A Botched Opportunity for Obamacare

 | Oct 30, 2013 | 1:39 PM EDT  | Comments
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Look, I don't know who is at fault for this disaster of a website that's meant to be the portal to the crowning achievement of President Obama's administration, the Affordable Care Act. I don't know if Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, is totally at fault, even as she told Congress today, "Hold me accountable."

Nevertheless, if that's the case, than how can you not fall on your sword and quit this very red-hot minute? To hold Sibelius accountable for this travesty is to fire her immediately. Even Michael Brown knew to resign from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after he botched the federal government's handling of the Hurricane Katrina tragedy. We don't know if Brownie really resigned on his own accord or if he was pushed out by President Bush, but at least he vanished, and that's not a bad idea for Sebelius to at least mull over or perhaps act on.

I don't know if CGI (GIB), the gigantic Canadian concern that powered the website, knew what it was doing when it set up this ridiculous excuse for an interface between the government and its people. Nor do I want to blame Verizon (VZ) for a big portion of the failure here, as  Sebelius did today, implying that Verizon's hosting abilities were less than stellar. Verizon thrown right under the bus. Well done.

However, I can tell you how I would have done this, and made the president proud, given that this is his signature program, instead of giving the Republicans all the ammunition they need to wipe the program out in 2014. It's ironic, isn't it? The Republicans could have just said, "Look, this whole thing is going to fall on its own darned weight -- we don't need to protest now that it's passed." Had they done that, I think they would have been heroes to the American people.

First, I would not have given this contract to a Canadian information-technology company. Why not give it to a U.S. company simply given that, alas, this is the U.S.? Have some pride in our American companies, for heaven's sake. I wonder if the people at IBM (IBM), for example, are cracking up about how CGI, the fifth-largest information-technology company in the world, could have gotten this contract and screwed it up so badly.

I am surprised -- and I say this facetiously -- that the U.S. government didn't give the work to SAP (SAP) and Infosys. If you are going out of town and offshore, why not go all the way off the darned continent and give it to SAP, located in the heart of scenic Walldorf, Germany? Or why not give it to Infosys, in good old Bangalore, India? At least SAP is run by Bill McDermott, an American, and I think that company would have never performed as poorly as this CGI.

Nope, I would have stayed in the country and approached the whole thing differently from the way Sebelius has done. You see, this isn't and was never an information-technology initiative, and it should never have been given to an information-technology company.

It was a customer-relations-management project -- and if there's a real issue here with Sibelius and her crew, it was their failure to recognize that this whole website was about the client, the citizen of the United States, and not at all about the healthcare system.

I would have given this entire contract to Salesforce.com (CRM) and told CEO Marc Benioff to make sure that the customer gets all the help he or she needs to figure out how to choose the right healthcare plan. I bet Benioff could have put together an all-star team of companies to make this work, perhaps Google (GOOG) to answer queries and Apple (AAPL) itself to develop the cleanest app and Amazon (AMZN) to deliver a hard copy with instructions if you didn't know how to use a computer. The actual implementation? The dream team could have figured that out, too, maybe working with a company such as Athenahealth (ATHN) or Cerner (CERN), some company with a superb background in medical records.

This was a moment for American companies to shine, and instead it's been about a Canadian company struggling to make things right. Sadly and shamefully, I think the moment has now passed, a victim of inept execution and a failure of imagination -- the imagination required to realize that the customer is always right and the relationship had needed to be managed in the cheapest, best and most efficient way possible. That is exactly what these U.S.-based companies can do better than any other enterprises in the world.

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