To go with the party’s increasing membership, the Liberal Democrats will soon have a new membership database system too.
It will be only the third in the party’s history, the first of which was inherited from before the merger and was based on software used to track American helicopter spare parts during the Vietnam war.
The new system has a rather more banal source: it’s one of the most popular and widely used online CRM system (customer relationship management, in the jargon) – Salesforce.
Taking an established off-the-shelf web based software is becoming a habit for the party, following in the footsteps of NGP-VAN, which in the guise of Connect has replaced EARS and Nationbuilder which is replacing a range of different website packages.
That’s a sensible move, as the party’s own scale rarely justifies fully bespoke developments, and customising established packages brings many benefits in terms of reliability and lower costs for new features as the burden is shared across many users.
Having a system designed for web use is also a promising sign given the current creaking nature of the web access provided indirectly to the party’s membership system. Direct, secure online access for membership secretaries and the like is really an essential of a membership system these days.
It also opens up the possibility of a wider community of party supporters developing tools to work with the party’s system. Currently, that eco-system is almost totally non-existent, with only a few very rare exceptions such as Andrew McLean’s essential utilities to help with some Connect tasks or my own campaign buttons service.
Developing such a wider networker isn’t easy, quick or cost-free in terms of valuable staff time. But I know from when I was running digital operations at party HQ alongside a modest team of volunteers, helping with various technical tasks and others generating their own compatible tools, what a huge difference they made.