What We Learned from the Failed Launch of Healthcare.gov

“Trying to change tires while the car is in motion.” That’s how at least one tech strategist described the mad scramble to fix the Obamacare site after one of the worst high-profile launches ever. And with the hard fought fight to even get the legislation passed, it was a launch the government couldn’t afford to get wrong. And yet, they did.


So what did website designers and the like learn from this debacle? Plenty as it turns out. And they’re lessons every designer, site manager and tech security professional should take to heart.

  • Launch clean or don’t launch at all. Testimony given by the contractors who built healthcare.gov—CGI Federal and Quality Software Services Inc.—indicated that they didn’t have enough time to fully test the site, and they hadn’t anticipated the number of people who would attempt to sign up on the first day. So scalability, or being able to handle any number of site visitors at any one time, should always be one of the first things a developer considers.
  • If you’re going to have a registration system, make sure it works. In the case of healthcare.gov, the registration system was never configured to handle the scale of the site; experts equate it to having a store with a broken front door.
  • Communication is key. It seems there was a serious lack of understanding between the developers of the site—who admit they foresaw problems prior to launch—and the government, who wanted the site up and running on schedule. But in the case of healthcare.gov, the virtual data-center environment, database system as well as the hardware and software were simply overwhelmed.

No doubt the blame game and finger pointing will go on for some time, with the government and the contractors promising the site will get better. But everyone should have taken cues from any decent website designer out there who likely wouldn’t have allowed a site so fraught with problems go live.

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