What technology can offer in an election year

Technology and the internet have transformed the way we do business. IT-enabled business change is a common term today. We're all horizon scanning to ensure that we can disrupt our own businesses and stay ahead of the competition. Digital leaders and CIOs are becoming an ever more familiar sight on boards around the globe and the Government is adopting digital by default, delivering Government-as-a-Platform and creating digital leaders.

So you'd think that with all this and 25 years after the launch of the internet, our politics would be using technology in equally innovative and interesting ways. However, it seems that political parties still haven't quite got to grips with the realities of how to engage us, the electorate, with technology.

So what are we missing and why?

One focus which may have side-tracked us, has been the discussion about actually using technology to change the voting system, moving from paper-based to electronic. We saw a variety of discussion around the last election but no real progress - the jury is still out on this.

There have been some successful single issue campaigns which have made good use of the internet. And no doubt in this election year, we'll see parties attempting to campaign through social media having learned much from the 2008 Obama campaign.

Obama shook up the process, surprised his adversaries and had the leaders around the globe watching with interest as he lead the way and took absolute advantage of social media in driving support.

Obama used social media to mobilise a grassroots organisation of volunteers and donors; he reinvented how parties could work in the future. However to date, we haven't yet seen anyone in the UK emulate this.

We also haven't yet seen the rise of a party through social media and the internet – could the aftermath of the UK election lead to this?

According to Nesta, in its pre-Christmas predictions report, it's highly possible that 2015 will see the emergence of the first internet-era political party in the UK.

I suspect they may be right; the time is certainly ripe for politics to grasp the nettle and truly engage a much wider audience via the use of the internet. By taking politics online, there is a great opportunity to engage and involve people in the development of policy and an opportunity for transparency. While we have seen successful single issue campaigning, this hasn't yet bridged into party politics.

The UK is lagging behind as elsewhere in Europe there are already open network parties including Five Star in Italy, Podemos in Spain and Pirate Parties in Iceland, Germany and Sweden. All of which are demonstrating that party politics can work online, involving lots of people, broadening the appeal to those who might otherwise feel detached from politics and successfully using the internet to speak to younger generations via their preferred method of communication.

Looking back to Obama's success, we can see that his use of social media helped him win the highest percentage of votes from under 25s since US exit polling began in 1976. Internet political parties have a massive opportunity to replicate this kind of success. There is a definite gap in the marketplace for new parties who are willing to take advantage of the 21st century technology to appeal to a younger demographic.

Online political parties won't mean the end for parliament, committees and physical meetings. A new type of hybrid politics may emerge; one that offers the opportunity for all parties, whatever their leanings, to learn, as businesses across the globe have already learned, that you need to actively respond and engage – simply talking at people doesn't cut it anymore.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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