Imagine starting a business that will need to open offices nationwide; to hockey-stick the revenue stream, over a few short months, to more than $100 million per month (and allocate it among both headquarters and fifty separate state organizations); to manage more than 4,000 official surrogates' appearances at more than 7,000 events; and to handle several million inquiries from potential ‘customers’ (peaking at 80 thousand per day), while working toward an utterly inflexible deadline.
Now do it in the spotlight of global attention, while relying mostly on temporary employees or volunteers – and shut it all down, a little after your first full year of doing business. Welcome to the world of President Obama’s campaign for re-election – where it takes a cloud to power mission-critical functions meeting 2012 expectations.
Every four years, the U.S. election cycle gives the world a public update on the state of the IT art. This was, after all, the first U.S. presidential election since the advent of the iPad; the first to take place in a world of 4G wireless; the first to be surrounded by social networks with billions of members. (On Election Day in 2008, Facebook had roughly one-eighth its present number of active users.) Never before could campaigners do so much to connect, listen, measure, and respond; never before did their success depend so much on doing it.
Fortunately, in 2012 the Obama campaign’s technology dream team (led by chief innovation and information officer Michael Slaby) could call on cloud capabilities—to build quickly, scale rapidly, deploy widely, and do it all cost-effectively—that have also improved dramatically during the past four years. They had cloud applications like the Salesforce Service Cloud, ready to handle millions of inquiries from volunteers and voters. They had highly productive development and deployment environments like the Salesforce Platform, enabling them to build quickly—and deploy instantly—social cloud apps with mobile capabilities, uniquely tailored to a nationwide campaign.
These are services used not just to campaign, but also to govern, with agencies in D.C. and nearly every state in the union using one or more salesforce.com capabilities today.
There is, however, another cycle that is slightly longer than four years: the average tenure of the corporate CIO. If someone comes into that job with a certain vision of how to build things, how many will re-think that vision as quickly as the world around them is changing?
In particular, are CIOs fully recognizing the compelling advantage of marshalling cloud services, compared to merely centralizing and/or virtualizing IT infrastructure? Too often, the label of 'cloud' is being placed on any pool of shareable servers, real or virtual – but that's only a more accessible way to pursue an outdated IT approach of expensive people, building complex things, with high risk and long time to value.
The crucial advantage of a true cloud architecture is that the tricky parts are already working—executing transactions, handling integrations, making mobile connections, and securing both assets and operations—before you add your own distinctive data and processes on top of that proven foundation. What you're using on your first day as a cloud subscriber is what millions of other subscribers were already using, already up and running – except, of course, for the metadata that makes it entirely your own, secure, customized solution for your particular need.
This is the duality of the enterprise cloud. Enterprise clouds combine scale with security, customizability, and integration facilities, as demonstrated by the Obama campaign’s success with salesforce.com solutions this year.
Four years is not a long time. There are people already talking about the choices we might see on our ballots in 2016 – but when it comes to casting your vote for how you'll build your competitive advantage in the next four years, Election 2012 showed that cloud computing is abundantly ready to run…and, when elected, to serve.
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