ElectionsOnline serves a very broad base of clients including professional and trade associations, educational institutions, community groups, businesses and much more. In other words, while online voting software is a very narrowly focused service, the client base is quite horizontal and spans a broad spectrum. Before going further, let’s make sure this concept of a vertical versus horizontal market is clearly defined. A vertical market is one where the customers have very specialized needs as opposed to a horizontal market, where customers have needs that are generally similar to other customers. Accounting software could be one example of a horizontal market since it is marketable to customers regardless of industry. Airline ticketing software on the other hand is only going to have airlines as customers and so is considered a vertical market.
So is there a vertical market for election software? Would the software be better, and the clients better served, if the software were marketed only to some very tightly defined vertical subset of the larger client base, for example, associations or schools? The answer is no, and here’s why:
- Serving a broad base of clients means the software has evolved to include features that might not have otherwise been developed. Once developed into the software, these features become available to all clients so they too may enjoy the benefits of it even though it may have been developed originally for some other vertical sector.
- Serving a broad spectrum of clients means a breadth of experience that helps glean insight into voter behavior, which in turn leads to understanding the type of things that can help increase voter turnout.
- Elections across a spectrum of clients have more similarities than differences. That doesn’t mean one size fits all. It does mean there’s an economy of scale and that an association election, a school election and a union vote are going to be much more similar than dissimilar and that flexible, full-featured software can accommodate the unique properties of all three without requiring separate underlying systems each with its own development and maintenance costs.
To pick up on the last bullet point, when ElectionsOnline first started in 2002, the ballots were configured manually one at a time by ElectionsOnline. Eventually, it became obvious that from one client to the next, the same steps were being repeated to create ballots that were—aside from the changes in positions and candidates—pretty much identical. Eventually a tool was created to automate much of the process, and that tool eventually evolved into what is available on the site today that permits clients to self-administer their election. The concept of self administration is another thing that became glaringly apparent as part of the evolution of the service—clients would much prefer to quickly go into their account to make ballot configuration changes than to have to submit a work order, then wait on it to be completed by a vendor.
Fast-forward to the present day, and the never-ending process of feature enhancement means the service is today quite capable of meeting the needs not just of a single vertical market, but very nearly every single prospective client that comes along with a service that is unquestionably more feature-packed than it would have been serving only a select vertical.
In truth, all but a couple election service providers offer their services horizontally, so there’s not going to be much disagreement within the industry about any of the above, but it may be of value to clients to understand how they benefit from dealing with a vendor who’s been serving a variety of clients and learning from it all along the way. The range of services and options and simple know-how that comes only from the experience of serving numerous types of clients brings value beyond just the technical aspect of the software itself.