Focus on: Engage citizens, Empower workers, Optimize operations

Innovations in technology are presenting new opportunities for the Republican National Convention’s Committee on Arrangements (COA) to scale their operations, increase mobility, and better analyze their data. By streamlining operations and extending infrastructure capabilities with Microsoft products and services, the COA was able to successfully plan and execute the 2016 Republican National Convention.

On the last day of the 2016 Republican National Convention, millions of people tuned in to watch Donald Trump accept the party nomination; with another 50,0001 gathered live at the Quicken Loans Arena, and millions more live-tweeting at home, the 2016 Republican National Convention was easily the most digitally connected in the GOP’s history.

Every four years, the RNC’s Committee on Arrangements (COA) is tasked with making the convention a reality. From the first day of planning, Committee CIO Max Everett is responsible for the infrastructure that will anchor the next sixteen months of research, planning, and execution.

“We’re often building things while we’re flying,” Everett explains. “There’s a very long tail of planning to get to a certain point, and then we have to be able to grow exponentially in terms of people and the volume of activity that goes on.”

The COA starts with a handful of committee employees who book locations, sort logistics, hire caterers, secure tech support, and handle any other need an internationally-broadcasted event requires. Every few months, the COA team grows—four to eight, eight to sixteen, until they reach 800 employees by day one of the Convention. This rapid growth and crescendo create a unique challenge for Everett and his team. They need a secure solution that can scale to meet the needs of four employees or 50,000 fully mobile delegates, members of the media, and vendors.

During the early planning stages of the 2016 Convention, the COA had three goals:
• Limit their hardware investment
• Maximize attendee and employee mobility
• Ensure solution interoperability

Max Everett and his team knew they needed to take their solutions to the cloud, but with Microsoft Azure, Office 365, Skype TX, and Dynamics CRM, they were able to reach new heights.

Optimizing operations with cloud security and scalability

The COA is a team on a timer. Initially, there’s little need to procure the tools necessary to support 50,000 people, and after the event there’s no follow-up for another two years. After the closing ceremony, the space is stripped to its original state and transformed into the next event at the stadium. Investing in and securing hardware seems excessive.

“We’re starting an organization from scratch,” Everett explains. “We want to limit how much hardware we buy, and we want to get it for a short term if we can. We’re only there for 16 to 18 months, so there’s a desire not to have a lot of capital investment on the front end…You can plan for [growth], but you don’t want to bill for all 800 people 16 months out.”

In Microsoft solutions, Everett and his team found cloud services that required a limited initial investment, could adapt to growing demand, and wouldn’t demand additional usage or service after the Convention ended. To take it a step further, the Microsoft cloud brought an added level of security and constantly evolving development to ensure the COA remained protected and up-to-date.

“If you go into work with someone like Microsoft, that has dedicated IT and security professionals watching everything 24/7, it’s like having your own IT organization.”

Beyond scalability, Azure, Dynamics CRMOL, and Office 365 also provided the COA team with nearly instant and easily managed backup support. In an environment filled with high-stakes comings and goings, at some point everyone needs an important document immediately.

“Backups are easy, simple things that no one thinks about until they delete an important document that they need right now. The process of going back in Office 365 and quickly recovering the right version is a night-and-day improvement.”

From A to B to C with Dynamics

With Dynamics, Everett and the RNC COA managed the convention’s complex logistics in a far more efficient manner. Adding thousands of party members, delegates from all 50 states, leaders, media members, and sponsors to an already-bustling city meant the RNC COA had to collaborate with the city to arrange transportation and housing for each individual. Planning for transportation starts long before anyone ever sets foot in the city.

In the past, managing transportation was a very manual process. Teams shared spreadsheets and called busing companies and other transportation organizations to build their own bus system, a process that dominated planning resources. By integrating Dynamics into their transportation process, the RNC COA found an automated solution to keep the wheels turning.

Dynamics also provided the RNC COA with the means to equip their teams with the mobile tools to maintain their operations on the go. Part of those tasks included securing and managing the 5,000 hotel rooms booked in downtown Cleveland and the additional 16,000 rooms across Northeast Ohio. It was up to Everett and his team to provide the tools for the divisions that handle the logistics of those rooms and make sure transportation was available for every attendee. With Dynamics CRM, the COA could not only manage lodging, but they were able to plan and manage 450 buses across over 40 city routes, improving travel efficiency and event planning.

With their own customized application, the RNC COA had the means to turn their Dynamics solution into the exact system and solution they needed, when they needed it. Instead of relying of an out-of-the-box solution, this customized approach empowered employees with the real-time data management tools and superior mobility they needed to meet a frenzy of changing needs while keeping convention-goers safe from attacks—both cyber and physical.

Empowering employees through mobility and collaboration tools

That ability to stay constantly connected helped Max augment the mobility of both his team and Convention attendees. In an era of Surfaces, smartphones, wearable tech, and streamlined laptops, the ability for Convention staff to move across locations with ease was critical. Attendees and employees alike expected uninterrupted universal access to files, resources, and technology.

“The expectations of the users have grown dramatically,” Everett says. “People expect to walk essentially anywhere and have broadband-level access to the Internet, record and stream videos, move large files. They can do all those things from their office, as they walk down the street, and inside the arena.”

Mobility also allowed the COA team to transform every inch of the Quicken Loans Arena into fully functional workspace with Surface and Office 365.

“Space is a huge premium,” Everett recalls. “We literally use every nook and cranny of the building — medical treatment rooms, weight rooms — any place in that building we can use, we build out for backend production or public use.”

Office 365’s online capabilities and Surface’s enhanced portability empowered those same mobile users with the collaboration tools they needed to work together across the arena and other off-site locations. “Anywhere there was a flat surface, someone was there working with a Surface. Our ops team could walk into a planning meeting with the diagrams of the space on their Surface and make notes in real time. It was a game changer.”

Historically, new COA employees and volunteers experienced a lengthy procurement process. With Office 365, the activation happens much more quickly.

“It was not uncommon for us to be told, with a day or two notice, ‘Hey, another 25 people are coming in,’” Everett explains. “In the old days, we would have been stuck, but now we don’t even have to make a phone call. We can jump online ourselves and immediately spin up those accounts. It was not uncommon for us to have volunteers or staff up and working online within an hour of getting their name, all provisioned from a smartphone.”

To improve communication and connectivity between party leaders, voters, members of the media, and delegates, Everett and his team at the RNC COA used Skype TX and Surface Hub to bring a new kind of interaction to the convention. Delegates are rarely able to interact directly with their party leadership, but for the first time, they had the opportunity to interview party leaders while passersby on the concourse gathered and watched. With Skype TX, those conversations were facilitated live at the convention and shared across multiple social media platforms in broadcast quality for public viewing.

Driving digital transformation for democracy

At Microsoft, we’re proud to support the democratic process through our sponsorship of both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. Since 2000, we’ve been proud to partner with the COA and to support Max Everett and his team as they further pursue transformation and shape the impact of technology in our democracy.

To learn more about Microsoft’s involvement in the 2016 Democratic National Convention, check out this post.

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