Mr.SAAS Goes to Washington

By Roy Mark  |  Posted 2008-01-26

Mr.SAAS Goes to Washington

For all the attention the Democrats have received for better leveraging the Internet in this year's national elections, it may turn out that the Republicans have the last laugh with SAAS, at least when it comes to Election 2.0 bragging rights.

The 2004 elections were all about how the Dems got the drop, if not the victory, on the Republicans by deploying social networking tools to reap contributions, support and votes. While Howard Dean's dream of the presidency came to a screeching halt in Iowa four years ago, his online campaign design was early proof of the power of social networking before Facebook even thought of going public.

Creating an online infrastructure is the nightmare of all job assignments faced by political campaign managers, involving expensive hardware, pricey software with upfront licenses and IT consultants with harrowing hourly fees. Not to mention overeager and well intentioned but woefully untrained volunteers crashing campaign systems from coast to coast.

It all has to be switched on yesterday and may collapse tomorrow. The data may or may not be secure. You may end up out of work or be the next technology czar of the United States.

Unlike the Democrats and even most of their own fellow Republican candidates for the presidency, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul decided to tweak the system in 2008, overlaying a service model template on campaign online operations. When a race to the White House can evaporate in an expensive second and every dollar is precious, why not just rent the IT infrastructure?

"If you think about SAAS [software as a service] as a business model [for a political campaign], it's a no-brainer." says Dan Burton,'s senior vice president of global public policy. "Running a campaign is like running a business."

Most Passed on SAAS

Salesforce began to pitch its CampaignForce solution to the campaigns in late 2006, preaching its gospel of outsourcing to the Internet. "We thought to ourselves how easy CampaignForce would be to use in a campaign."

Most passed.

"They're wary of putting data on the Internet," Burton said. "They're just now awakening up to this potential." To date, Salesforce has signed up the Romney and Paul campaigns in addition to U.S. Sen. John Kerry and Representative Michael McCaul's re-election campaigns.

For Romney, the deep-pocketed veteran corporate executive, outsourcing was probably an easy decision, likely suggested by one of those IT consultants whispering the magic words: efficiencies and cost savings, particularly in a risky enterprise.

For Paul -- number one in the hearts, minds, pocketbooks and metrics of the online Republican set, and dead last in the real world -- employing out-of-the box solutions was no doubt born of necessity.

"The untold story is the business side of a campaign," Burton explained. "The Internet focus has so far been on the consumer."

CampaignForce works like's CRM (customer relationship management) solution, treating donors as customers and the staff serving as the sales team. All the services run on Salesforce's servers.

Working with partners, the company offers a wide array of mashups that provide personalized views of all campaign data through a Web browser dashboard.

"It's all basically Web APIs married to our enterprise model apps," Burton said. "It exposes the campaigns to the power of our tracking systems."

While the Republicans may ultimately suffer the same fate as the Democrats in the 2004 election, outsourcing the down-and-dirty IT tasks seems likely to make IT service models as fundamentally essential as social networking tools to campaign staffs.

For that, Republicans can claim victory no the matter the outcome of the polling.

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