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Thoughts on Transit

Technical Challenges: Selling Transit Solutions vs. Implementing Them

by Ecolane / December 31, 2015

On October 1, 2013 the US government launched the HealthCare.gov website. The much talked-about website is the public-facing portal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare). As controversial as the program may have been, the rollout of the website received even greater criticism and was marred by several VERY public glitches, slowdowns and failures.

Now, in hindsight, we can look at what went wrong, how it might've been avoided, and what lessons we can take away and apply to transit software implementation.


After the patient protection and affordable care act was signed into law in 2010, the contract to develop the site was awarded to two private firms: CGI Federal Inc. and QSSI. CGI Federal Inc. is a subsidiary of a Canadian IT firm for the front end, and QSSI was responsible for the back office which took care of verification of personal and financial information as well as the determination of the consumer’s eligibility. The greatest number of problems stemmed from the front end.

As soon as it launched, users experienced many difficulties. It is estimated that only 1% of the people who were interested in enrolling were able to do so during the first week. And out of those that were successful, many of their applications were lacking required information.

Fallout from the Poor Performance

During the days and weeks that followed the launch of the website, the user experience had not greatly improved. The site, which held a great deal of expectation for the Obama administration, instead became a source of embarrassment. The deadline for application had to be extended by over three months as a result. Meanwhile, officials could only reiterate that more time was needed to get the website working properly.

Up to this point, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) had been acting as the coordinator for the project. The administration soon replaced them with QSSI to fill that role. By January, Accenture was chosen to replace CGI Federal Inc. as the lead contractor on the project.

How Did It Happen?

As the problems were taking place, the media buzzed with speculation about how this could have happened. Earlier in 2015, however, an investigation published by the office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services provided some greater insight into what went wrong.

The investigation found that the federal government failed to follow its rules for awarding contracts and did not sufficiently probe the past performance of CGI Federal Inc. The agreement also left the federal government at a disadvantage by leaving them on the hook for whatever costs may be needed for the contractors to complete their work. As a result, several of these contracts ballooned to two or three times their initial estimate. The report stated that the value of CGI's contract rose from $58 million to $207 million.

The report also points the finger at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for poor oversight and for lacking the necessary infrastructure to manage such a project.

Lessons Learned

Although it's clear that many factors conspired to create the failed launch of the website, there are also many steps that could have been taken to avoid such a costly and embarrassing calamity.

Clearly, CMS, as the body tapped to coordinate the process, should have been better equipped to complete the task. The scope of work to be done was changed several times as work progressed, pointing to poor organization and a lack of understanding of the project parameters.

Perhaps the most important lesson to be found here pertains to how the contracts were awarded; by not doing their complete due diligence, the federal government appears to have awarded the contract to a provider that was not capable of delivering the goods. It seems that the contractors chosen possessed greater skills at securing large government contracts through an excellent sales-pitch than those necessary for an effective launch.

These are all important key points to keep in mind when shopping for a provider of transit solutions. Ecolane has a proven track record of delivering on the required work, on time. The bulk of our energy is focused on the task and differentiating ourselves on implementation and change management, and NOT on landing large, lucrative contracts without the ability to deliver.

It’s important not to be fooled by a good sales-pitch – when mission-critical applications are involved, it should be more about implementation and less about how it is marketed.


Tags: Transit Operations

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