IT expert John Engates: Obamacare glitches won’t be repeated

John Engates

John Engates

John Egan

John Engates – an early, vocal and high-profile critic of the online rollout of Obamacare – now says federal officials and tech contractors appear to have found the prescription for fixing the website.

“They have learned a lot and will unlikely repeat the same mistakes on this project,” says Engates, chief technology officer at San Antonio-based Rackspace, an IT hosting company with a major presence in Austin.

On Nov. 25, shortly before Thanksgiving, Engates got an up-close look at efforts to repair the Obamacare website. Based on his visit to the under-wraps Obamacare “command center” in suburban Maryland and his attendance at an invitation-only White House briefing, Engates says he felt confident that the website’s bugs would be fixed by the White House-imposed deadline of Dec. 1.

For its part, the White House proclaimed Dec. 1 that the site would run smoothly for the “vast majority” of visitors, although hiccups still were being reported Dec. 2.

‘Finger pointing is over’

“The site is at a stage where a lot of the initial embarrassment is behind its designers and managers. The finger pointing is over — at least inside the Administration and among the contractors,” Engates wrote Nov. 26 on the Rackspace blog.

Engates, an internationally recognized expert on cloud computing, says he’d be surprised if major problems cropped up again with the Obamacare website.

“They will undoubtedly continue to work on the site and make improvements,” he says. “They will replace technology, contractors and vendors that aren’t up to the task, and they will certainly do more testing to guarantee … performance going forward.”

From the outset, the Obamacare website faced several hurdles, Engates says. Chief among them, some critics say, was the bungling of the website launch by contractor CGI Federal.

Engates says that “the site was put together by well-intentioned people who are good at winning government contracts but not necessarily building highly scalable e-commerce web applications.”

Another challenge: Federal workers and outside contractors had little time to complete the website, let alone test it, Engates says.

In the spotlight

Media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, CNN and InformationWeek have quoted Engates extensively about the Obamacare website debacle. In a sense, Engates became an overnight star among critics of Obamacare’s technical glitches.

“It’s been great to be a resource to the American people around such an important initiative,” Engates says. “Most people understand that we (Rackspace) come from a technology background, and we have no agenda. We just want to be a resource based on our own experiences helping our customers build these types of applications.”

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