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8/11/2014
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Oracle Fires Back: Oregon Obamacare Exchange

In a lawsuit against the state, Oracle claims it is the victim of a smear campaign designed to obscure the state's project management failures.

often duplication of effort and rework. That dysfunction endured throughout the project. As late as mid-September 2013 -- just two weeks before the start of the federally mandated open-enrollment period -- Maximus issued a report in which it observed that the overall "business transformation/integration between OHA and CO is not being tracked like a formal project. Typically a project of this size would have specific governance reporting, charter, scope, tasks, milestones, deliverables, and deadlines for the interagency work that is to be accomplished both operationally and technically." The risk Maximus identified that flowed from this was that Cover Oregon could not be sure that the project would be implemented in the expected timeframe.

State officials also seemed incapable of defining requirements for the project and sticking to them, or even understanding that it had taken on that responsibility, according to Oracle. In May 2013, Cover Oregon's then-executive director, Rodney King, acknowledged the need for better definition of requirements -- and asked Oracle to nail them down, according to the filing. "This request was an extraordinary one: Cover Oregon was the owner of the project and therefore responsible for making decisions about what the exchange would and would not do. The parties' contracts made it abundantly clear that Oracle had no role in establishing the functional requirements for the exchange, and Cover Oregon should have finalized them long before May 2013."

Yet Oracle says that, in mid-July, a little more than two months before the planned launch of the Oregon exchange, it made a presentation to the state saying that the continued lack of complete requirements was preventing it from performing end-to-end testing on the system. Further change requirements were still creeping into the project as little as two weeks before the planned launch, Oracle says.

In addition to changing requirements, Oracle says the project was subverted by a lack of project discipline in changes to the actual code. "Oracle software developers found themselves asked to perform on-the-spot code changes to meet ad hoc requests from Cover Oregon employees (a phenomenon Cover Oregon's chief technology officer himself acknowledged was 'short-circuiting our processes'), and at least one Cover Oregon employee attempted to implement his own changes to otherwise final code," according to the filing. Actually, Oracle points a finger at Cover Oregon CTO Reynolds Garrett himself, quoting from an email exchange between him and Oracle's chief corporate architect, Edward Screven.

"Oracle employees on site in Durham report that in a meeting today you stated that you now have Siebel Administrator privilege, and you have used that privilege to directly make environment and application changes to the production environment," Screven wrote. "Is this correct?" He went on to emphasize the need to follow an agreed-upon change management procedure, emphasizing the degree of expertise required to reconfigure the system and the danger that even experts can make mistakes.

Garrett testily replied: "I thought Cover Oregon paid for and owned the system...."

Oracle said that exchange was typical of the working relationship with state officials.

Yet Oracle seemed to take the side of state officials in another section of the filing, saying that they had also been unfairly scapegoated by the governor in his search for someone to blame. "The failure to deliver a working citizen self-service portal on October 1, 2013 was a political embarrassment for Governor Kitzhaber, who immediately looked for places to lay the blame. Among those who have lost their jobs at OHA or Cover Oregon over this project are Carolyn Lawson, OHA's chief information officer; Rocky King, Cover Oregon's executive director; Bruce Goldberg, Cover Oregon's iInterim executive director; Aaron Karjala, Cover Oregon's chief technology officer; and Triz delaRosa, Cover Oregon's chief operating officer. Carolyn Lawson was the first to go, and after destroying her professional reputation, the Governor quickly turned his sights on Oracle, and he set out systematically to vilify the company in the media."

Noting that Lawson "refused to accept her scapegoating quietly," Oracle quotes from a section of her own legal filing against the state in which she claims she was pressured into resigning by state officials who warned, "Somebody has to be held to blame for this -- it's going to be Rocky [King], or it's going to be Oracle, or it's going to be you. We want it to be Oracle, but it can be you if you want" (emphasis added by Oracle's lawyers).

In a statement to The Oregonian, Kitzhaber spokeswoman Melissa Navas said Oracle's action came as no surprise. "The State fully expected to end up in litigation over Oracle's failure to deliver. The Attorney General's Office will review the complaint filed by Oracle and continue to pursue legal remedies on behalf of the State," she said. Lawsons's lawyer didn't immediately respond to an InformationWeek request for comment.

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David F. Carr oversees InformationWeek's coverage of government and healthcare IT. He previously led coverage of social business and education technologies and continues to contribute in those areas. He is the editor of Social Collaboration for Dummies (Wiley, Oct. 2013) and ... View Full Bio

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prospecttoreza
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prospecttoreza,
User Rank: Strategist
8/18/2014 | 1:06:29 PM
Re: Put yourself in Oracle's shoes
Oracle signed a contract that it knew from the get go will flop. An Oracle consultant gets paid by an hour, and codes what it is told to. Oracle's management did read the contract, and knew what they are getting into - they are getting compensated for being yelled at. I feel bad for the Oregon citizens who had to shoulder the costs.
bwalker970
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bwalker970,
User Rank: Strategist
8/12/2014 | 6:24:28 PM
Re: Put yourself in Oracle's shoes
It will be interesting to see how this shakes out.  The project management problems they describe are not uncommon in eiither government work or private industry.  Bad projects exist everywhere and there is plenty of blame to go around.  The state can be cited for naively thinking that it had enough experience to take on the management of such a large technical project and for grossly underestimating the size of that project.  However, Oracle should have had the experience to know better and to push back when they saw the project going badly.  Shifting requirements are the canary in the coal mine of project management so when did Oracle's employees raise the alarm?  If the state's employees were exhibiting lax change control, why did Oracle's employees go along with it?  Did anyone at Oracle realize that their reputation was on the line even if they were not held legally liable for the results?  Oracle only has itself to blame if they negotiated away their ability to control the work and then failed to live up to the contract that they actually signed.  
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
8/12/2014 | 5:35:30 PM
Re: Why so many different portals to solve the same end goal?
Yes, one big debacle with Healthcare.gov -- but I guess that was finally resolved, more or less (although I haven't heard anything particularly reassuring about security) -- would have been more than enough! The answer, I think, lies in the political hash surrounding Obamacare and the related technologies. Since states have a big say in how to participate, it's not too surprising that some chose to fly solo for whatever reason. It would, however, have been much more efficient to design one national system from a technical and admin POV. 
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
8/12/2014 | 5:33:10 PM
Re: And politicians wonder ...
That's true: Government employees and elected officials don't own finger-pointing! I feel badly for Oracle, too, although each time one of these stories comes up -- about huge, expensive tech implementations without an assigned integrator to lead the project -- I wonder how neither Oracle nor Oregon figured that out at the beginning. I guess the allure of the contract was too big, but entering into this kind of pact without taking on the integrator role seems fated for failure. 
Todder
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Todder,
User Rank: Moderator
8/12/2014 | 2:39:29 PM
Why so many different portals to solve the same end goal?
Seems to me there's better economy of scale if State's used a common tool set versus customizing their own solutions. The entire roll-out was and still is kinda goofy, but from a planning, engineering, and implementation perspective this whole episode doesn't make anybody feel good about how tax dollars are spent.
pdembry950
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pdembry950,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/12/2014 | 12:54:36 PM
Rodney? Rocky? Which one is it?
Who exactly was the executive directory, Rodney King or Rocky King?
majenkins
IW Pick
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majenkins,
User Rank: Ninja
8/12/2014 | 12:02:47 PM
Re: And politicians wonder ...
I have spent more time in private industry than in governement work and it can get just as bad in the private sector. Plus dodging blame and scoring points is not restrictied to politicians. Or maybe it is better to say that not all politicians work in the public sector.
majenkins
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majenkins,
User Rank: Ninja
8/12/2014 | 11:58:28 AM
Re: Put yourself in Oracle's shoes
In any big project there is going to be some of this type of thing going on. And in the end both sides are always going to say the things the other side was doing were what really caused the failure. If it was as bad as Oracle claims then as someone said below they should have raised more red flags with more higher up stake holders and or "Got out of Dodge". Of course getting out of Dodge means you won't get paid.
Somedude8
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Somedude8,
User Rank: Ninja
8/12/2014 | 10:31:47 AM
But, I love to hate Oracle
I LOVE to hate Oracle! But Shifting Sands requirments definitely striked a chord with me. Seen it too many times, from tiny projects to massive. One of the skills that has come with time, experience and age is knowing when to start throwing red flags in front of stakeholders, and when to throw a white flag and get out of Dodge. Sure glad I wasn't involved in that project!
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
8/11/2014 | 4:34:37 PM
Re: Put yourself in Oracle's shoes
David, Definitely. The point about working without a blueprint is valid. Makes one sympathetic to the concept that IT as a discipline needs to mature to the level of civil or electrical engineering. Imagine if this level of disfunction went on in bridge construction? And the state could probably have built several bridges with what this fiasco cost.
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