The Post I Wish I’d Written

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It’s childish, I realize, but the four words “I told you so” are probably my favorite in the English language (particularly when used in that order; “you I so told” doesn’t have the same ring). I typically hit upon a topic for the blog out of thin air, and I act upon it, but a couple of months ago, when it occurred to me to predict that ObamaCare web site would be a complete disaster, I let the opportunity pass.

My prediction wasn’t based on politics. Instead, it was based on my own (albeit limited) experience with computer projects. The one in particular I had in mind was the Investor Toolbox, which my company, Prophet, created for Investools after they bought us.


Prophet had created its own web site already, for which we had received a number of awards from the likes of Barron’s, Forbes, and Technical Analysis magazine. Investools wanted us to create an entirely new web site, however, packaging not only what we had created (such as ProphetCharts and MarketMatrix) but also their own fundamental data tools.

We were up to the task, but the CEO of Investools took the “belt and suspenders” approach and got us some adult supervision in the form of IBM. I was told the firm would be paying IBM a total of $2 million to help with the project. I was stunned at this, because we didn’t ask for the help, we didn’t need the help, and I certainly thought the company’s money might be better used elsewhere.

Well, I won’t bore you with the details of what transpired over many months. I had never worked with outside consultants before, but I quickly found out that, in my opinion, at least, they had no idea what they were doing. After all, if you were superb with computers, you would go work for some cool startup, right? The people that elect to be hired guns for IBM aren’t exact the luminaries of the field.

One particular, very tiny, anecdote sticks with me. They were showing their “wireframe” designs for the site (a term I didn’t know, but basically meant to describe some lame-ass drawings of the forthcoming site). There was a large “Home” button taking up precious real estate, and I told them to get rid of it, since a user could just click on the company logo in the upper-left corner to get to the home page.

This was met with a giant “huh?” Apparently none of these geniuses knew that the “Home” button 1118-jobsibmhad kind of gone the way of Alta Vista, and any web site in the oh-so-modern age of 2006 would clearly send a person to the home page if he just clicked on the main logo (which was typically the corporate logo). I mean: duh. But it was Big News to Big Blue.

The $2 million was plowed through quickly enough (and I felt the “help” not only didn’t help us, but actually slowed us down substantially) and the big cheese at IBM kept suggesting we “augment” the project, which was his word for getting Investools to throw even more money into this mess.

In the end, I think we wound up using precisely zero lines of their code. The takeaway from all those millions was a really, really thick binder of notes and designs and other useless crap. It made an excellent monitor stand.

But remember, we’re talking about a teeny, tiny, twenty person company with a relatively teeny, tiny budget of $2 million to blow on computer consultants. Something like the ObamaCare web site involves God knows how many different vendors, managers, layers of management, privacy regulations, contingencies, and so forth. What they had was a project that was several orders of magnitude larger in terms of inefficiencies, conflicts, and opportunities for screwing up.

1118-clusterWell, they got all those, and in spades. From all reports, the entire ACA is an unmitigated disaster, and even with the government lying through its teeth about signups (including the sickening reality that they report “signups” even for people who haven’t bothered paying a penny of their premium), the net number of Americans with health insurance now versus before is in the negative of millions of people. In other words, the government has, once again, shot itself in the foot with a shotgun.

So it was a no-brainer to predict the healthcare website would be a debacle on the highest order. If they had rolled it out on October 1st flawlessly (the way a scrappy 10-person outfit with kickass programmers would have), well, that would be have the real surprise.