Editor's Notes: When IT Projects Go Wrong

Thorin McGee, Editor-in-Chief/Content Director, Target Marketing

We’ve all been there: The company knows it must update its systems, the products and projects are chosen, development starts, and many, many months down the road the new system is debuted! … and it’s not always all it was cracked up to be.

That happened on Election Day to the Mitt Romney campaign, and it was a disaster. According to Business Insider, it began with voter strike lists. Poll watchers use these paper lists of registered voters to track who’s voted in the district. That’s relayed to campaign HQ throughout the day and volunteers visit those who haven’t turned out yet to remind them to vote.

In 2008, the Democrats upgraded to slick digital systems that reportedly made their “ground game” far more efficient. Now the Romney team was under pressure to roll out its own newer and better system: Project ORCA.

Gail Gitcho, Romney communications director, told NPR “The Obama campaign likes to brag about their ground operation, but it’s nothing compared to this.”

John Ekdahl of political blog Ace of Spades wrote that after volunteers signed up, they “were invited to take part in nightly conference calls. The calls were more of the slick marketing speech type than helpful training sessions.”

Behind the scenes, Ars Technica reported that the multiple vendors hired to develop ORCA weren’t in communication and didn’t see each other’s code until Election Day. Romney Digital Director Zac Moffat told CNET there wasn’t time for adequate beta and load testing. At one point, ORCA had so much data coming and going that the ISP mistook it for a DNS attack and shut it down.

On Election Day, Romney’s volunteers were left without the most basic information—whose doors to knock on—because the mobile Web app that was supposed to tell them what to do didn’t.

That inspired the headline on Breitbart.com: “How the Romney Campaign Suppressed Its Own Vote.”

This is a depressingly familiar story; don’t let it happen to you. When it’s time to implement new technologies, the focus needs to be on execution, internal communication, and making sure your ORCA doesn’t morph into a white whale.

Thorin McGee is editor-in-chief and content director of Target Marketing and oversees editorial direction and product development for the magazine, website and other channels.
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Comments
  • Denny Hatch

    Really good piece, Thorin—well written and provocative. After years pummeling the Democrates going back to 1952 and the days of Eisenhower-Taft, Republicans lost the lede in data superiority big time. The seeds of the Romney debacle were planted back in the 2008 campaign. Here’s a brief trip through the history of political fund raising.
    http://tinyurl.com/bxmhvln
    Denny Hatch, dennyhatch@yahoo.com