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How Much Is Oracle To Blame For Healthcare IT Woes? 275

Posted by timothy
from the called-larry-ellison dept.
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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How Much Is Oracle To Blame For Healthcare IT Woes?

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  • What a joke (Score:5, Funny)

    by Murdoch5 (1563847) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @12:37PM (#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 ...
    • by unixisc (2429386)
      They should have contracted the FSF to build this whole system - and put it under AGPL3
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by TWiTfan (2887093)

      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 (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MightyMartian (840721) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @01:32PM (#45585595) Journal

        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.

        • by TWiTfan (2887093)

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

        • 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.

          Mostly functioning.

          And with security like a sieve.

          Those two extras are what make the difference between overnight delivery and something that can stand up to real-world stresses.

      • by Murdoch5 (1563847)
        Actually it would of turned out better, it's so far been the biggest failure in website history.
    • by happy_place (632005) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @06:24PM (#45589491) Homepage

      Well there's the problem right there... they only paid 43 Million dollars. I think that's enough to buy one license of Oracle DB... for maybe a week or so...

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @12:38PM (#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.

    • 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 (Score:4, Insightful)

        by SuperKendall (25149) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @12:46PM (#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 (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @01:07PM (#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).

          • 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

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

              by Obfuscant (592200) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @01:51PM (#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".

              • by jedidiah (1196)

                It's like that shopping site thrown together in a couple of days by 3 guys. You don't put all of this together all at once as one big monolithic piece. You put it together in stages as discrete components.

                Parts of both websites could have been functional on time due to priorities set when milestones were missed.

                Having something to present and taking responsibility for missing the deadline on the rest likely would have been seen as much less of a debacle.

                "mostly working" is not bad when compared to "total cl

        • 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 (Score:5, Interesting)

            by sbjornda (199447) <sbjorndaNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @02:13PM (#45586241)

            The Oracle Identity Manager appeared to be rolled out with default settings

            Rumour within my organisation is that Oracle themselves have admitted to our architects that they don't know how their own Identity Management suite really works. They advised us to hire a systems integrator that had worked with all the pieces prior to Oracle's acquiring them.

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

          by Will.Woodhull (1038600) <wwoodhull@gmail.com> on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @01:51PM (#45585889) Homepage Journal

          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: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            And if Oracle was open and above board

            Well it wouldn't be Oracle then, would it?

      • by mlts (1038732) *

        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

        • by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @01:14PM (#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.

        • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @01:26PM (#45585533) Homepage

          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.

          • by mlts (1038732) *

            Please enlighten me:

            Can you cite me a working use case of MarkLogic, or any NoSQL database being used for something other than "disposable" data (search engine indexes for example) which transaction integrity is not an issue? Especially in the medical field where loss of records can mean very large civil and criminal actions.

            NoSQL has its uses because it plays fast and loose with ACID, allows the application to have more control of things, and is good for large writes. However, medical data isn't somethin

            • by Sarten-X (1102295)

              Yes, I can, but I won't say the name, because I've personally worked on a NoSQL system for medical data. In our case, we explicitly chose to drop ACID support, because we needed the faster and cheaper write speed, which outpaced RDBMS alternatives tenfold on the same hardware. Since we were building statistics, any occasional loss of records was not in any way a liability. Later on in the project, ACID support was enabled, once we had completed our initial load and the write rate had dropped from a few bill

        • by sandbagger (654585) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @01:26PM (#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.

        • 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 a

        • by kilodelta (843627)
          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. Ima
        • by PapayaSF (721268)

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

          But look at this diagram. [nrcc.org] Healthcare.gov was supposed to exchange data with the IRS, Social Security, Homeland Security, the Treasury, and HHS. Plus all the carriers. Plus 50 state Medicaid systems. In realtime. Securely. I'm no expert, but my understanding is that hooking up pre-existing databases in this way is very, very hard. When we are told that 30-40% of the backend of Healthcare.gov is not yet built, I think this is what they are referring to.

          (And yes, I know this diagram is hosted on a Republican

          • by mlts (1038732) *

            I'm definitely not belittling the work it takes to make such an undertaking, but one can compare the ACA website to the US NCIC database that every LEO uses from Interpol down to the country dogcatcher.

            The NCIC database has as much, if not more communication, be it to private companies, to government agencies, to international entities (other nation LEO/intel service), down to the comic strip posted where people get $5 off if they successfuly match five people's pictures to the crimes they did.

            I agree -- th

      • by MachineShedFred (621896) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @01:32PM (#45585601) Journal

        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.

        • by HiThere (15173)

          Possibly Oregon is so bad at IT that they don't deserve any credit, but it's also true that Oracle is so untrustworthy that they don't deserve any slack either. So if Oregon says that Oracle didn't live up tot he contract, I have no difficulty in believing them. (Perhaps Oregon is lousy at contract administration? That would meet both of our expectations.)

    • by thaylin (555395)
      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.
      • 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.

        • by thaylin (555395)
          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.
        • 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

    • by FacePlant (19134) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @12:48PM (#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.

      • 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.
        • by Zalbik (308903)

          Or you could, you know, explain to the client why it's the wrong thing to build, with relevant data to support your argument. And be open to the possibility that (gasp!) you may be wrong, and it is in fact the right thing to build.

          But it's much easier for many developers to go stick their head in the sand, madly code a project they know is doomed, then whine to slashdot about their pointy-haired bosses when things don't work out.

          However, to get back on topic....yes, it was Oracle's fault. As the sole ove

      • Part of delivering [ s/a working/is/ ] 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.

        Exactly. The contracting officers and the Oracle lawyers managing the contract knew of the problem, for Oracle does not put inexperienced persons in these positions. I think there would also have been red flags raised in the bookkeeping of this contract, so I think a Chief Accountant would also have known of the problem. There would have to have been a conspiracy among several corporate officials for Oracle to have continued to work on what it knew would be a failure.

    • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdo ... g ['ish' in gap]> on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @12:59PM (#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)?

    • by Monoman (8745)

      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.

    • by strength_of_10_men (967050) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @01:20PM (#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.

    • by Nyder (754090)

      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

    • 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 don

  • by sandbagger (654585) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @12:39PM (#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.'

    • by i kan reed (749298) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @12:46PM (#45585019) Homepage Journal

      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.

      • Amen!
      • by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @01:22PM (#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.

      • by ERJ (600451)
        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. Y
        • 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 plausibl

        • 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.

          The US government actually has a number of internal contractors, dev shops filled with federal employees that contract out to other agencies. I used to work for one, and despite the monumental amount of red tape we had to slog through to do our jobs, we had a reputation for finishing projects with a low budget and in a timely fashion. At one point we had a number of lobbyists trying to get congress to shut us down because we were taking contracts away from private companies that failed to deliver on their

      • by Sarten-X (1102295)

        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.

    • by jd2112 (1535857) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @12:48PM (#45585045)
      It could have been worse.
      Imagine what it would be like if it were running SAP.
    • by Kenja (541830)
      Indeed. Oracle is a tool. You don't blame the screwdriver if the contractor messes up your kitchen cabinets.
      • by Obfuscant (592200)

        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 t

      • by ancientt (569920)

        Actually made me laugh out loud. Then I wondered if your humor was intentional or not.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @12:42PM (#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."

  • Welcome to Oracle! This is not news. In fact, welcome to Oracle, IBM, SAP, and Dell. Am I forgetting anyone?
    • by fred911 (83970)

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

    • by dkf (304284)

      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.

      • We had a company down the street do our 2 new server builds and setup and conversion and it was 1/4th the cost of a huge one further down the street which was like 1/2 what Cisco wanted. It was about 95% correct so that's pretty good actually. At my other job, I run a computer repair place that also does custom builds and for 20 PCs for a new business branch or something, I give 10 year useable life rated PCs for lower than Dell's prices and nobody can even touch my installation onsite labor charges. That
  • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @12:44PM (#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.

  • by HBI (604924) <kparadine@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @12:45PM (#45584991) Homepage Journal

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

  • by trybywrench (584843) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @12:50PM (#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.
    • by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @01:28PM (#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).

      • by Voyager529 (1363959) <voyager529.yahoo@com> on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @01:53PM (#45585903)

        But legislators don't even know what an API is, so they wouldn't know a good spec from a cookbook.

        Especially since they would both be called "To Serve Man".

      • "First of all, you don't need to meet their API spec, they need to meet yours." You're assuming so much in that sentence though. I've had conversations with health insurance companies where when I explain their systems are completely out of compliance with the protocol specification ( NCPDP 5.1 in this case) and talking to their system requires a whole other layer of abstraction just to transform a proper NCPDP 5.1 transmission into their broken implementation their response is literally "so?". When I ask
  • Sounds about right (Score:4, Interesting)

    by UnknowingFool (672806) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @12:50PM (#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.
    • ...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 at its best. What we would consider worse, they consider better.
  • 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 mo

    • by dkf (304284)

      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.

  • by scamper_22 (1073470) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @12:52PM (#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.

  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @12:53PM (#45585127)

    They're unbreakable, after all.

  • LOL ... (Score:4, Informative)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @12:54PM (#45585145) Homepage

    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.

  • 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 luck
    • by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @01:25PM (#45585523) Homepage

      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.

      • 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 p

    • 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 challenge in many of these instances is knowing, at what point, the sales rep is lying. Yes, you can go to Best Buy and buy a $50 HDMI cable. Even if it's the least expensive one they carry, it doesn't mean that they lied to you by not carrying a $5 or $10 cable. If the "speed up your pc by clicking this button" thing is attempted, and it doesn't speed up the computer, what's the difference between that button not working on that particular machine (but has worked on others), vs. a generally-well-meanin

    • by plopez (54068) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @04:01PM (#45587499) Journal

      Though to me it seems that if you sold used cars like you sold software you would go to prison. If you sold real estate like you sold software you would go to prison.
      As in:
      "Hey buddy. I'll sell you a car. Sort of like the ones on the lot, but different and better. No not in stock yet be can have real soon. We'll need some money up front. Should have it in a few days. Thanks for the cash. But we've been having some problems at the auctions. It turns out we have to hire someone to go to the auctions. To do that we'll need a bit more cash. Great news we got a great car for you! But we need to ship it. We don't want to risk damaging it. We'll need a little more cash. Darn, we forgot about the shipping insurance but hey, you already own the car so we might as well get it here. Thanks for the cash. Great news it's here! Try it out. What, it's a right hand drive? You didn't specify, sorry we didn't ask. But there are kits we can install for just a few bucks more. If you want to we can subscribe you to upgrades and maintenance for a small fee. And check out those nice new floor mats! Oh, sorry, we didn't realize it was only running on 7 cylinders. But hey, we can fix it. Sorry, the warranty doesn't cover that but we will throw in a free tank of gas. Thanks and if you tell everyone how great we are we will throw in an extra year of maintenance for free!"

      Software companies are below the slimiest of used car salesmen.

  • The full US healthcare system is a mess just from rules / billing / pricing stand point.

    http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2136864,00.html [time.com]

  • by korbulon (2792438) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @02:07PM (#45586147)
    Should change their name to Treacle.

"Though a program be but three lines long, someday it will have to be maintained." -- The Tao of Programming

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