To Build or Buy Political Software? Pros, Cons, and Factors to Consider
In our recent webinar, "To Build or Buy Political Software? Pros, Cons, and Factors to Consider", speakers Veronika Schiftner Director of Strategic Partnerships at Ecanvasser, and Jay Bradley, Senior Account Executive, discussed the key considerations of building specialized software vs buying industry-specific software.
What Spurred The Rise of Digital Politics?
The Covid-19 pandemic elicited digital innovation in politics across the globe. Within the last 2-3 years there has been a notable upward trajectory of democracy technologies as many parties are adapting digital innovation as an aid to campaign growth.
A segment of this aforementioned innovation originated out of necessity. Both historically and currently, in-person events are a core driving force of political organizing. With this central component removed, parties needed to reassess how to connect and communicate with voters.
Innovative parties are adapting these tools to do more than just maintain their position. Instead, they are deploying them with the objective of enthusiastic goals. The core drivers of this are:
1. Voter re-engagement
2. Membership re-engagement
3. Increased demographic diversity
4. Regional and national distribution
These technologies are a robust means to advance in the aforementioned fields, as they allow for voter participation regardless of time and location.
Through this period of political digital transformation, at Ecanvasser we have witnessed some parties responding to this change by building custom solutions, platforms, and apps. Whereas others utilize the more beneficial option, software-as-a-service. This more attractive option gives organizations a high level of customization alongside a host of other beneficial advantages.
Key Considerations when building vs. buying political software
1. Existing Technology and compatibility
2. Features that are must-haves vs. could haves
3. Scalability; which option will allow your organization to grow rapidly?
4. Intuitive, user-driven design
5. Documentation, training, and ongoing support
6. Speed to market and its impact on ROI
7. Cost and ROI including the opportunity cost of lost resource allocation elsewhere
Existing Technology and compatibility
Integration compatibility is often a key decision-maker when adopting a software solution for your organization. Rarely, does a piece of software operate independently from other integrations that an organization uses.
Syncing off the shelf-software with other tools offers a host of advantages, such as
1. Powering your technology stack with integrations
2. Speedy proof of concept (POC) if needed
3. No troubleshooting or bug fixes
Building your software solution will afford you the flexibility of choosing which integrations you require. However, with this comes additional disadvantages of
1. Development time
4. Bug fixes
With an off-the-shelf solution such as Ecanvasser, these issues are all dealt with by a team of in-house experts.
Features that are must-haves vs could-haves
Understanding exactly what your organization requires from a solution is more beneficial than assessing what would be an agreeable bonus. This thinking can be applied to both building specialized software and buying industry-specific software.
When building political software your organization has the control to build within the parameters of what you need, without any value-adding extras.
Buying pre-built software allows you to choose from best-in-class solutions that fit the exact needs of your organization. Troubleshooting, bug fixes, and additional development requirements are handled by experts.
Speed to market and ROI
Speed to market largely depends on the time frame it takes for onboarding, training, and organizing in the field. When building political software, you can announce gradual feature releases that will solve the time-sensitive demands of your field organizers. Making a return on investment (ROI) less immediate than buying a solution. However, buying a solution all features, design, support documentation, and more are created by industry software specialists. These considerations significantly increase your speed to market allowing you to see a faster ROI.
Assessing which option will allow your organization to grow rapidly can often be difficult without understanding whether your need for a software solution is tied to your long-term political objectives or related to an internal organizational process.
When considering building vs. buying software, an intuitive interface with ease of use is pivotal when assessing whether a solution is a good fit for your organization.
“Easy to use has come up on every individual list that I have spoken to in my tenure of software sales as a requirement to the solution that they are looking at. “ - Jay Bradley, Senior Account Executive, Ecanvasser.
Buying software removes the headache of development and user experience research necessary to create intuitive organizing software. Advanced solutions, such as Ecanvasser, have the flexibility to add features when required and to add brand customization in the form of white labeling.
Documentation, training, and support
When using a pre-built solution, documentation, training, and support are incorporated into the onboarding process.
When building a new solution, documentation and training are typically on a needs basis and are built around the goals and requirements of the end users, and are often overlooked.
With Ecanvasser, you receive an added layer of account management alongside comprehensive support documentation, not to mention feature release updates and a host of additional resources to help your organizing strategy.
Adavntages of building
With these considerations in mind, let us assess the pros and the cons of building specialized software in the political sphere.
Building your solution presents an auxiliary layer of unrivalled customization. Building a solution allows for control over feature priority, branding, color palette, and more. You can guide your product roadmap with the needs and wants of your end users.
Creating your bespoke software has the flexibility to evolve and scale with an organization, as it grows. With an off-the-shelf solution, this level of flexibility may not be achievable without being costly. However, best-in-class vendors such as Ecanvasser offer premium, scalable software solutions that offer a wide range of value-adding features.
Compliance and security
Having total control over the level of data compliance and security when building custom software is often a hidden positive.
Disadvantages of building
Pros and cons often act as respective counterparts of each other.
The cons of building specialized software are
1. Customization time and investment required
2. Flexibility leads to complexity
3. Compliance and security
Let us look at these in more depth.
Customization Time and Investment
Customization and flexibility are subsets of each other. Expert developer hiring, feature research, design, and development act as a huge financial drain when building custom software.
Flexibility leads to complexity
Although an increase in product flexibility sounds attractive when organizing, this flexibility often comes with complexity. Experienced vendors know that maintaining, troubleshooting, and enhancing software when additional features are added often requires development time and budget.
Building and maintaining your solution requires specialized development and capable human power. Adding features to your product without accurate execution can lead to a negative impact on the end user's experience and the overall functionality of the software. Therefore, flexibility is often cloaked as a positive of building software, but it can turn into a negative.
Compliance and security
Building software includes data compliance and protection.
Complying with data regulations, protecting your software against cyber attacks, and adhering to jurisdictional laws require expert knowledge and continual maintenance. Ultimately resulting in both bandwidth and financial loss.
Advantages of Buying
Buying industry-specific software is more often than not, the more explored option by customers.
Pros of buying software include:
3. Data Compliance and Protection
Previously misconstrued as a negative, customization is a benefit to buying off-the-shelf software. Establish vendors such as Ecanvasser, and offer brand customizing features such as white labeling. This allows off-the-shelf software to feel like it was developed in-house.
Professional white labeling allows you to deliver immediate impact and generate faster results across your organization with customized dashboards and mobile apps.
With Ecanvasser white labeling you can create custom:
1. A Custom Subdomain to your organization's dashboard
2. The Android / iOS / Dashboard App: Logo and Colors
3. Your logo on the login screen
4. Emails where branding will be displayed when sent out
5. Custom favicon to your organization's logo
Through white labeling an established product you can
1. Boosts Brand Visibility
2. Strengthen User Loyalty
3. Take Advantage of Expert Work
4. Save Development Time and Money
5. Avoid troubleshooting or bug fixes
Time and budget are among the two most notable positive reasons to buy off-the-shelf software.
Working with the right vendor will permit flexibility in
1. Meeting budget requirements
2. Feature scaling
3. Payment terms
Ultimately, by buying off-the-shelf software you will be saving time researching, hiring, developing, and testing the product whilst increasing your speed to market.
Data Compliance and Protection
When buying from a vendor, data security is controlled by them. Therefore, phishing, jurisdiction considerations, and App store Terms and Conditions are handled by the product owner and GDPR experts.
Disadvantages of Buying
Whilst there are very few cons to buying off-the-shelf software, there are two straightforward points. These are:
1. Limited Flexibility
Off-the-shelf vendors cater to a wider audience, which allows for advancements in the software based on the majority of user needs. Without white labeling, this is deemed as a disadvantage.
Frequently, organizations will discount a solution as not fitting their needs if a feature is not included in a preferred package.
More often than not, established vendors such as Ecanvasser can solve the problem an organization is facing, typically, this looks like an iteration of an existing feature.
The cost of buying a solution can sometimes seem unrealistic. You have to factor in spending on the initial build, support, testing, upgrades, and the state of the market. Frequently, things don’t go as planned. One in six IT projects exceeds its estimated timeline and the overrun average cost goes up to 200%.
Use Case: Bernie Sanders 2016 Political Campaign Vs. 2022 Political Campaign
2016- Field the Bern
Senator Bernie Sanders ran in the presidential election in 2016 and sought the Democratic Party's candidacy. With 46% of the pledged delegates, he finished second among a field of six leading contenders. Hillary Clinton, a former secretary of state, won the competition with 54%.
The digital key to Bernie’s 2016 presidential race was his “volunteer army”. Bernie mobilized his supporters to attend his rallies, filling some locations with over 20,000 people.
But, how did he do it? Through a custom-built software regarded as “Field the Bern”.
Bernie's “Volunteer Army” coded open-source apps. Belonging to this group of coders included Sanders, Code Corps, and FeeltheBern.org.
“Field the Bern” came equipped with support documentation on the software solution, tips on how to impactfully canvass, and sample canvassing scripts. Not to mention insights into canvassing team location, data collection in the form of addresses, names, political affiliation, and whether they have pledged to vote for Bernie, or not. This information would be collected and synced straight to the Sanders campaign managers for further segmentation and insight searching.
The junior United States Senator also ran in the 2020 presidential campaign. His announcement catapulted his technology stack into full organizing growth mode. The Vermont representative created a new organizing tool called “BERN”.
What did Bernie Sanders's campaign team do differently with “BERN”?
Initially, the campaign team aimed to create a fully integrated relational organizing and door-to-door canvassing unified app. With a combined assessment and prioritization process, the political campaign team decided what features were a ‘must have Vs. a could have’ within their custom build solution.
A door-to-door canvassing feature was not built, rather an off-the-shelf solution was integrated. Using a best-in-class canvassing product meant that volunteers had an immediate and reliable software solution. In turn, this allowed the campaign development team to focus their time on integrating the software and their political campaign strategy.
As a result of this custom-built and off-the-shelf hybrid solution, Bernie Sanders’ campaign team was able to scale relational organizing significantly, in comparison to other candidates in the race.
Listening to our current users, we are aware that there can be an internal struggle of team management when it comes to organizing quickly. To get people out on doors, the back and forth over Whatsapp, Messenger, and other messaging apps, can be endless. We aim to streamline this process for you with Ecanvasser. Now organizers can commit via the Walk app (their canvassing app!) and get notified in the run-up to the event so that they don’t forget. By building it into the door knocking process life has gotten a lot easier for campaign managers.