Enterprise Mobility & the Connected Worker Blog

Iowa Caucus 2020: How Digital Initiatives Can Go Horribly Wrong. Or…The Mission Critical Importance of User Design and SW Testing

by John-Luke D’Amico, with David Krebs | 02/11/2020


One week ago marked the day Shadow Inc. made a grievous error by launching their faulty smartphone application to track voting records at the Iowa Caucus. The application was part of a technological policy push to create greater efficiency, ease, and transparency within an important process for the Democratic Party to choose their lead candidate in the presidential election. The mobile application failed to serve its primary purpose and contained errors in both its tabulation process as well as its user interface. As the application itself fell flat, so did the integration due to poor planning and a lack of training.

The application from the Caucus is a prime example of a bungled rollout of a new mobile solution and the serious problems it can cause for the organization and its stakeholders. These problems are not exclusive to political organizations as the user interface is a critical element of any mobile solution particularly ones of enterprise organizations. In a 2019 VDC survey, 53% of warehouse and 37% of retail respondents considered ease of use among top selection criteria with regards to user design. This has increased substantially from 31% and 22% respectively (from similar research conducted in 2018), serving to illustrate the growing importance of intuitive decisions surrounding functional end-user design. Both warehouse and retail enterprises are paying greater attention to the ease of use of new applications and the consequences of missteps.

For the Iowa Caucus, the chaos stemmed from the application's inability to allow users to correctly record their vote at the designated times and then accurately prescribe the next steps to be completed. The virtual caucus attempted to increase voter participation but only served to hurt the reputation of and faith in online voting applications. Users must be able to easily accomplish goals through consistent movements and procedures for efficient usage. By having a fundamentally sound design, users are able to complete tasks with little hesitation stemming from application questions. Resulting in much higher ease of use and accomplishment of goals.

Issues are common with many innovative technologies. However, there are elements of good practice that should be followed in order to prevent large scale failures. David Krebs, Executive Vice-President of VDC Research, recommends the implementation of dynamic automated testing tools for both the security as well as the software of an application. Unfortunately, this is not the norm today with less than one in five organizations employing dynamic testing tools for their most recent project, opting for less effective manual testing or in-house tools.

However, the faulty code in the Shadow app was not the only contributor to the failure with operational issues impacting the rollout of the app. Staff responsible for using the app were not properly trained nor did it appear that the app was pre-loaded in advance to allow for proper testing. Moreover, once the issues began, the helpdesk and support infrastructure was severely understaffed to account for the volume of distress calls.  Without sufficient training and testing, organizers were unable to deal with the breadth of issues encountered and the massive volume of voters experiencing issues.

Problems with the Democrat’s Iowa caucus could have been avoided had there been further steps to ensure full user ability. Enterprises can follow this example as one to avoid in regards to the rollout of important mobile applications within the workplace. Caution must be taken in through a preventative method as well as taking into effect wise user design. Good practice can save time, effort, and money for all types of organizations.

View the 2020 Enterprise Mobility and the Connected Worker Research Outline to learn more