ST. PAUL, Minn.-- Plans are back on track at the Republican National Convention, but Hurricane Gustav's unexpected interference with the four-day event highlighted the deft communications needed to direct nearly 5,000 delegates and alternate delegates through the formal presidential nomination process.
The RNC turned to cloud computing for the most efficient means of registering the delegates, and when the clouds of Hurricane Gustav threatened to throw the event off course, the RNC stepped up their communications with the delegates.
Early in the week, before the storm subsided, Republican leaders were reviewing the convention schedule on a day-to-day basis to determine whether to proceed with planned events. The party maintained a text message alert system for the delegates "to keep them fully informed not only of delegate activities but also to get them information about the storm," McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said.
The RNC also set up the Affected States Information Center, a hub inside the Xcel Energy Center with hurricane news, weather reports, information about relief organizations, accessible phones and computers, and connections to Gulf State governors.
Communicating with the delegates presented a challenge, though, before Hurricane Gustav came into the picture.
In previous years, delegates in order to register for the convention had to fill out an eight-page Microsoft Word document and mail it in to convention organizers, who then manually input the information into their database. This year, the RNC is using a cloud-based system developed by online service companies Appirio and Salesforce.com.
"In previous years, trying to consolidate all the information was virtually impossible," said Mike O'Brien, co-founder of Appirio. "With this all you need is a log-in and a password."
The registration database allows the RNC to create reports and run analytics on a number of demographic statistics, including delegates' convention experience, family history, religious affiliation, and volunteer background. Delegates are even asked to upload a picture of themselves. The delegates are not required to submit all the information asked of them, but "it really is an enormous wealth of information," said Dan Burton, senior vice president of global public policy for Salesforce.com.
Google, which has a partnership with Appirio to help implement Google applications, turned to Appirio with a request from the RNC to build a custom registration system from the ground up--a back-end database with front-end analytics. Appirio instead enlisted Salesforce.com to host the system on the Web.
"They've registered 5,000 delegates with the system up and running in a number of days," Burton said. "With a traditional client software model, you couldn't do that."
Burton said the security in place for Salesforce.com's other large clients, such as Citibank and Merill Lynch, will keep delegates' information safe.
"No other people (outside RNC staff) can see the Republican convention data," he said.
Burton said individual political campaigns have been using Salesforce.com as well, for uses such as facilitating fund-raising. Mitt Romney used the service during his bid for the presidency, and former Democratic Virginia Gov. Mark Warner is using it for his Senate campaign. Barack Obama is using the service as well.
"This is a business tool, so we come at this from business perspective, not a partisan one," Burton said.