For my head on a silver plate
Just a puppet on a lonely string
Oh who would ever want to be king?
– Coldplay, “Viva La Vida”
Aspiring to the Presidency of the United States of America is a double edged sword. If you win, you must carry the burdens of the world, as is witnessed by the rapid aging of most Presidents during their terms. However, a worse prospect is if you lose in which case you become a laughing stock and your name forever associated with epic fails from Oogieloves to Facebook’s IPO. While it’s currently popular to savage Governor Romney’s failed campaign in countless blog postmortems, few aspects of the fiasco can compare to the disaster wreaked by the killer app Orca, which turned out to be a killer whale alright… as it may have treated the Guv’s potential victory in Ohio and several other key states as a nice, juicy, tasty seal.
Incredibly, the System Was Never Real-World Tested
Orca was designed to be the primary voter turnout IT super app for the GOP campaign, accessed by over 37,000 volunteers in the main swing states to identify known Romney supporters who hadn’t shown up at the polls yet and therefore triggering calls to turn out the vote from the Boston Garden campaign HQ. This particular fail whale was evident to insightful observers from the onset as incredibly the system was never real-world tested and (as is almost always the case when IT shortcuts are engaged) crashed and burned taking with it the hopes of a Republican White House.
A Sequence of Misconstrued Stupidities
Everything that could go wrong with Orca did, plus a bunch of things that should never have gone wrong. Due to the perceived necessity to keep the details of the app away from the enemy camp, many volunteers only received the 60+ page instruction manual and voter rolls on the night before election day. Human error crept in as volunteers in North Carolina and Colorado couldn’t log in until 6 PM on election day because they had been issued the wrong IDs. Then, the flood of incoming information was seen as a DDOS attack and the network connection shut off by the ISP. From the failure to set an https to http redirect to a pathetic lack of communication and instruction to the volunteers who were actually going to use the system, Orca took a huge bite out of the Romney campaign, which may have lost the GOP the election.
The Lessons to Be Learned from the Fail Whale
The three essential lessons to be learned from the Orca sinking can be applied to any business contemplating a large IT implementation:
- KISS – If you don’t Keep It Simple, then you’re Stupid. Orca was vastly overcomplicated and required massive education for the users that simply didn’t happen in time. Handicapped by the fear that the Obamaites would seize on leaks, the GOP left the vast information release until the last possible minute, thereby confusing and befuddling a considerable number of their volunteers.
- Double and triple check everything – When entire states full of volunteers were handed out the wrong IDs and the problem wasn’t rectified until the point was moot, Orca became the poster cetacean for catastrophe. Even if it was impossible or impractical to have every single one of the 37,000+ users log in for an early trial, there should have been a random selection of IDs tested in each state.
- Test, test and test again – There is no substitute for a real world test. Orca had been artificially stress tested and it turned out that the functions that passed the software testing immolated when the system was actually used at full blast.
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