• Simon Verdon

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet."

It’s not often that you can quote Shakespeare when talking about elections in the UK. Although I will admit that all the talk about no-deal Brexits, no confidence votes, backstops, red lines, snap elections and referendums is starting to feel a little Richard III-like.


But here it seems apt. And in this context more specifically, about the offers being made by our competitors of a free upgrade from one of their EMS systems to another. So, it becomes a question of labels, of names. Therefore, my question is, when is an ‘upgrade’ not an ‘upgrade’ but a full system migration? And what does this offer say about a company’s long-term plans for the product that they’re encouraging people to ‘upgrade’ away from?


If suppliers truly believed in the product they’re offering to their customers it’s reasonable to expect that they should be proud to stand by it. They shouldn’t be devaluing or selling it short. They shouldn’t be giving it away for free. Not if they truly believed in it. Can you imagine Apple offering its customers the option of trading in an iPhone 2 for an iPhone XS? Wouldn’t you immediately think, ‘What’s wrong with the new iPhone, is going to explode when I’m using it?’. Or ‘How are they going to make this money back from me, and then some, in the longer-term?’.


It’s no surprise, therefore, that some customers have taken offers to ‘upgrade’ their system as a sign that their legacy system is no longer considered to be viable in the long-term. Will, they’ve asked us, the company be prepared to invest in the development for the 2020 canvass reforms despite the offer of Cabinet Office funding? And beyond this, when the central government funding dries up, just how long will the company continue to incur the expense of maintaining two separate EMS systems under a single corporate umbrella?


This is where this starts to fall into my area of interest as Democracy Counts’ Implementation Manager: When is an ‘upgrade’ actually just a complete system and data migration by another name? And what will this ‘upgrade’ actually involve?


Make no mistake, moving between two EMS systems is not an upgrade (irrespective who ultimately owns both), it is a full migration to a new software platform. This means new software installations and configurations, the requirement for extensive UAT-ing, data cleansing, and new user training. It’s not simply a case of just updating your current piece of software to a newer version like an iPhone app.


Given this, it is no surprise that electoral administrators are taking the opportunity to explore the EMS market and have a look at Elector8, Democracy Counts’ market-leading EMS solution, rather than blindly entering into a long-term contract on an inferior platform. Let’s be honest, although we loved them at the time, who would really buy a Nokia 3210 now? And those that do take the time to look at what this ‘upgrade’ that’s being offered will quickly discover it’s no less onerous moving to Elector8 from, or between, any of the other EMS systems on the market. In fact, no-one has undertaken more migrations from older legacy systems in the last three years than Democracy Counts.


So my advice to electoral administrators is this: take this opportunity to look at the market, compare what each of the three suppliers can do to meet your local aspirations for reducing costs, increasing efficiency and automation and facilitating engagement with your electors. I’m not being conceited enough to suggest that you’ll automatically conclude that Elector8 is the only viable option for the long-term delivery of your electoral services function, but the trend over the past three years amongst electoral administrators of moving to Democracy Counts would suggest this to be the case.


So treat the offer of a free ‘upgrade’ with well-deserved skepticism and be wary of the full implications of entering into this agreement. After all, as Shakespeare himself wrote, ‘All that glitters is not gold’.

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