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  •  Configuration control is one of the thorniest, (1+ / 0-)
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    touchiest subjects in government, particularly inter agency, systems. I have seen appointed officials, generals and admirals "go nuts" over the very idea their organization would be required to "submit" to configuration control (avoidance of that word would have been a blessing in systems) by some outside or higher authority.

    In your case, SSA and VA have to agree to mutual control of interfaces or any project is certain of vast overruns, marginal functionality and probably just doomed. It has gotten simpler than in the old days when lots of hardware could not "interface" so now it is largely software interfaces—and that boils down to protocols, data base interactions and such and particularly, in secure systems, the secure handshakes and audit trails. What amateurs do not realize is that for a secure Social Security system to pass a "simple" SSN to VA or the reverse they more than likely would have to make a secure "handshake" to do so and make an audit log of the transaction. If SSA goes off and changes its security protocols  downstream in VA's system development it is delay and time is $$$$ and $$$$ in mods and it gets rather messy and brings in IGs and Congressional "oversight"and . . . well shit!

    And inter organization configuration control is just one of many issues, one of which is the lack of discipline. Even with the best incremental development techniques design has to be stable long enough to build something. Even private industry has problems with "big chiefs" that cannot get into line and at the last minute want major design changes—the "wise saying" books are full of the results. In government, with political appointees and barriers against just "You are fired" for roiling developments it can be very, very bad.

    It is not uncommon for some power within the agency managing to either hold out commitment to a requirement at an appropriate time or being successful in making major modifications at a point where things become both messy and expensive. Make that multiple agencies and it can be chaos. Decades ago multiple studies showed the requirements issues to be the major cause of government system overruns and failure, and I believe those were military weapon systems.

    It has been a long time, but Crosstalk used to have some great pieces on these subjects, in fact after years I just took a look and found this that may apply somewhat to this so called "web site" that is much more: Managing Requirements for a System of Systems. Oh, yes, I read a bit:

    Interfacing to a developing system where its design is evolving even as your design is evolving is much more difficult. In the automotive industry, with many computers under the hood of every vehicle, interfaces are a nightmare. One story I was told involved creating a new dashboard — an SOS comprised of entertainment, car information, temperature control, air bags, etc. The designer for the air bag system noticed that if anyone else sent a particular command on the bus, then the air bag would deploy. “But nobody would ever do that,” he said. When the dashboard was assembled and an unsuspecting person moved the temperature control, the air bag deployed.
    (And remember, those three secure systems "the web site" must use are probably "evolving" right now too—they usually are.)

    The problems are pretty well known. The best practices and even solutions are not a mystery. What is usually missing is the systems development expertise at a position within management that can enforce discipline and the known solutions—and for SSA/VA that would be Obama himself and he is a bit busy doing other things to be tech boss in chief. Scientists, engineers and systems experts do not tend to be the kind of people that rise to become agency heads and cabinet members—the story of Hyman Rickover, the Navy's nuclear submarine program and the absolute hatred most of the Navy had for that abrasive, technical, "get it done" guy is illustrative—those are politicians and they tend to go along to get along.

    The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

    by pelagicray on Tue Oct 22, 2013 at 05:49:38 PM PDT

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