Rethink Commerce Blog

Obamacare and Online Launches

Posted on October 2nd, 2013 by

As many of you may be aware, yesterday (Oct 1) was the first day of Obamacare in action for most US citizens – they ability to explore public healthcare plans on health exchanges. And it didn’t go very well, prompting President Obama to compare this with the iOS7 launch.

From my experience in the software industry, there are three elements that one needs to plan for in launching new online services: performance, functionality and security. In that order.

One, plan for performance.

When you think about an online business, it is difficult to predict demand in most cases, especially when you are just starting off. However, with over 30MM citizens being targeted by this program in the US, it is anticipated that over 10MM citizens tried to access the exchanges and crashed the servers due to an overload. Meaning, the need for demand was clear.

With several cloud-based options from commerce providers such as ourselves, or if one is going bare-metal, with Infrastructure-as-a-service providers such as AWS could have provided the scaling option easily. It’s unclear why this couldn’t have been anticipated from a design standpoint.

Two, plan for functionality enhancements – rapidly.

The next step and media reports will inevitably be how lacking the healthcare exchange is in functionality. People will complain that this does not have adequate features, ability to sort out their plans with ease, usability issues, ADA compliance and the rest. That is a natural consequence of a lot of customers looking at the application, which was previously not available.

A better approach is to clearly segment users, identify a beta program, and do A/B testing to split traffic upfront. That way, you get better information ahead of the launch, during the launch, and are able to prioritize better after the launch.

Three, plan for security.

The next step will be a scandal that breaks out either because the data security was found lacking, or the wrong people got access to the wrong information or that the right people couldn’t get access to the right information. Information security design will be tested here with any high traffic website simply because the application is accessible, and working.

The approach here is to simulate load with any of the cloud services, get early feedback from beta users and try to head it off. Not that you will be be to catch all issues, but can avoid the most embarrassing ones.

President Obama said “I don’t remember anybody suggesting Apple should stop selling iPhones or iPads or threatening to shut down the company if they didn’t“; well perhaps not Apple but in the online world that does happen where the customers vote with their browsers and head over to a competitor who has figured out these items, and has planned for these items.

Bottomline: performance, functionality and security issues are an evolution toward market acceptance. Smart companies will see this as such and plan their market approach accordingly.

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Raj Badarinath

VP, WW Product Marketing and Alliances

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