Everyone’s talking about Healthcare.gov not working. Are legacy mainframe systems to blame?
A recent post in Talking Points Memo raised an interesting point. While everyone is complaining about Healthcare.gov not working, no one is bringing up what could be at the root of all the trouble: Legacy mainframe systems. Here’s an interesting quote from the article.
The Healthcare.gov site itself is just like a server in a restaurant. The server may be the main point of interaction you have — bringing you menus, taking your order, and bringing you food – but without the kitchen, there’s no meal. And yet when a kitchen messes up and can’t get food out, the server often unfairly gets blamed. And it doesn’t matter if you have the best waiter in town if the kitchen can’t get its act together.
Healthcare.gov is basically just showing you your menu of insurance options, taking your order for insurance, and bringing everything back to you when the order is complete. In tech terms, it’s just the front end. All the heavy lifting takes place on the back end, when the website passes your data to an extremely complex array of systems that span multiple agencies (like so many cooks in a kitchen). A central processing hub needs to get data from each of these systems to successfully serve a user and sign up for insurance. And if one of these systems — several of which are very old in IT terms– has a glitch and can’t complete the task, the entire operation fails for that user. Only if everything works perfectly, and the data gets passed back to the website, does the user have a good experience with Healthcare.gov.
This concept is often central to our customers and their enterprise systems. We’ve seen it in other parts of the US government, such as the US Department of Energy. “We’re currently working with the US Department of Agriculture to solve similar challenges,” says John Regan, Modern Systems’ Vice President of Delivery. “The clock is ticking on legacy systems such as the Z operating system, IMS, and others. The world is moving forward all around us. Having disparate, closed systems that only grant direct and robust access to only small subsets of data simply isn’t sustainable.”
“Most of our customers will tell you, getting off the mainframe or doing something drastic isn’t the answer either,” adds Regan. “In most cases, legacy systems are highly transactional and depend on regular access to sensitive data. So they can’t stop or experience temporary downtime as the result of a failed migration or modernization effort.”
So what is there to do?
We’ve been working on some interesting ways to solve this problem in a minimally invasive way. Ideas like data replication from legacy mainframe systems to modern Oracle, DB2, or SQL Server databases.
As always, we’d love to hear from our readers. Are any of you following this story, or experiencing these challenges in your environment?