The coming year in the United States should be a lot of fun for software vendors, especially those in the on-demand or SaaS space, and part of the reason might come—believe it or not—from the political sphere. At least two on-demand vendors, salesforce.com and RightNow, are supplying their applications to political campaigns, and there are probably more.
If there ever were a perfect fit for on-demand CRM technology, it could very well be politics. Politics is all about conservation of cash and communicating a message. On-demand has a lot to do with long-tail solutions. Given the long cycles and relatively small opportunity base for politicians, on-demand technology is turning out to be a very powerful solution. Think about it. On-demand CRM applications have the components needed to communicate with a base of supporters. They also have a great deal of deployment flexibility, and many vendors offer some form of tailoring. Most importantly, CRM has the architecture to track contact information and, most importantly, donations.
‘The volunteer coordinators gave me a list of names, on paper of course, and a cell phone and sat me down at a folding table.’
In the old days—say, pre-2000—candidates relied on large and expensive computer systems provided by consultants to track changes to voter lists and donations. Today, though, that work can be done for a small fraction of the cost by volunteers, and, because we’re talking about on-demand solutions, candidates can raise or lower the number of seats they subscribe to depending on where they are in the election cycle. Most importantly, during off-peak times (non-election years), politicians can maintain their databases of supporters and frequently communicate with them all with minimal fuss and expense.
Last election cycle, I spent a day cold-calling for a candidate and I was surprised at how incredibly primitive the operation was. I don’t think the methods have advanced since the telephone was invented. The volunteer coordinators gave me a list of names, on paper of course, and a cell phone and sat me down at a folding table, where I happily dialed for several hours. The list was pretty good, though there were the inevitable disconnected numbers and such, and while I made notes on paper about what I did—left message, no longer there, etc.—I have doubts about whether the notes made it into a database.
That, as they say, was then. Today, with on-demand technology, candidates don’t even need a room in a central location. Volunteers with a computer and a fast Internet connection can work from home or anywhere else. If that’s not the definition of a long-tail application, I don’t know what is.
So far, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is using a customized version of salesforce.com, which I think is going by the name of CampaignForce, but I am not sure it’s a formal product. Also, Gregg Gianforte, CEO of RightNow, told me that a presidential candidate is using RightNow. There are probably others, too. I can’t imagine someone like Hillary Clinton or John McCain operating a national campaign without this kind of support. So, if anyone ever really needed proof that on-demand technology has entered the mainstream, this might be a good marker.
From a technology perspective, it is important to keep in mind that political applications are similar but not identical to commercially available CRM. That’s where the importance of platform comes in. On-demand as a delivery model can do a lot for a candidate, but it’s even more important to customize a system for a specific candidate and process.
As a future consideration, at least some candidates at all levels are going to be exposed to this style of computing, and down the road, the winners might begin asking why they can’t have similar kinds of solutions in government and the non-profit sector. When, and if, that happens, we might see a sea change in not only how government does some of its computing but also, I expect, in spillover effects into other areas of the non-commercial world.
For example, there is no sector in greater need of on-demand computing solutions than healthcare delivery. The systems that run health insurance companies are pretty good—state-of-the-art and all that—but the systems that schedule operating rooms, track data from the wards and the labs and contribute to care delivery are decades old in some cases. Healthcare delivery systems are stuck in a time warp where Ronald Reagan is always president of the United States.
Perhaps if the political class gets a taste of on-demand computing, it will change things down stream. That’s not as farfetched as it might sound at first. After all, Univac, an early 1950s-era vacuum tube computer, predicted Dwight Eisenhower’s election in 1952, and the rest, as they say, has been history.