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AMS Trend #2: Location, Location, Location

(AMS, Association Management) Permanent link

vintage ad - mercury cougar

In my last post, I stated that integration still rules the AMS world. Let’s take a look at another trend from my webinar with Joanna Pineda, CEO of the Matrix Group.

Trend #2: Hosted vs. SaaS association management systems (AMS)

A few years ago, large organizations wanted premise-based systems. But now, it’s no longer standard (or desirable) to have a system running from multiple servers inside your building. Instead, it’s a given that your AMS will be hosted elsewhere, most likely on the AMS vendor’s cloud.

Tip: If you’re not familiar with the hosted model or why you might actually want your mission-critical systems to live off premise, here’s an introduction to cloud computing.

Capital vs. Operational Expenses

When you purchase a “hosted AMS,” most of the time you’re making a capital investment up front for enterprise software, and you pay a monthly fee for maintenance and for hosting on your vendor’s cloud. Part of this monthly fee also covers scheduled, automated upgrades. However, customizations you make can greatly complicate and delay upgrades because you have to retrofit your customizations into each new version of the software.

SaaS (Software as a Service) is a subscription, or pay-as-you-go, web-based application that’s usually funded as an operational expense, rather than from your capital budget. You pay a monthly licensing fee per user as long as you wish. In general, a SaaS AMS is more of an “out-of-the-box” product that isn’t as amenable to customization, hence the lower cost. You have to be willing to make compromises on business processes if you go this route.

In either case, you’re paying for the right to use the software; you don’t actually own it. The key difference is how you’re paying for that right—as a capital expenditure (hosted) or operational one (SaaS). Many vendors are now breaking down the capitalized cost so it’s imbedded in the monthly fee, or they’re offering a hybrid, so the lines between hosted and SaaS systems have become even blurrier.

Can you host your own AMS?

Joanna makes an important point about hosting. She wisely says, “Don’t try this at home.” It’s best to have your AMS hosted off-premise by companies who have security expertise.

We sometimes get a request from one of our DelCor Cloud Connection clients to host their AMS on our private cloud. However, if the AMS vendor has their own hosting solution, we recommend using that. The AMS vendor would consider a third-party host (like us or any other cloud hosting provider) as a premise-based implementation that wouldn’t receive the customary automated AMS updates and maintenance.

Bottom line: when thinking about your AMS requirements and budget, you’ve got to consider where it lives and how you pay for it. You’ll want your AMS to remain current without being burdened by over-customization, and you’ll want to keep the security of your member data top of mind.

If your head is spinning, stop by and see us at the ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo. We enjoy talking calmly about AMSes; we’ll even help you find your AMS zen.

Good to know: we have no vested interested in any AMS product or company, so you get a completely independent, yet experienced, perspective on all these trends.

Up next, we’ll take a look at an encroaching “competitor”: the CRM.

 

Flickr photo by SenselAlan

The 5 AMS Trends You Need to Know

(AMS, Association Management) Permanent link

vintage ad - sorenson magnition

Start a conversation about association management systems (AMS) at the next association event you attend—may I suggest ASAE15?—and see what happens. You might witness joy and despair, satisfaction and frustration, pride and anger. It’s hard to believe that enterprise software could arouse such emotions, but the AMS occupies a “special” place in the work lives of many association professionals.

Is the AMS dead?

Earlier this year, I joined Joanna Pineda, CEO of the Matrix Group, for a webinar about the top trends in the AMS market. As many of you prepare to meet with AMS providers at the ASAE Expo, it’s worth revisiting our conversation now.

Our conversation started with a topic that’s been on the minds of many in the ASAE Collaborate community: is the AMS dead?

One association executive who has given much thought to this question is AIIM president John Mancini. In fact, if you haven't already, read his e-book on the topic: The Death of the AMS. John will join me and ASAE CIO Reggie Henry at ASAE’s Technology Conference in December to further discuss the future of the AMS.

I don’t believe the AMS is dead, but I do believe its form will morph to some degree in the near future. Instead of a master system that does everything, we’ll see a number of applications coming together around a core database where most of an association’s records will reside. But, the AMS will still be the core—at least that’s how I see it.

Let’s take a look at the trends we’ve been talking about this year, and will continue to examine through our thought-provoking conversations, sessions, webinars, and blogs.

Trend #1: Integration still rules.

It's perfectly fine to have some functions residing outside your AMS, like content management, e-learning, or special financial functions. When you’re selecting an AMS, look for one that does most of the things you do.

I always advocate for the 80/20 rule: find an AMS that does 80% of what you need it to do, and modify your existing business processes for the remaining 20%. Don’t try to customize an AMS to fit all of your processes—that’s a time-consuming and expensive proposition, not only at implementation, but on an ongoing basis. Instead, take advantage of this opportunity to bring best practices to your operations and improve your business processes.

Start thinking about and discussing necessary integrations with both staff and vendors during the requirements gathering and selection processes so you can consider their impact on pricing, timing, and design. Don’t wait until implementation to have these discussions.

Next, I'll examine Trend #2: SaaS vs. Hosted association management systems.

 

Published 7/27/2015. Edited 7/28/15.

Flickr photo by SenselAlan

High Noon at the IT Corral

(AMS, Association Management) Permanent link

black & white western sheriff's deputy

Imagine this:

Warning: reading this story may increase your pulse and cause temporary stress.

Your association recently deployed a new association management system (AMS). Unfortunately, several departments throughout the organization still use and maintain their own distribution lists instead of pulling lists from the AMS. When staff receive email address updates, they only update the department’s distribution lists, not the AMS. Consequently, some important constituents—including board members—aren’t receiving electronic correspondence and complain to the CEO when they realize they are out of the know.

A meeting is called. Who’s responsible? Fingers are pointing all around the table. Most of them eventually land on the communications director in charge of newsletters, who in turn points fingers at the membership director in charge of the AMS, who points fingers at government affairs, who blame the IT department because, after all, technology is their responsibility.

The IT director can’t believe what she’s hearing. Why are we in charge of the membership database? The integration, yes, but not the database. Fingers point back to the membership director. He’s burning up too. Why should he take the responsibility and blame? He wants to point his finger at the CEO who has given him neither support nor authority. How is he supposed to convince the senior staff in other departments to adopt the AMS?

Welcome to the Wild West

This account of inter-departmental bickering, back-stabbing, and blaming is admittedly an extreme example, but it’s not all that far removed from what happens in a number of associations, especially when there are no common rules in place for the use of the organization’s database.

Furthermore, the same scenario could play out with a website. No one has ownership. No one has been given the responsibility (along with the corresponding authority required) for running the site. The home page becomes a Wild West where pages become ghost towns and whoever has the most power in the room claims the prime real estate.

Technology shouldn’t cause this kind of chaos and stress. And it won’t, if a technology governance plan is put in place from the very beginning.

There’s a new sheriff in town—technology governance.

Every mission-critical system—like an AMS, financial management system (FMS), or a web content management system (CMS)—must have a business owner. This staff person is given the responsibility and the commensurate authority to ensure the system is used appropriately and effectively throughout the organization to achieve business goals.

The business owner of the AMS might well be the membership director, whereas a CMS or website might be the responsibility of the communications department. But, with the exception of technology infrastructure, IT staff should not be responsible for the business end of an association’s mission-critical systems or website. They don’t have—and shouldn’t be expected to have—the subject matter expertise to make decisions about member data or website content.

With a technology governance plan in place, everyone knows their roles and responsibilities. Leadership provides support for the plan and delegates the appropriate authority to those who have to create new processes, policies, and procedures—all aligned with the organization’s purpose in delivering value to its members. Decisions are made to advance the greater good, rather than individual or departmental agendas. Technology is used as it should be—to help the organization accomplish strategic goals and fulfill its mission.

Technology governance is a peacemaker.

When implemented properly, inter-departmental dysfunction is eliminated, and people play by the rules. If you need help restoring order and calm to your technology meetings, come visit us at ASAE Annual in Booth 315, The Hive, or delcor.com/zen and learn how to breathe easier.

 

Flickr photo by Marcus Calderon

Ignoring mobile means missed opportunities

(Web, Usability, CMS) Permanent link

Back in 2011, Luke Wroblewski, the keynote speaker at the ASAE Technology Conference, shared his “mobile first” philosophy. On ASAE’s blog, Joe Rominiecki echoed the advice we were giving back then:

“If you're not already thinking about mobile first, you might soon find yourself finishing last.”

Here we are in 2015 and we’re still having this conversation.

Back in 2011, the average adult spent 22% of their digital hours on mobile. Today, the amount of time we spend on mobile has more than doubled to 51%.

Yet, I still hear people say, “Our membership isn’t ready for mobile. We’ll worry about that later.”

Don’t wait too long. Your members are constantly being bombarded with content from:

  • Emails and newsletters in their inboxes
  • Friends, family, and brands on social media platforms
  • Traditional and digital media websites and industry blogs
  • And, in some professions, for-profit online communities

These competitors for your members’ attention and time are already providing mobile-friendly experiences. Your members expect the same from you.

Does your mobile experience measure up?

In our session at the recent ASAE Membership, Marketing & Communications Conference, ASAE’s CIO and fellow panelist Reggie Henry got straight to the point.

How many times a day do you go on your phone to do something besides making a call? Start looking at how we behave and what we want, and stop arguing that our members are any different.

Think about the mobile experience your association provides now. Members open your emails on their phones—your email marketing reports will confirm that. Are your emails designed for the mobile reader? Can they read your emails and click on links without having to zoom and pan?

If that email promotes an event, can a member register easily using his phone? Will he become frustrated trying to enter information into tiny fields? Or, do you still require members to download a PDF registration form?

When on their phones, Americans spend 89% of their time using apps—that’s the experience they’re used to. A crappy mobile experience means members have to remember to read that article, purchase that book, or register for that event later when they’re on their laptop. You’ve missed an opportunity to deliver value on their terms.

Mobile is no longer a shiny new object, it’s practically a personal appendage for many of your members. If you’re not providing a mobile-friendly experience, you’re losing a huge opportunity to deliver on-demand value.

Understand your members’ mobile behavior.

Do your research and learn how members use their phones. Find out what would be helpful to them on the job, or during their commute.

  • Do they use their phones on the job? What kind of information do they need to look up?
  • What do they want to know while they’re on the move or in transit?
  • What type of short educational or informational videos would they like? People are watching lots of videos on their phones—55% of mobile traffic is now video.
  • What kind of bite-sized content and experiences are your members looking for?

crap neon sign

Think mobile first.

When a member pulls up your website on her phone or laptop, she expects a good user experience. She expects to easily find what she wants and to do what she came to do. If you design your website with the mobile user in mind—the “mobile first” philosophy—you’ll satisfy your members no matter what device they use.

But the look and feel of your site isn’t the only part of the user experience to consider. Reggie said, “If you have a responsive website with 5,000 pages of crap, you’re making someone wade through 40,000 pages of crap on mobile.”

And that’s why a content strategy is so necessary, so you can get some control over that “crap”. To help you get started, check out our report, Going Mobile (PDF).

Flickr photo by Roadsidepictures

Lay the foundation before eyeing new technology

(Web, Usability, CMS) Permanent link

Boston Inbound Red Line Sign Harvard Station

Great news: the association community is thinking strategically about their websites because we had a standing-room-only audience for the It’s the End of the Website as We Know It session at ASAE’s Membership, Marketing & Communications (MMC) Conference.

We asked the attendees: “How many of you think your websites are relevant and communicate your association’s value proposition?”

Then, the bad news hit. Hardly any hands went up.

Before you start thinking about new website technology, heed the advice of my fellow panelist, ASAE CIO Reggie Henry: “The difference between a good website and a mediocre website is not the technology or structure. It's content.”

Develop a strategy before you implement technology.

Before you invest in any type of system—AMS, LMS, or, in this case, CMS—you must first have a solid foundation of strategy and processes in place. Otherwise, you will never get the expected return from your technology investment.

Reggie spoke of the consequences of moving forward without a strategy. Let’s say you invest in a new content management system or a responsive redesign of your website. But you don’t yet have a content strategy. Now, the 5,000 pages of “crap” (his word!) on your responsive website is now 40,000 pages of crap on your mobile website. Not so mobile-friendly after all.

Before investing in technology, you have to do the necessary foundational work:

  • Identify your audiences and their needs
  • Clarify your organization’s objectives
  • Develop strategy
  • Audit existing content
  • Set up governance and workflow

Do the work before you get carried away by the latest technology.

Inbound marketing has been getting a lot of attention lately in the ASAE Collaborate community. Inbound marketing uses content to attract and serve a target audience. Using marketing automation software, the goal is to convert the web visitor into a lead and then a customer (or member).

Dave Martin has had success using inbound marketing at the Electronic Retailing Association, where he’s the VP, Marketing & Content. At the MMC Conference, he held 2 informal sessions with attendees who were interested in learning more about inbound marketing, about which he blogs. I think Dave would agree with me: before you start investigating market automation software, first lay the foundation.

One way to get started is by developing personas—an inbound term for your target member types—that will guide the development of your inbound content strategy. You also must understand the different types of membership journeys that your personas take. Your understanding of personas and their journeys will help you identify and develop the type of content that will “attract, convert, close, and delight” them in their journey from visitor to prospect to member to advocate.

Another piece of the foundation is needed—an inbound mindset. As you develop this mindset, you start automatically thinking about the purpose of each piece of content, what type of interaction it could produce, and how that interaction might lead to another opportunity to provide value.

Clear the landscape of any barriers.

If content strategy is so critical to an association’s efforts to deliver value to members, why don’t all associations have one? Here are some possible reasons:

  • Leadership and staff aren’t familiar with the concept of content strategy or don’t understand its importance.
  • No one knows how to develop and implement an effective content strategy.
  • The people who are eager to implement a content strategy lack the authority to make it happen.
  • Leadership hasn’t made content strategy a priority, so the resources aren’t available to take on necessary, but time-consuming, tasks, like content audits.

And, it takes work, work that is never done. A team effort and the support of leadership is required to not only develop a strategy, but also to implement and maintain the governance and processes necessary to make it effective. Tough decisions must be made along the way.

Flickr photo by storm2k

Blogger’s Digest: June 2015

(Everything Else) Permanent link

Honors

We are very proud of our trailblazing CEO, Loretta Monterastelli DeLuca, FASAE, and particularly excited of her latest honor – ASAE’s Academy of Leaders Award. Share your congratulations on Facebook.

Ever studious and trailblazing in his own way, Tobin Conley achieved something many in the industry covet: the CAE. Plus, we love the alliteration in our post about his accomplishment, CAE Credential Conferred Upon Conley.

 

Blogger’s Digest: June 2015

Our series by CTO Chris Ecker, the IT security threat landscape for associations, wrapped up with month with:

To celebrate the start of summer (sort of), President Dave Coriale donned his wetsuit for the sake of data; see what we mean:

Finally, we realized the only constant is change, and that’s why we’re still talking about it. Take our pop quiz on change management:

 

Upcoming Events

  • July 3: DelCor will be closed in observance of Independence Day.
  • July 14-16: Meet up with Dave and Brian at the CESSE Annual Meeting in Norfolk, VA
  • August 8-11: ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo – more info to come on our ASAE15 activities next month!

 

CAE Credential Conferred Upon Conley

(Our Company) Permanent link

DelCor consultant earns highest credential in association industry

headshot - Tobin ConleyASAE has announced that Tobin P. Conley of DelCor Technology Solutions has earned the Certified Association Executive (CAE®) designation. The CAE is the highest professional credential in the association industry.

“We at DelCor are extremely proud of Tobin for this accomplishment,” said CEO Loretta Monterastelli DeLuca, FASAE. “His dedication to the association community and his work ethic are second to none. We are lucky—the entire community is lucky—to benefit from his knowledge, experience, foresight, and sense of humor.”

Mr. Conley has worked in the non-profit, higher education, and association communities for more than 30 years—nearly half of them as a consultant at DelCor. As a senior consultant in technology management at DelCor, he helps associations achieve progress through technology strategic planning, digital strategy, system assessments and selection, e-learning strategies, and more.

“My work for and with various associations over the years, as well as my volunteer experiences, were particularly helpful in bringing the subject matter to life, which helped me apply the CAE body of knowledge effectively, and will continue to serve me—and my clients and cohorts—well in the future,” said Conley.

Mr. Conley is a member of ASAE and a course facilitator for ASAE University. He is a frequent author, speaker, and presenter in the association community. He previously chaired the ASAE Professional Development Section Council and serves on the Board of Directors (as Immediate Past President) for the Arc of Montgomery County.

Prior to joining DelCor, Mr. Conley worked in a number of associations, including the International Sign Association, the Association of American Colleges & Universities, United Educators Risk Retention Group, and the National Association of College & University Business Officers.

He holds a B.A. degree in Political Philosophy from Michigan State University, Cum Laude (Phi Beta Kappa member), as well as an M.A. degree in History and an M.L.S. from the University of Maryland, College Park.

ABOUT DELCOR

DelCor Technology Solutions, Inc., is an independent technology consulting firm headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland, with seven areas of service designed especially for associations and nonprofits. Since its founding in 1984, DelCor has helped hundreds of organizations nationwide achieve progress through technology, with a focus on IT Maturity. For more information, visit www.delcor.com.

ABOUT CAE

To be designated as a Certified Association Executive, an applicant must have a minimum of three years’ experience with nonprofit organization management, complete a minimum of 100 hours of specialized professional development, pass a stringent examination in association management, and pledge to uphold a code of ethics. To maintain the certification, individuals must undertake ongoing professional development and activities in association and nonprofit management. More than 4,000 association professionals currently hold the CAE credential. The CAE Program is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). For more information, visit www.whatiscae.org.

ABOUT ASAE: THE CENTER FOR ASSOCIATION LEADERSHIP

ASAE is a membership organization of more than 21,000 association executives and industry partners representing 10,000 organizations. Its members manage leading trade associations, individual membership societies and voluntary organizations across the United States and in nearly 50 countries around the world. With support of the ASAE Foundation, a separate nonprofit entity, ASAE is the premier source of learning, knowledge and future-oriented research for the association and nonprofit profession, and provides resources, education, ideas and advocacy to enhance the power and performance of the association and nonprofit community. For more information about ASAE, visit www.asaecenter.org.

The secret to managing change during a technology project

(Project Management) Permanent link

Pop quiz! If your association is about to select a new AMS and plans to begin the implementation process in 3-4 months, when do you start thinking about change management?

  1. Just prior to user training
  2. During acceptance testing
  3. Immediately after the selection has been made
  4. During requirements gathering

Here’s a hint from René Shonerd, Managing Director of Technology Initiatives at the American Industrial Hygiene Association. (You might remember René from a 4-part series of posts I wrote about her framework for change management.)

Change management is a part of project management, but it’s often overlooked. That was our message during the session: project management steps must be in sync with change management steps.

A CiteWorld graphic that René used in a presentation at the ASAE Technology Conference reveals the answer: D. Start change management during the first phase of project management: requirements gathering and analysis.

PM and change management parallel timeline - CiteWorld

Each phase of project management must coordinate with each phase of change management. You can’t wait until you’re getting ready to roll out a new system to start thinking about change management. By then, it’s far too late.

When a project fails to live up to expectations, you can often trace the cause back to the project’s beginning. For example, requirements analysis, a critical project step, might have been done poorly or not at all. Or, as René pointed out, change management may not have been part of the project plan from the start. As you build a system, you also need to build the desire for that system and the capacity to adopt that system in the people who will interact with it.

The bottom timeline in the graphic above illustrates the 5-step ADKAR change management model.

  • Awareness of the need to change
  • Desire to participate and support the change
  • Knowledge of how to change (and what the change looks like)
  • Ability to implement the change on a day-to-day basis
  • Reinforcement to keep the change in place

Awareness of the need to change

Once the go-ahead is given and the project plan is developed, requirements analysis begins. During this project stage, staff stakeholders and business analysts identify and document the requirements for the new system as well as changes to business processes.

Staff and project leaders must start communicating withstaff about the need for change at the very beginning of the project. Some staff may not understand or agree with the need for change, so it’s crucial to listen carefully, address their concerns, answer questions, and squash misinformation and rumors.

Desire to participate and support the change

While the project moves onto the design phase, staff leaders must focus on building within the staff the desire to support the forthcoming change. At this point, staff should understand the reason for a new system, but now they want to know how the change is going to affect them. How will their business processes, procedures, and job descriptions change?

Change is personal. You need to understand reasons for resistance to change and develop a plan for turning that resistance into support.

Knowledge of how to change

As the system is being developed, you must help everyone develop the knowledge they need to make the required change. Some staff will only require training, but some will need more individual attention and coaching. This is an anxious and awkward time for those who aren’t used to learning new skills, so keep reminding them of the positive impact the new system will make on their job, the organization’s operations, and/or the membership experience.

Ability to implement the change on a day-to-day basis

As the system is rolled out, your change management efforts focus on helping staff develop and practice the new skills and behavior required to sustain the change. To do this, you need to identify any logistical and cultural barriers that could prevent them from implementing the new system and/or processes.

  • Are supervisors modeling the change you want to see?
  • Is staff able to fall back on old methods of doing things?
  • Has staff been given the necessary time to learn new skills and develop new workflows, or are they expected to add those responsibilities to their existing schedule?
  • Are they being rushed too quickly?

Reinforcement to keep the change in place

Even though a project may have come to a close, the change management process continues. You have to make the change stick. Change is sustained through ongoing coaching and training, opportunities for feedback, celebration of quick wins, and the demonstration of individual and collective progress.

When you plan for change from the beginning of a new project, you can prevent most of the frustrations, complaints, and resistance that normally occur when change management isn’t synchronized with project management.

Security tools to protect your association against social engineering, and then some

(Cloud Computing, Infrastructure, Security) Permanent link

crook cracking into computer

What if someone on your staff received a curt, unexpected email from a colleague asking them to read an attached memo? Would they open the attachment? You’d be surprised how many would do that without realizing they’re about to be phished.

Phishing is just one of the security threats on an association IT department’s radar these days. In this post – the last in a series about security – I’ll share some suggestions for security tools that will help protect your association and its data from evil doers, both human and bot.

Last fall, the security company McAfee sent out a 10-question Phishing Quiz to more than 30,000 participants. 80% of them fell for at least one phishing email in the quiz. Moral of the story? You can have the best perimeter defenses, but one malware link clicked by someone on staff can let in an outside agent.

To minimize that risk, you can hire a company to provide social engineering training for staff. With your permission, these companies send phishing emails to staff. When someone clicks on a “bad” link, they are sent a 30-second video teaching them how to respond to these types of threats. If you do hire a social engineering training company, let your staff know what you’re doing and why; you don’t want to make them feel like they’re being punished or patronized.

Because everyone brings their phone and tablets to work these days, you need a mobile device policy and mobile device management software. Your policy should cover passwords, loss of devices, and consequences of lost devices (i.e., data wipes). Let staff know that if they want to access association data or networks from their phone, you must implement these security considerations.

2 solutions that also deserve a place in your security toolkit are:

  • BeyondTrust, privilege account management and vulnerability management software – stops viruses and other threats by restricting the types of executables that can run on computers.
  • OpenDNS, cloud-delivered network security software – provides phishing protection and optional content filtering.

To stay current with the constantly changing security landscape, check out the valuable information and tips about IT security from these 2 federal organizations:

  • The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team is a federal agency that provides weekly and monthly notices about security vulnerabilities.
  • InfraGard, a collaboration between the FBI and the private sector to prevent hostile acts against the U.S., provides free access to its many resources.

Back in the office, make sure the IT department knows about all the technology platforms and vendors used by staff. For example, is anyone using Dropbox? Has there ever been a conversation with your website hosting provider about web app security? Dangerous communication gaps can result when a single person or department has the relationship with a vendor and the IT department is left out of the loop.

IT staff must review the access that every vendor has to your networks, systems, and data. They must have candid discussions with the providers of SaaS platforms and cloud hosting to learn about the vendor’s security policies.

IT security is a collaborative effort. IT staff doesn't need to completely lock down the fortress, but they do need to educate colleagues about security vulnerabilities and the reasons they do what they do.

Read our complete series on association data security:

  1. The IT security threat landscape for associations
  2. Finding the sweet spot for your association’s IT security
  3. Is your association’s IT security policy up to snuff?
  4. Security tools to protect your association against social engineering, and then some (this post)

Flickr photo by elhombredenegro

How associations can dive in to Big Data

(AMS, Association Management) Permanent link

black & white retro deep sea divers

Not so long ago, the only people in associations who were in charge of purchasing or implementing technology were the hardcore geeks who hung out in the server room – the ones who talked about .php, web apps, patches, and other tech gobbledygook.

Ironically, it’s cool to be called a geek now; the geeks are today’s technology leaders. Meanwhile, staff from departments across the association are also leading technology projects. Technology has, in a sense, been democratized.

Data democratization

Data is heading that way too. When articles and conference sessions about “big data” started showing up in association industry magazines and conferences, you could sense a bit of resistance. Association professionals first wanted to get a handle on the “small” data they’d been collecting before taking on the big stuff.

But soon enough, people stopped worrying about the size of data, and started focusing on the impact of data. “Associations are looking at data sets with a different point of view,” says Vice President of Information Technology at American Gastroenterological Association, Prabhash Shrestha, PMP, CAE. “They’re using data to understand trends, to identify problems, and to figure out why things are happening.”

The perks of deep data dives

Traditionally, monthly membership reports have included retention rates along with new and total membership numbers. Now, membership staff can dig deeper into data and learn about the wide range of membership experiences in their association. They can segment data to compare the retention rate of first-year members with other members, or to look at the retention of members who joined as part of a conference registration package. They can track engagement data to identify the activities that have the most impact on retention.

“This type of data analysis makes a dent in what we do,” says Prabhash, who is admittedly passionate about data strategy. I wanted to talk to him about his approach to data after hearing about a session he co-presented at the ASAE Technology Conference, Creating a Big Data Strategy with Tactics for Quick Implementation.

Prabhash believes association professionals are more data-driven and strategic than they were 5 years ago. “We’re using predictive analysis now. We’re deciding what action to take based on our analysis of data.”

Data that’s not daunting

“Big data” sounds overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Prabhash believes in “analyzing data in place,” instead of corralling it all from separate databases into one hub – a formidable (and often expensive) task for many associations.

He says, “We’re fortunate in 2015 to have data visualization tools, like Tableau, that have the proper API and security in place to access different databases. You don’t have to bring data into one system.”

At his former association, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, his team used Tableau to create 26 different dashboards that pulled real-time data from multiple systems. During the first week of every month, they shared these dashboards with each functional area of the association.

He’s bringing this same approach to the American Gastroenterological Association. “The key is to have a solid partnership between the IT team and each department, so you can assist them in defining the type of data that will help them do things differently and better.”

They started with the IT dashboard, which they shared with senior staff as a warm-up exercise. They’re rolling out an additional dashboard each month. Ultimately, Prabhash projects having about 15 or 16 dashboards, each with 6-8 graphs and charts.

“We’ll continue to have conversations with the different departments as the year goes on to make sure everyone understands what the data is saying and how it can move them closer to their business goals.” Eventually staff will be trained to develop dashboards themselves.

Business intelligence is a hot topic right now, but Prabhash says you need to bring big data down to the practical level, that is, to make big data more human-scaled. “These dashboards will change how my colleagues think and they’ll shed new light on the information we already have,” he says. “They’re the quickest way for IT professionals to become rock star CIOs.”

Flickr photo by James Vaughan