This year’s presidential campaign in the United States is a textbook example of how to apply agile IT to enable businesses to start small and grow quickly. After the votes are counted we need to do a study on how the two candidates made use of technology to reach people, spread their message, raise money and mobilize their supporters.
Detailed studies and extensive interviews still remain to be done in the coming months to document the technology and the techniques used and the lessons learned, but the broad outlines are already clear. The practices pioneered by the political campaigns this year are a model that businesses will be learning from for the next several years. These campaigns demonstrate conclusively that agile use of Web 2.0 technology is a highly effective approach for businesses or new ventures that want to start small, test their market and then scale up quickly if their products or services catch on.
I come by these observations through a combination of rigorous research and my own experience as an operative in the campaign of one of the presidential candidates. Okay, I admit my research has consisted mostly of compulsive web surfing; and my experience as an operative has consisted entirely as a volunteer knocking on doors and handing out flyers to undecided or infrequent voters in one of the swing states. And many of my data points are nothing more than anecdotes from conversations with other folks I worked with. Yet two points emerge that seem profoundly obvious.
The first point is that conditions can change quickly and unexpectedly. There is not a lot of value in studying a situation beyond a certain point; a little analysis can predict the near term future but a lot of analysis cannot predict the long term future, so get started quickly, give it your best shot and see what happens. If things work out then be prepared to add people and systems quickly to support a rapid scale up of the operation. That’s how winners work these days in politics or business.
The second point is that the best way to support a business plan like the one above is to create the support systems using technology that is mostly web based and that uses applications delivered via a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. This way the operation can be off and running with good enough systems in a matter of a few weeks and with relatively little up front cost to build these systems.
Think about the systems you can build using mashups combining features from applications offered by the many SaaS vendors out there. What kind of systems can you build from mapping application, survey applications, ecommerce applications, email, spreadsheets, relational databases and web browsers? The answer is just about anything.
And what you get are not just flimsy systems held together with bubble gum and bailing twine. They scale up, they are stable and secure, and they grow into industrial strength, highly responsive systems that can support multi-million dollar operations spread over wide areas. This is a picture of the future for a lot of systems architecture.
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