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Summary:

2008 was about social networking, 2012 about big data and analytics and 2016 could well be about personalization and location, says Michael Slaby, former CIO of Obama for America.

Michael Slaby, former CIO of Obama for America (left)  and Vivek Kundra, EVP of emerging markets for Salesforce.com.
photo: Rani Molla

President Obama was inaugurated a scant few weeks ago but it’s never too early to think about the next election cycle. Tech teams for the 2016 campaign will need to hone in on location-based applications and finely tuned personalization, said Michael Slaby, former CIO for Obama for America.

Michael Slaby, former CIO of Obama for America.

Michael Slaby, former CIO of Obama for America.

According to Slaby, the team’s initial 2008 effort was all about putting social networking on par with other messaging and communication. “We didn’t just stick it in the corner with a blog, it was a meaningful way to think about solving organizational problems,” Slaby told attendees of a Salesforce.com event in New York City Tuesday.

“In 2008 we were just trying to stay alive — [there was] an election every two weeks for months and months” he said. That didn’t leave a ton of time for strategizing or even staffing up. “We didn’t really hire engineers,” Slaby said during a panel discussion led by former U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra, who is now Salesforce.com’s executive vice president for emerging markets.

The next time out, in 2012, OFA had the luxury of an incumbent candidate — meaning no primaries — so it was able to focus more on building infrastructure to provide “a unified experience for our supporters.”

In the future, teams like this will need to consider more big data and analytics advances. “There’s an old adage that all politics is local — I would add that all politics is personal … We need to use big data advances and technology that makes us capable of listening to more people at the same time and to provide a more personal experience for everyone,” he said.

“No one has figured out how to use location-based technology really well … We need to figure that out so in the future we can look at location metrics — where you vote, who you vote with, how you vote. Increasing personalization and awareness of location are part of what we need.”

Asked by Kundra what lessons he had for business IT pros, Slaby warned against getting obsessed with technology for technology’s sake. “People have to focus on making your business more effective rather than focusing on this new thing. That’s the best defense against the new shiny object syndrome.”

And, there has to be a reset on thinking as well. “We see inbound cases not as a bucket of things to process but of opportunities for voter-initiated contact,” he said. “We had 6 million people coming to us — it’s an opportunity, not something we have to weather.

After the election, OFA team members have turned up at a number of tech events including Amazon’s  AWS: Reinvent conference in November and OFA CTO Harper Reed talked to GigaOM’s Derrick Harris last year about his work on the effort.

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  1. Interesting to see the rapid evolution of campaign strategy over the last two election cycles. In our location data we’ve seen some very interesting correlations between how people vote and the places they shop – pointing to another way location can be leveraged to better help understand and reach voters even before the next election:
    http://www.placed.com/blog/can-businesses-use-hyperlocal-to-leverage-customers-politics/
    -Sarah from Placed, Inc.

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