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News Analysis

Healthcare.gov website 'didn't have a chance in hell'

The failure rate for software development projects is high generally, particularly large ones like Healthcare.gov, says Standish Group data

October 21, 2013 04:14 PM ET

Computerworld - WASHINGTON -- A majority of large IT projects fail to meet deadlines, are over budget and don't make their users happy. Such is the case with Healthcare.gov.

The U.S. is now racing to fix Healthcare.gov, the Affordability Care Act (ACA) website that launched Oct 1, by bringing in new expertise to fix it.

Healthcare.gov's problems include site availability due to excessive loads, incorrect data recording among other things.

President Barack Obama said Monday that there is "no excuse" for the problems at the site.

But his IT advisors shouldn't be surprised -- the success rate for large, multi-million dollar commercial and government IT projects is very low.

The Standish Group, which has a database of some 50,000 development projects, looked at the outcomes of multimillion dollar development projects and ran the numbers for Computerworld.

Of 3,555 projects from 2003 to 2012 that had labor costs of at least $10 million, only 6.4% were successful. The Standish data showed that 52% of the large projects were "challenged," meaning they were over budget, behind schedule or didn't meet user expectations. The remaining 41.4% were failures -- they were either abandoned or started anew from scratch.

"They didn't have a chance in hell," said Jim Johnson, founder and chairman of Standish, of Healthcare.gov. "There was no way they were going to get this right - they only had a 6% chance," he said.

But Johnson said he does believe the project is fixable, and doesn't see the rollout problems as "life threatening at this point."

The healthcare.gov contractor was initially awarded more than $93 million for the project, but costs have been soaring above that.

Large state and federal government IT projects are notorious for blowing up.

Just last year, the U.S. Air Force said it was scrapping implementation of an ERP project that had already cost it $1 billion.

Earlier project disasters include the FBI's abandonment of a $170 million virtual case initiative, and its decision to start over with a new project that cost $425 million. Also, the U.S. Census Dept.'s automation efforts became a boondoggle, with big cost overruns. An Orange County, Calif., tax system modernization project that began with 6,000 pages of specifications was declared "fatally flawed" this year.

Large commercial IT projects face the same problems. Even the just released Windows 8.1 release is has been hit with problems.

Software development experts and analysts point to multiple issues as the potential cause of such problems.

The "most dangerous" of all failure points for a software development project is the "big bang" release, the approach the government took by releasing the ACA site on Oct. 1 release, said Johnson.



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