A2Z discussion blog
Track and Trace, the importance of design.
It's time to go digital
The Government recently announced some embarrassing technical issues with their new track and trace system. In this post, A2Z Cloud’s Head of Services takes a look at the issue and discusses where it went wrong and what could have been done to avoid the issue.
When Software Goes Wrong
It was reported on the 5th of October that Public Health England had left out 15,841 cases between the 25th of September and the 2nd of October. These missing numbers were later revealed to have been caused by a “technical issue.”
As A2Z Cloud’s Head of Services I have taken an interest in the media reports relating to this track and trace mishap as it serves to highlight some critical failings that can be made during the application development lifecycle and I wanted to use this as an example of what can go wrong when building a software solution.
Due to the nearly-16,000 positive cases not entered into the track and trace system, all of their recent contacts were also not immediately notified. This means that they were not able to self-isolate and get tested, potentially resulting in more infections as they were unaware that they had been in contact with someone who tested positive for covid.
The track and trace app is already struggling to gain the confidence of the public and Labour has called it “Shambolic.” – further highlighting the importance of getting your app development right first time.
Where did it go wrong?
The technical problem itself has highlighted the root cause of the error. The issue stems from the design phase of the development. The track and trace application outputs the cases into Microsoft Excel, which can be very limited when it comes to data processing of large data sets. Especially in more traditional configurations or older versions.
Excel has a column limit of 16,384 and a row limit of 1,048,576 and when the file limits were reached, this is when the errors in reporting started to occur and when cases started getting missed.
Designing a robust solution
The first key step to delivering a successful software project is to gather the requirements for the application through a process of elicitation. In development terms, elicitation is the process of drawing out the requirements through different methods such as discussions, interviews, use cases and workshops.
This stage of the development process often includes getting an understanding of the capacity requirements. For example, if COVID-19 cases increase by 1-12,000 a day and we are unaware of the length of time this will last, then the application would need to be highly scalable to cope.
This information would inform the design of the solution and it would be clear that flexible and scalable technology was required to deliver a suitable software solution. The track and trace application is an expensive and critical piece of software that has a key role in keeping covid infection rates down.
If these fundamental design steps were executed correctly in the development of the track and trace application then an error like this would never have occurred.
At A2Z we have our own development process that we call “Cloudology”. This process focuses on process mapping and requirements gathering to ensure that critical functionality isn’t missed which could lead to the loss of data, impact business operations – or worse, damage business reputation and credibility.
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