ITSM Project Lessons from Obamacare’s Failure to Launch

By Dick Stark

CGI Federal recently found itself in a place most companies hope they never appear: the front page of the Washington Post. In that article, senior VP Cheryl Campbell pointed fingers saying that CGI gave the government ample warning that the web site was not ready for prime time.  And a short time later, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius found herself on the front page of the Washington Post. She testified, “hold me accountable for the debacle.  I’m responsible.” While spending $100M on a website that still doesn’t work may not be fathomable to the kind of ITSM work that we get involved with, there are several lessons that we can apply to our much smaller ITSM projects.

The right architectural design matters. Although little is known publicly about why and how the web site continues to crash, a likely scenario is that the site was not designed properly to begin with. Either there was not enough attention paid to potential loads, or there was not enough redundancy built into the system in the first place. (If no fault can be attributed to the design, then  software glitches and inadequate testing are the next whipping boys.) Of course, situations sometimes occur that have never been experienced before. For example, RightStar has been involved in two enterprise sized Asset Core deployments that stretched the limits of the product design. The result is potential product redesign in order to fully restore service.

When something goes wrong address it quickly and honestly. No one likes surprises and it important to make sure the customer gets regular updates throughout the project.  Wouldn’t it have been better to announce that the go-live date must be pushed back, than to attempt and fail? The damage is done and trust will be difficult to regain.

Bigger is not always better.  Years ago, the mantra for success was, “you can never get fired for selecting IBM.” It still rings true today, although IBM has been supplemented by IT behemoths Cisco, Oracle, Google, and Microsoft. Even with a nearly unlimited budget, CGI still was not able to complete the job on time. Again, it is hard to imagine that the government that got us to the moon in such a short time, can’t deliver a website in two years. The size and complexity of the site, along with the on-the-fly design changes undoubtedly contributed to the delays.

Ensure that delivering the right solution is balanced with customer satisfaction. It is likely that HHS thought they knew what they wanted and insisted that CGI give it to them.  We know from experience that giving customers what they want is often not the best thing to do.  We’ve learned the hard way:

  • The customer could be wrong, yet we still get the blame.
  • It’s important to understand the problem we’re solving and how success will be measured.

Our customers must trust that our intent is compatible with their best interest and that we have the experience to design and deliver a solution that meets their needs. While we won’t be delivering health care websites any time soon, we will continue to provide high quality ITSM solutions.  We must focus on what our customers actually need, not on what they think they need.

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About dick1stark

I am the President, CEO, and founder of RightStar Systems, a leading IT consultancy and BMC Software Solution Provider and Atlassian Expert Partner. My passion is customer success—whether it’s reducing the cost of service management, improving overall efficiency, or increasing end-user or employee satisfaction. Since founding RightStar in 2003, RightStar has made the INC 5000 list four times. In 2011, RightStar was awarded the prestigious National Capital Business Ethics Award (NCBEA) by the Society of Financial Service Professionals based upon RightStar’s foundation of honesty, ethics, and integrity. And in 2014, RightStar was selected by Forrester Research as one of 13 North American companies profiled in its ITSM Consultancy Wave Report. Finally, in 2016, BMC selected RightStar as its 2015 Supplier of the Year for its consulting partnership and excellence in service delivery. Dick is a graduate of Stanford University and a Project Management Professional (PMP).
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