | about 5 months ago | (#45585223)

Umm, I am talking about both Oregon and the national site, since both are built for the same purpose

Yes, this is kind of like saying that Amazon and Sears.com are both built to the same purpose: to help customers buy things.

However, that doesn't mean that they're at all the same code base, scale (the federal government has a much bigger task in that regard), technologies, contractors, requirements (Oregon has its own medical system allowed by waivers), budgets, and development schedules.

Do you know how I know you are not at all a nerd, have no practical experience in web-development (front end or back end), and are basically just talking out of your ass?

Re:No company can build well with a bad spec (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45585001)

"a bad and incomplete spec that is impossible to build a good system against." -a competent management detects this ahead of time.

As opposed to blowing through deliverables and missing deadlines without so much as noting it.

Re:No company can build well with a bad spec (5, Insightful)

FacePlant (19134) | about 5 months ago | (#45585039)

> But we are too quick to blame Oracle and the developer of healthcare.gov for problems that come down to what is simply, a bad and incomplete spec that is impossible to build a good system against.

No. All specs are incomplete or bad.

The Waterfall model that everybody seems to still love,in which you assume a spec is complete before you begin work, was discredited in the very paper that named it. Fifty years of waterfall model system develop has borne that out time and time again.

Part of delivering a working figuring out where the specs are flawed, and changing them so that the delivered system works for the users. otherwise it only works for the contracting officers and the lawyers who handle the ensuing lawsuits.

Bad specs (2)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | about 5 months ago | (#45585859)

It is one thing to say that the spec is incomplete, but when the spec is bad there is not much a developer can do. If you are told to make the wrong thing, well, either you make the wrong thing or someone else will be paid to do so. There is only so much a developer can do in that situation.

Re:No company can build well with a bad spec (3, Interesting)

Trepidity (597) | about 5 months ago | (#45585189)

It'd be interesting to see the spec difference between Oregon's and California's. California's exchange seems to have turned out better. Is that because California managed the specification, tender, and contractor-communication process better than Oregon did? Or is it because California's contractor (Accenture) was better than Oregon's (Oracle)?

Re:No company can build well with a bad spec (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45585255)

The fact that Oracle services are crap is a known fact in IT world. But management types think that corporate tanks claiming big bucks can not fail, and the oracle circus goes on. Partner it with big iron and big ERPs and you get the picture at the table starting every megaproject, magawastin', megafailure.
At the end, only the programmers and other non managerial personnel stand as the culprit and the people with the cuban cigars in the picture are gone to the hunt of the next IT megaturd.

Re:No company can build well with a bad spec (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45585331)

If a company accepts more than 40 million dollars for a contract they'd better be willing to participate in the design process and find flaws in the specifications. Blaming the spec is an incredibly lame excuse when a team fails to produce a working product on schedule. If you don't have the skills to judge the requirements put forward by the client and suggest changes that make the project successful, don't bid on the contract.

Re:No company can build well with a bad spec (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45585397)

So don't place too much blame on Oracle for not succeeding at a Herculean task.

Oracle took the money. If they knew from the start they couldn't do it, they shouldn't have done so. They should have refused.

The fact is, we are too quick to excuse Oracle and the developers, to treat it as a failure from the start, and to shrug and say, they couldn't have succeeded anyway, it's the government's fault because well, the government always does wrong.

Or something.

It's just like Capricorn One, the cover-up so you don't have to put somebody with a big bankroll on trial..

Re:No company can build well with a bad spec (1)

Monoman (8745) | about 5 months ago | (#45585409)

I agree the specs were probably horrible but they should have not taken the money if they couldn't do it. Unfortunately that is not how the big IT industry works.

Re:No company can build well with a bad spec (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45585421)

From my humble experience, i used to support a database, Oracle database, with hundreds of millions records per month, without using any special hardware, and, it, worked, GREAT. It, just , works, but only if you know what you are doing, why, and how.

So, no, Oracle is not to blame in this case, sorry guys. Open source database is nice, but when it comes to very big data sets, there is only one real competition, "CACHE". The one that is used by the most health-care institutions.

Re: No company can build well with a bad spec (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45585769)

You see that is the problem right there: you hear Oracle and you think DB, but they have dozens of end of life platforms that they picked up cheap in order to make hostages out of the customers.

Re:No company can build well with a bad spec (5, Insightful)

strength_of_10_men (967050) | about 5 months ago | (#45585461)

I would agree with you but from TFA:

Oregon had an ambitious goal: to create a place where anyone, from Medicaid recipients and small-business owners to people in the individual market, could go to shop for insurance. "In hindsight — which is always wonderful — we made decisions that made our system much more complicated to build," Baxter says.

Initially, Oracle promised it could get the job done.

Yeah, it could have been a nightmare of a spec, but if Oracle promised it could be done, then I have a hard time cutting them any slack.

Re:No company can build well with a bad spec (1)

Nyder (754090) | about 5 months ago | (#45585631)

Oracle services may at times make a hash of things.

But we are too quick to blame Oracle and the developer of healthcare.gov for problems that come down to what is simply, a bad and incomplete spec that is impossible to build a good system against.

Indeed the "re-launch" of Healthcare.gov recently only works so much better because they scrapped the requirement that an application had to be completed in order for you to see prices (so you would not see the real price). The application process still is deeply flawed; but you can at least see raw static data now...

So don't place too much blame on Oracle for not succeeding at a Herculean task.

Bullshit. Oracle and the devs of Healthcare.gov are responsible for what they put out, since they bid on the contracts. They shouldn't of been bidding if it wasn't something they could do. It's funny how we have hundreds of thousands websites that work fine out there, and yet we get big companies (Oracle) and big projects (Healthcare.gov) that fail miserably. Not funny as in haha, but funny how we should accept that failure is okay when it comes to computer companies and programming.

Sorry, but I don't buy that. If you are a software company and you accept a contract to delivery a working system, you damn well better make sure that system is working when you say it will.

Re: No company can build well with a bad spec (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45585697)

They got the right people for the job: Oracle suits and ass coverers to fuck up the implementation of a fucked up spec on top of their Oracle fucktard platform.

Re:No company can build well with a bad spec (2)

Will.Woodhull (1038600) | about 5 months ago | (#45585745)

You are implying that Oracle was not capable of recognizing that the spec was "bad and incomplete"? Then Oracle was misrepresenting itself as competent to do the job. And with Oracle's resources, that means the company was doing this in a deliberate and purposeful way; it was committing an act of fraud.

This could not have been done by one or two individuals at Oracle. A fraudulent act of this scale, perpetrated over months and involving expertise in technical, legal, and accounting fields could only be done by a conspiracy involving corporate officers, corporate lawyers, and chief accountants. Oregon's Attorney General should investigate the conspiracy to defraud the State, and should probably bring some of Oracle's high level personnel up on criminal RICO charges.

That will not mitigate the damages done to Oregon, but then there is nothing that could repair that damage. It would take some bad actors out of circulation and possibly send an important message to other corporate officials that just because they are not in the 99%, they are not immune to criminal prosecution when they drive their corporations into fraudulent activities.

first post (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45584901)

Yay!

Re:first post (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45584959)

You're so 2012 :P

There is Oracle, and Oracle consultants (3, Interesting)

sandbagger (654585) | about 5 months ago | (#45584905)

Plenty of the latter will help you sign the cheques for endless customization work orders until the money is gone. They have no actual interest in getting your product to market.

Of course, bad project/program management is the actual fault here but at some point an ethical consultant will say 'Look, this will kick the can down the road to infinity+10 minutes.'

Re:There is Oracle, and Oracle consultants (5, Insightful)

i kan reed (749298) | about 5 months ago | (#45585019)

Outsourcing and privatization of coding is a disaster waiting to happen for any company or government of sufficient size. When you lack the wherewithal in your own organization to make the project you're planning, you also lack the wherewithal to judge how much time/money/manpower it would take someone else.

That in-and-of-itself is a problem, but it also, as you noted, injects a middle-man whose biggest incentive is to keep on earning money past the deadline for the project, not finishing it. When you hire your own coders, their biggest concerns tend to be keeping a manageable workload for themselves and keeping their jobs. Humans are (usually) much more reliable than corporations.

The so-called cost savings of outsourcing projects are a lie too, but that's another rant.

Re:There is Oracle, and Oracle consultants (3, Insightful)

mosb1000 (710161) | about 5 months ago | (#45585475)

The so-called cost savings of outsourcing projects are a lie too, but that's another rant.

The key is only outsourcing part of the project, not the whole thing. If you are working alongside your contractor, you have a better idea of what they are doing and they have a better understanding of your needs. But if you hand over the entire project to a contractor, and you just try to oversee it, you are likely to run into communication problems which will definitely lead to unnecessary costs.

Re:There is Oracle, and Oracle consultants (1)

ERJ (600451) | about 5 months ago | (#45585657)

Baloney...well, mostly baloney. There are times when it makes sense to do things in house and there are times where it very much does not make sense. Why hire full time employees for project management, development, QA, etc for an 12 month project? Does you organization have the expertise to run such an effort? What do you do with everyone once the project is over? Yes, you will want your own technical staff to be part of the process. Yes, it may make sense to do the maintenance / support in house. Yes, you should never do time and materials but instead fixed bid with penalties (this does mean you will need to have a very good spec up front). Yes, you should get several bids and do your homework on the companies providing the bids. However, none of this precludes using an outside contractor.

Re:There is Oracle, and Oracle consultants (2)

i kan reed (749298) | about 5 months ago | (#45585843)

Baloney...well, mostly baloney. There are times when it makes sense to do things in house and there are times where it very much does not make sense. Why hire full time employees for project management, development, QA, etc for an 12 month project?

Yes, because you end up paying for their HR overhead and downtime and hiring/firing expense that the contractor needs anyways. That's before owner profit. It substantially raises the cost while you are working on the project, costs you the value of having developers who understand your organization, and the vast majority of the time you end up needing contractors again for another project shortly.

Yes, you will want your own technical staff to be part of the process. Yes, it may make sense to do the maintenance / support in house. Yes, you should never do time and materials but instead fixed bid with penalties (this does mean you will need to have a very good spec up front). Yes, you should get several bids and do your homework on the companies providing the bids. However, none of this precludes using an outside contractor.

That didn't happen here, and it's not the MO of government privatization. You can make lots of quite plausible arguments for "balanced approaches" and I can't offer certainty of that approach being necessarily wrong.

Re:There is Oracle, and Oracle consultants (1)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about 5 months ago | (#45585669)

When you lack the wherewithal in your own organization to make the project you're planning, you also lack the wherewithal to judge how much time/money/manpower it would take someone else.

I've worked on a project where we had a small team of engineers devoted to doing things our subcontractors were being paid to do. They wouldn't need to make production-ready components, but just enough proof-of-concept work to validate the subcontractors' estimates, and catch their occasional lies.

Re:There is Oracle, and Oracle consultants (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about 5 months ago | (#45585869)

That job sounds like eternal misery made manifest. I hope it wasn't as bad as it sounds.

Re: There is Oracle, and Oracle consultants (5, Funny)

jd2112 (1535857) | about 5 months ago | (#45585045)

It could have been worse.
Imagine what it would be like if it were running SAP.

Re:There is Oracle, and Oracle consultants (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45585053)

Yep, functions much like IBM consulting.

They drop "it does everything product" licenses on managers, then watch with greedy eyes as a boat makes a terrible car, then they begin marching in the consultants.

The next thing you know your company has blown millions of dollars and management won't throw their horrible boat-car away no matter how unfit for actual use it is (we're invested!)

Re:There is Oracle, and Oracle consultants (2)

Kenja (541830) | about 5 months ago | (#45585343)

Indeed. Oracle is a tool. You don't blame the screwdriver if the contractor messes up your kitchen cabinets.

Re:There is Oracle, and Oracle consultants (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | about 5 months ago | (#45585709)

Indeed. Oracle is a tool.

Yes. Oracle is a company, and they are a "tool" in only slightly out of date slang.

You don't blame the screwdriver if the contractor messes up your kitchen cabinets.

Oracle IS the contractor, sweetheart. They are being paid to deliver the CoverOregon website. But my, don't we have such catchy tunes to remind us how great we have it here in Oregon? Long live Oregonians!

The fact is that there will be people who have lost their current coverage because the law won't allow the plan and they won't be able to get signed up in time to prevent a gap. The fact is that the time it takes to get the paperwork (one report was that it took five weeks)*, fill it out (19 pages), and then get it processed (God only knows how long), will result in people not being covered and not meeting the mandated deadlines for being covered. I'm hopeful that the same groups that carefully monitor every death in Iraq and Afghanistan and attribute them all to Bush will carefully monitor any harm this system creates to the US public just as closely and attribute it to the correct source.

* - from here: [gazettetimes.com]

When the online system wouldn't work, George submitted a paper application Oct. 7 for herself and her husband. Finally, on Nov. 12, she received an enrollment packet that tells her how much of a tax credit she'll receive and lays out her coverage options. She's now waiting to meet with her insurance agent to pick a plan and return the forms.

Oct. 7 to Nov 12 to get an enrollment packet. Atrocious. At least this article is honest enough to call them "insurance agents" and not "community partners.".

The Cover Oregon [coveroregon.com] website currently tells people to enroll by December 4th to get coverage by Jan. 1. Today's the 3rd. Five weeks from today will be Jan 7, 2014.

Couldn't happen to... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45584951)

Couldn't happen to a nicer company. Hope your league of lawyers works out for you Oracle! Captcha for this post: Profited.

Big software companies are the worst (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45584955)

In any other context "can't deliver on time" means "you're fired and we're suing for breach of contract." In the software solutions market it means "we're going to ride your sunk cost fallacy into the ground, please send us more money."

Re:Big software companies are the worst (1)

Neuroelectronic (643221) | about 5 months ago | (#45585599)

We're talking about Oracle here, not a Las Vegas strip Casino.

Maybe not such a big difference when you consider the economics of their primary product, and it's "features"...

They deserve it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45584981)

It's not news or a secret that Oracle swindle from big companies and government agencies, almost always an exact amount of 40 million USD and then fucks them up big fucking time.

Of course in each of these agencies and companies, there was an "IT" guy who convinced the management that Oracle was the way to go ... of course for at least 2 million USD off the 40...

Now, it's their mistake to constantly go back to the rapist... and then be sad about the fact that they got raped. Whatever happened to Postgres and a tonne of other awesome solutions that are honest and do a great job!

NOT NEWS! (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 5 months ago | (#45584985)

Welcome to Oracle! This is not news. In fact, welcome to Oracle, IBM, SAP, and Dell. Am I forgetting anyone?

Re:NOT NEWS! (1)

fred911 (83970) | about 5 months ago | (#45585087)

Yes,
  You are forgetting that one of them (hint the German one), generally gets it right.

Re:NOT NEWS! (1)

dkf (304284) | about 5 months ago | (#45585193)

Am I forgetting anyone?

Oh yes, lots of them; there's a large number of big companies willing to provide these sorts of things. But it isn't exactly like you can see any difference between them.

I'd be more likely to recommend getting a smaller firm to provide these sorts of projects, as they're more likely to focus on delivering at least the minimum required. After all, they'll want to be paid on time and will be far more subject to the state's legal system if things go wrong.

Based on my experience (3, Funny)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 5 months ago | (#45584989)

Having only recently started to use Oracle, and based on those experiences, I'm pretty sure that 90% of all cancer cases in the U.S. can be blamed on Oracle.

Re: Based on my experience (3, Funny)

jd2112 (1535857) | about 5 months ago | (#45585113)

Not true. Oracle has not been shown to cause cancer.
On the other hand it is a known contributing factor for alcoholism and depression.

Re:Based on my experience (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45585377)

Having only recently started to use Oracle, and based on those experiences, I'm pretty sure that 90% of all cancer cases in the U.S. can be blamed on Oracle.

Healthcare.gov doesn't use a Oracle database.

Re:Based on my experience (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45585483)

If you give monkey a space ship, the result will be funny building full with monkey shit, not, as you apparently expect, a cosmonaut with space ship.

Blame the contractors (2, Insightful)

HBI (604924) | about 5 months ago | (#45584991)

When the bus is barreling towards you, throw them under it first!

Re:Blame the contractors (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45585285)

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Re:Blame the contractors (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45585301)

When the contractors are actually somewhat responsible, obfuscate away from Oracle's likely (and demonstrated..) culpability...

Re:Blame the contractors (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45585639)

Exactly. No matter what happens, somebody within the organization (government in this case) is ultimately responsible. If the contractor failed, it is ultimately the fault of the person who hired that contractor. If the contractor's subcontractor failed, the end result is the same. If the contractor's subcontractor's subcontractor failed... you get the idea. This is nothing but an incompetent manager trying to divert the blame to a third party.

My team has been talking about this (4, Insightful)

trybywrench (584843) | about 5 months ago | (#45585065)

My team has been talking about healthcare.gov and all the related woes for a while. Pretty much we're all in agreement that we should thank the baby jeebus every day it's not our project haha. Seriously though, for something this complex, if the team grows to over about 15 people it's doomed. And that's just YOUR side, I have a lot of experience interfacing to insurance providers' systems. Half the time the provider you're trying to connect to is broken and doesn't work per their API docs at a basic level let alone have proper capacity let alone have any sense of normal connectivity. I can't even imagine trying to talk to something as huge as the IRS. I bet it's 6 months before you can get a simple spelling fix on an API method pushed out to production.

Re:My team has been talking about this (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45585423)

yep, my employer does business with verizon. i've seen emails where they say that any production change on their end needs a 6 week lead time to test, etc.

people think you just push a button and its fixed, but it never works that way. and the big insurance companies are the same way. they get a change request, expect months of waiting for it to be tested.

the website needed years of dev and testing time

Re:My team has been talking about this (4, Insightful)

mosb1000 (710161) | about 5 months ago | (#45585551)

The thing is they could get it fixed if the people writing the ACA knew what they were doing. First of all, you don't need to meet their API spec, they need to meet yours. Secondly, if they can't meet your spec, they can't offer a health insurance product. How hard is that? But legislators don't even know what an API is, so they wouldn't know a good spec from a cookbook. That's why government agencies often botch this kind of thing (and they aren't the only ones).

Re:My team has been talking about this (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45585583)

Thank you for the much needed laugh

Sounds about right (3, Interesting)

UnknowingFool (672806) | about 5 months ago | (#45585071)

Years ago, Oracle sub-contracted my former company to implement a minor portion of a very large ERP rollout. During the rollout there were huge technical glitches, and the client wasn't happy. It didn't help that my company's small team was telling the much larger Oracle team how to solve their technical problems. In the end, the client put our company in charge of the rollout, and it got done. What we found in other projects with Oracle (we were a Oracle partner) was that our personnel had much deeper expertise with Oracle than members of their own company.

Re:Sounds about right (2)

minstrelmike (1602771) | about 5 months ago | (#45585807)

...What we found in other projects with Oracle (we were a Oracle partner) was that our personnel had much deeper expertise with Oracle than members of their own company.

ditto.
In fact, I think that was one of the main reasons Oracle killed their User Groups--it cut into their consultancy profits. We would provide real training (and criticism and workarounds) for free to each other.

Central Planning (2)

Bulldozer2003 (824009) | about 5 months ago | (#45585091)

Central Planning at its best. What we would consider worse, they consider better.

Re:Central Planning (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45585543)

Actually, this isn't central planning. It's decentralized, with the locus of responsibility and authority being very different. There's no single government department running things, or programming websites, or even providing healthcare plans, but rather a host of providers all interacting in their own way with nobody around to tell them to cut the bullshit.

It's committee operations at their finest.

Why should Oracle bail out these idiots? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45585093)

The wording in this article is so wonderfully worded as to blame Oracle for inexperienced morons usage of the product.

Next, you'll blame the gun manufacturers for suicides as there was proper instructions on which end of the gun to point where.

Did they even test? (1)

macbeth66 (204889) | about 5 months ago | (#45585095)

I doubt they did sufficient testing. The issues they have now, should have come up in testing. Yeah, sometimes unforeseen things happen in production that did not show up in testing, but this goes ways beyond that. The Federal version of this system was, simply put, never tested from end to end. I suspect that is what happened here.

Okay, so that sounded like a defense of Oracle. Well, it ain't. Blame should be placed where it belongs; on the government hacks that put this tragic waste of tax-dollar money into service.

And then I have to ask; why the f*ck are they not using open source?

Re:Did they even test? (2)

dkf (304284) | about 5 months ago | (#45585239)

Blame should be placed where it belongs; on the government hacks that put this tragic waste of tax-dollar money into service.

It Takes Two to Tango. Blame government for having no idea how to procure software, and blame the mega-contractors for doing everything they can to take advantage of this. The right thing to do is to sack some bureaucrats (possibly also politicians, though I'm more inclined to blame others as no politician actively wants a failure on their watch; it makes them look bad) and throw a bunch of corporate scumbags in jail.

It's about how cash-flow (3, Insightful)

scamper_22 (1073470) | about 5 months ago | (#45585119)

Everything seems to swing. But one thing is certain, always follow the money.

This whole 'contracting' affair on both the public and private sector does not produce the highest quality products. Why should it? None of the incentives are there.

The contracting company doesn't want to build something that works without flaws for a minimal profit. They want to have continuing profits. This is not unique to big corporations. Just try dealing with any contractor or mechanic. Sure if you *know* them, you can deal with them honestly somewhat. Or if you pay them enough... and they can cost a lot, you can get an honest deal.

At best, you hope they do a good job and that means you build a good relationship, and that means more business in the future. But of course, when this comes to government contracts, what that natural process means is that it gets called corruption.

On the other hand, you can have the builder operate it. There's some incentive there for them to do a good job as they get a cut of continuing operations. I think there is some hope that the 'cloud' will actually provide for better overall software. Although of course this results in vendor lockin and could potentially cause all kinds of other business problems.

Or you could build it in house. Then of course you run the risk of an overstaffed bureaucracy and unionized government workers.

There's no real easy solution. But I do think the dominant view has swayed too far towards contracting.

LOL ... (3, Informative)

gstoddart (321705) | about 5 months ago | (#45585145)

Oracle has reportedly informed the state that it will sort out the bulk of technical issues by December 16, a day after those paper applications are due.

No matter what you do, you will find yourself in this same position with Oracle.

I've had the misfortune of using their collaboration platform, which despite their claims to the contrary, was essentially a beta product that even they didn't know how to set up and configure.

My experience with Oracle is they consistently over-promise, under-deliver, and over-charge.

If you fall for a scam, who's fault is it? (1)

EMG at MU (1194965) | about 5 months ago | (#45585155)

I think we as a society are wrestling with this question: If an entity with obvious motivations to make money off of you disingenuously provides services or goods that do not meet the original expectations or are vastly inappropriate, whose fault is it?

Examples:
You go to buy a car and the salesman tricks you into buying the "rust proofing" or some other nonsense addon that really doesn't add any value.
You go to buy a used car and the salesman sells you a car that he knows is a POS, that might be lucky to make it another 10000 miles.
You go to bestbuy and buy a $50 6' HDMI cable.
You go online and buy $500 speaker wire because the website said the electrons flow better
You take your car to the shop and the mechanic tells you it will cost $1000 to "calibrate your zener filter".
You ask your Cisco rep for advice on gear for your new expansion office, he sells you $50,000 of enterprise equipment for an office of 10.
Your PC is slow and you click on and pay for the "Speed up your PC by clicking on this button" scam.
You pay GeekSquad to do anything.
You pay for the extended warranty that doesn't actually cover anything extra and contains language that prevents you from making a claim in 99% of cases.
Comcast tells you that you have to get the 50 Mbps service or else you wont have enough bandwidth to facebook with your friends, they actually provide 50Mbps for a split second then you get maybe 10% of your advertised capacity.

I don't think any of the above examples are legally fraud. And I think in most of those examples we have agreed that no matter how much it pisses us off and we know it is unethical, companies have no obligation to not rip you off: buyer beware. The exception I can think of is signing a contract with a SLA or something, which is really rare on the consumer level and it seems really rare for the government to require.

Re:If you fall for a scam, who's fault is it? (5, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | about 5 months ago | (#45585523)

I don't think any of the above examples are legally fraud.

And you can bet that Oracle has lawyers ensuring they never actually meet the legal definition of fraud, and that the contracts have enough wiggle room to cover their asses.

But, I can also tell you that it's entirely common for companies contracting for this kind of thing to start off with the full knowledge that they've not asked for enough money to cover everything and get you a working system -- instead they rely on having to do changes and enhancements on a time and materials basis. And then they make a small fortune in quibbling over every little change.

I've seen several of these kinds of things where the contractors essentially knew there was no way to deliver the system on-time and on-budget. They just seem to build in the fact that once the client realizes it, the sunk cost is high enough they get to have a gravy train for some time to come.

It's not fraud, per se, but it's carefully managing the terms of your engagement with the knowledge the customer will end having to pay more and not really have much of a choice.

Sadly, it almost seems to be standard practice in the industry.

Re:If you fall for a scam, who's fault is it? (1)

EMG at MU (1194965) | about 5 months ago | (#45585803)

I've seen several of these kinds of things where the contractors essentially knew there was no way to deliver the system on-time and on-budget. They just seem to build in the fact that once the client realizes it, the sunk cost is high enough they get to have a gravy train for some time to come.

It's not fraud, per se, but it's carefully managing the terms of your engagement with the knowledge the customer will end having to pay more and not really have much of a choice.

Sadly, it almost seems to be standard practice in the industry.

That's exactly what I'm talking about, I agree completely. I would like more discourse on the troubling fact that disingenuity is prevalent and accepted (and maybe encouraged) in our society and the public, goverment, and other companies are materially victimized by it.

Of course there are always going to be scammers, but when the largest, most profitable, most recognized, and most entrenched players are the ones who exemplify disenguinty and deceit maybe we should ask ourselves what we can do to affect positive change.

Re:If you fall for a scam, who's fault is it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45585559)

Just one more thing:

You DONT pay for extended warranty, and your little device stops working exactly one year later.

mod dOwn (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45585227)

non-fuckinG-exist4nt.

That didn't take long (0)

J'raxis (248192) | about 5 months ago | (#45585303)

I was wondering how long it would take for people to try to shift the blame from the incompetent government to "evil corporations."

Im sure they had their best people from India (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45585369)

on the project from the start. LMBO

Bad Regulations = Bad Specs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45585575)

Government IT projects tend to due poorly because the government regulations that project specifications get built on tend to lead to logical contradictions, and we all know how well programming works for contradictions.

CompareTheHealthcareMarket (1)

taikedz (2782065) | about 5 months ago | (#45585627)

In the UK, there are price comparison website who've been doing this for ages. With no pre-sign-up.

If the US gov asks nicely, maybe they can provide them with a readily designed platform...?

Do Governments.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45585685)

Fed and States, EVER use SLAs?

100% (0)

neminem (561346) | about 5 months ago | (#45585707)

Oracle is to blame for *everything*. I also blame them for global warming, rising unemployment, and the fact that I was 2 minutes late to work today because of traffic. Oracle sucks!

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