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Campaign Research Firms Need Skills of IT Resellers

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By Janet Pinkerton

Campaign research companies offer IT resellers a diverse range of opportunities because of the wide range of business models and tech systems these firms employ. Technology resellers serving this industry niche must develop a deep understanding of a client’s business and provide a 24/7 level of responsiveness, especially during election cycles.

Campaign research firm sizes can range from a two-person shop to a 50-employee company to a large, corporate enterprise. Each firm makes its own decisions about the tech systems used and whether they will outsource elements such as phone bank calling, email servers, database management or website hosting.

For example, Hart Research Associates, a Democratic polling firm in Washington, D.C., does most everything in-house — from computer-aided telephone interviewing (CATI) via a 250-terminal, POTS phone bank setup, to data processing using SPSS (Statistical Package for Social Sciences), to generating client reports in Word documents. However, since 1996, the firm has used the same IT reseller, CyberAccess Inc. of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, which was a referral from Sun MicroSystems.

CyberAccess over the years transitioned the firm to the IBM Lotus Foundations server platform and now supports Hart Research’s central office, as well as three call centers (two in Ohio, one in Arizona).

“That firm has been of immense help to me with interviewing server setup and maintenance," says Lee Beazley, Hart Research’s director of information technology. “Small companies like CyberAccess provide for a better quality of support and availability."

CyberAccess travels to D.C. and the call centers on short notice and frequently advocates on Hart Research’s behalf to suppliers to resolve any problems. This is especially important during the frenetic polling activity of the election cycle.

VARs seeking ongoing work with campaign research firms must deeply understand how their business operates and commit to a high level of service, says William Vasu, president of CyberAccess.

Firm managers “aren’t interested in how IT works and don’t want to understand why it sometimes doesn’t work," says Vasu. "They just want it to work."

Being able to communicate with non-geek campaign research personnel is extremely important, says Peter Keung, managing director of Web developer Mugo Web in Vancouver, Canada. Mugo helps Rasmussen Reports publish poll data via its eZ Publish Web content management system (CMS), packing the information in different ways to suit a variety of audience needs and requirements.

“They (clients) just know what they want — an interactive map or a contest — but they don’t know how to implement it," says Keung. “You need to translate what they say and figure out a way to make that happen."

Soothing Pain Points

The Tarrance Group, a Republican polling firm based in Alexandria, Va., outsources its Microsoft Exchange Server to the cloud service provider Rackspace Hosting in San Antonio, Texas. “It reduces the time and frustration of maintaining a system in-house and lets us focus on our business and expertise," says Chris Hardisty, The Tarrance Group’s director of computer operations.

Rackspace hosts a variety of services, including Exchange, Microsoft Sharepoint, email archiving and mobile devices access, for companies like The Tarrance Group,. “If there’s ever a problem, Rackspace is here and ready to help day and night, 24x7x365," says Rackspace Team Lead Milton Prado.

Certifications and credentials useful to a reseller/ IT professional seeking to help campaign research firms vary according to the firm’s tech systems. For example, the CATI systems at Hart Research and the eZ Publish content management platform at Mugo are highly vendor-specific.

Rackspace uses certifications to validate an IT worker’s understanding of technology and industry lingo, says Prado. “My recommendation to anyone looking to enter the technology field is to start with basic certifications such as CompTIA A+, Network +, Linux +, etc." But he adds, “the secret sauce (for Rackspace’s 'Fanatical Support') is the collaboration that Rackers have with each other and will stop at nothing to make things right." And, he notes, “unfortunately, there is no certification for that."

Janet Pinkerton is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer who has covered technology and business for nearly 20 years. Her current work focuses on IT and the impact of new technologies.

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