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Sizzling September Events & August Blogger’s Digest

(Everything Else) Permanent link

Find Your IT Zen

We had a momentous time at ASAE Annual in Detroit—learning, connecting, and lauding two of our staff. Our founding CEO, Loretta Monterastelli DeLuca, FASAE, received ASAE’s Academy of Leaders Award, the highest individual honor bestowed upon industry partners like DelCor. Senior Consultant Tobin Conley also graced the stage to pick up his CAE. We are so proud of both! To relive these moments and more—and to find out where you can #findyourITzen next—visit delcor.com/zen.

May We Suggest?…

If you’re going to HubSpot’s Inbound conference NEXT WEEK [September 8], you’ll want to connect with your association friends… won’t you? » #InboundAssn Meetup

JUST ANNOUNCED—we’re joining forces with Results Direct to present Association Palooza IV, a free half-day event [September 15] focused on the future digital landscape for your association. (You can even earn CAE credits.) » “I Got This!”

Is a new AMS on your two-year shopping list? Don’t procrastinate—starting kicking the tires now [September 17] and bring along a good consultant! Never fear—we'll be there for you. » AMS Fest

For more community and association events, keep reading or visit » delcor.com/events

Blogger’s Digest: August 2015

Last month, Loretta shared the 5 AMS trends you need to know.

Of course, August = ASAE Annual, and we had a big time in Detroit.

While AMSes are a hot topic before, during, and after ASAE Annual, outsourced technology services are something many organizations consider to keep up with changes in hardware, software, and networks—not to mention organizational strategy, staff, culture, and budgets.

Upcoming Events

Wait! Before you sign that association software contract…

(AMS, Association Management) Permanent link

Reese's peanut butter cups

The next time you’re considering an association software contract (AMS, CRM, CMS, etc.), try using the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup model. A well-rounded software contract includes both legal and business components—I’ll let you decide which one is peanut butter and which one is chocolate. It’s critical to thoroughly analyze both the legal and business implications of the contract before you sign. In the end, legal rules—but you have to live with the business implications every day.

After all the work associated with gathering requirements, developing a request for information (RFI) and/or request for proposal (RFP), researching your options, and making a selection, most people are only too eager to get that contract signed—but hold steady. First, learn about what should be in the contract. Then, examine every aspect of the contract and ensure you clearly understand what you’re getting.

Due diligence—gathering and analyzing background information on a proposed business deal so you can make an informed decision about whether to go forward—is critical. Proper due diligence minimizes your risk of not getting what you’re expecting. You know you’ll get what you need because you’ve done your due diligence before signing anything.

Establish a healthy “contract review” mindset

We all have a natural bias toward expecting the best. However, that attitude isn’t always warranted. Things do generally look great before you sign.

  • The vendor is responsive—after all, they’re still courting you.
  • Everything seems to make sense at the time—however, you don’t know what you don’t know and you want the new system to be the answer.
  • It’s time to move on—you have other work on your plate and you’ve already invested lots of time in this project.
  • The vendor assures you the software will meet your needs—and you want to believe that, you want to be a good trusting partner.

All I’m saying is: keep an understanding of this natural bias in mind so you know when you’re falling under its spell. That being said, don’t go too far in the other direction. Be reasonable about what each party (your association and the vendor) should expect.

Most importantly, pause. Don’t assume anything. Take time to review each part of the contract and ask for clarification when you’re not clear on something. The contract is a formal agreement as to what the vendor will do for you. It should clearly state what services are included. Don’t assume that because item X was in the vendor’s proposal or you talked about it with the vendor that item X is part of the deal. If item X is not in the contract, the vendor is not obligated to provide it.

5 questions to consider before signing a software contract



#1 Do you know what you need and want?

How confident are you that this is the right system and vendor for you? When a system doesn’t live up to expectations, it’s often because the requirements analysis process was done poorly or not at all.

If you’ve arrived at selection without going through a thorough requirements gathering, prioritizing, and documenting process, press pause, then rewind and do that first. You may end up in an entirely different place and, yes, it’s worth it in the end.

#2 Have you seen that the vendor can do what you need, and do you like how they do it?

The vendor should provide detailed demonstrations that show how the software meets your needs. If they promise a functionality, make sure you see it demonstrated. If the vendor touts mobile features, ask to see mobile functionality demonstrated on someone’s phone—don’t assume it will work the way you think (or hope) it will work.

#3 Have you received a proposal from the vendor?

The vendor’s proposal lays out what they will do to meet the needs you identified in the RFP and/or discussed during the sales cycle. Their proposal should include:

  • Software and services costs
  • Details on how the product meets your requirements
  • A copy of the contract
  • Details on the implementation process

In addition to licensing details, make sure the proposal addresses the following items as part of the implementation services:

  • Setup
  • Configuration
  • Customization
  • Data conversion
  • Integrations
  • Training
  • Web setup (if separate)
  • Testing
  • Report and query development
  • Upgrades (if applicable)

When requesting a proposal, be sure to include any critical and mandatory contract language in your RFP or solicitation document so the vendor knows your “make-or-break” terms up front. These items are different for every organization but may include clauses pertaining to indemnity, confidentiality, data ownership, or performance standards language.

#4 How do the costs and contract terms compare with other vendors? 

When it comes to costs, you need to do an apples-to-apples comparison of vendors on your baseline requirements. Be awareof the abilities and limits of the vendors being considered, so you’re really comparing apples to apples. Similarly, be sure to review the standard contract submitted with the proposal so you can understand how contract terms may vary among the vendors you’re considering.

#5 How strong is your position for negotiating?

Your negotiating strength depends on the timing of your selection decision, vendor competition, vendor desire for your business, and type of product. The greatest opportunity for negotiation is during the sales cycle before you make your selection decision and notify vendors.

If the vendor is still trying to win your business, then your negotiation position is stronger than it would be if you’ve already told the vendor they’ve got the deal. Negotiate for what you need before giving the good news.

Vendors who are more “productized”—for example, they sell off-the-shelf SaaS products—are generally less willing to negotiate. They want the same contract for everyone. Vendors who sell a product but have other vendors provide the services for it may also be less likely to negotiate.

Vendors who sell and implement their own systems are generally more open to negotiations. Establishing a good dialogue with the vendor can be extremely beneficial to negotiations and ensures you each understand why certain language is important to the other party.

Know how far it’s prudent to take negotiations. You must ensure that your organization is treated fairly and protected, but don’t jeopardize the entire project for something unless it’s truly a deal-breaker issue. Reasonableness—on the part of your association as well as the vendor—goes a long way when discussing and negotiating contract terms together.

Can you see clearly now?

In my next post, I’ll dig deeper into some areas of the contract that usually need more clarity and consideration.

Editor’s note: This post is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice. Always seek experienced legal counsel to address risks based on your association’s own, unique circumstances.

Flickr photo by Michael Verhoef

Outsourcing IT to a Managed Serviced Provider (MSP)

(Cloud Computing, Infrastructure, Security) Permanent link

Technology is changing and evolving at such a rapid pace that it’s difficult for many associations and nonprofits to keep up. That’s why many organizations work with a Managed Services Provider (MSP) that monitors and manages their IT infrastructure, hardware, software, and networks.

neon light in tunnel

What should you look for in an MSP?

This post will answer that question, but first: How does an MSP help associations and nonprofits?

Some organizations turn to MSPs because they don’t have sufficient IT staff. Others have the staff but would rather they focus on more mission-critical initiatives. In either case, an MSP acts as an association’s outsourced IT department. MSPs—like DelCor—help associations prevent IT crises, reduce costs, and improve operational and technological performance.

An MSP delivers a multi-layered approach to IT. We serve as the traditional help desk for desktop, laptop, tablet, phone, and peripheral issues. We also manage the back-office infrastructure, including the network, security, servers, patches, data backup and recovery, and connectivity.

Selecting a Managed Service Provider

We’ve been providing managed services to clients for decades, so we have some ideas about the qualities you should seek in an MSP.

Association experience. Narrow your search for an MSP to established organizations that have deep experience in the association or nonprofit industry. You want your MSP to be familiar with the vendors and systems used by associations and nonprofits. For example, your MSP should have a good understanding of the different systems used to manage member data and run your annual meeting.

Advanced skills. Look for a company with skills in change management, integration, security, virtualization, and cloud technologies to help you make the most of your technology—now and in the future.

Accessibility. Your provider’s network operations center should be located in the U.S. and staffed to meet your needs.

Strategic and proactive. MSPs shouldn’t only be concerned with your operational needs. There’s a strong strategic component to what you do, and that should carry over to your MSP, which should be more than a “utility.” Your MSP must be both operationally and strategically proactive, and focused on preventing problems, not just fixing them.

Dedicated consultant. This type of strategic approach requires a dedicated consultant who’s in your office with some regularity—once a month at a minimum. A dedicated consultant gets to know your organization. He understands your strategic direction and goals. Because he has “ears to the ground,” he understands your organization’s daily operations and your staff’s unique challenges.

Trusted advisor. A dedicated consultant also helps with technology planning and budgeting, bringing you the best solutions based on deep knowledge of the solutions in the marketplace and what will work for your needs and budget. An MSP consultant can also help you make the case to your board to invest in technology that helps you achieve your mission, vision, and goals. At DelCor, we’re always available for board education.

Up to the challenge. Ask prospective MSPs about the most difficult issues they’ve faced with association clients, and how they dealt with those issues. Find out how they handle issues such as a virus infection, data breach, or loss of data. Ask them about the proactive steps they take as part of their service.

Reputation. Get several association references and ask them questions such as:

  • How long have you been with your MSP?
  • How is their support and responsiveness?
  • How do they react when there’s an emergency?
  • How do they proactively help you?
  • How are they with your board?

Relationship. Ideally, you’ll have a long-term relationship with your MSP. However, at the beginning, a one-year contract is fine. You need time to make sure the relationship works. You also don’t want to be stuck for three years in a bad relationship because of a contract. Make sure your contract (or service level agreement) is performance-based.

Remember, an MSP is not just another utility.

If you think of your managed services provider as a partner, you’re likely to make a more appropriate choice for your organization—setting you up for long-term success.

 

Flickr photo by darkday

What I learned at the 2015 ASAE Annual Meeting

(Community, Events) Permanent link

click for sourceGetting together. The world seems to move faster and faster—it’s refreshing to take time to talk face-to-face with colleagues. Hallway discussions after sessions take interesting twists and turns that you would miss in a virtual setting.

Opening session was great! The word Judo Flip is stuck in my head and I will never look at window washers the same.

 

Detroit: Amazing hospitality. I had no idea the city had such beautiful buildings. You could lose yourself in them.

Education. I had trouble selecting sessions to attend and had to fill time with discussions in the halls and Twitter feeds.

  1. Take the bull by the horns: There is bullying in the workplace. Use many of the techniques you tell your kids. Say no to bullies! Make the argument about THEM not YOU.
  2. Servant Leadership: Strong leaders build an environment of trust and authority. This is hard to do so you need to practice and fine tune these skills. Here's more from Memberclicks.
  3. Business Excellence Office: Imagine reducing 200 projects to 20! Here's how AGU and ASHA implemented BEO.
  4. IT Maturity Model: Our IT Maturity Model is moving from a consulting tool to a research tool—bring on the analytics geeks (I mean experts)!
  5. Women in Leadership: Queen Bee Syndrome can poison the work hive. Work-life ‘balance’ is really alignment and satisfaction, which are not always equal.

The Power of A. Get involved! Government leaders do not understand the power of associations. Show them. Everyone has a part to play.

click for sourceRelationships—they're the glue that holds everything together. I was excited to learn that Mark Dorsey will be the new CEO of CSI, my workplace home for many years. I look forward to watching the organization grow and thrive under Mark’s leadership.

Overlooked—don’t count Millennials out as a powerful workforce.

IGNITE sessions! If you missed it, add it to your schedule for 2016 RIGHT NOW! The lessons this year: live, listen to music (download and support the ASAE Foundation), risk, go on an adventure!

Thankful for working in an industry chock full of talented, dedicated professionals, including the great leaders and talented co-workers at DelCor:

  • Loretta DeLuca who was recognized with the Academy of Leaders Award for industry partners.
  • Dave Coriale who is working with the ASAE Foundation to use the IT Maturity Model as a tool to support the industry.
  • Tobin Conley, new CAE!
  • Finally, the talented Bill Walker Rowan who creates great booth designs and materials!

 

Go Detroit!

How did the city inspire you? Did ASAE Annual remind you to be thankful for something in your personal or professional life?

5 Tips for Selecting an AMS Vendor

(AMS, Association Management) Permanent link

Before I went to Detroit to participate in the ASAE Annual Meeting, I blogged about AMS trends based on a webinar I did with Matrix Group CEO Joanna Pineda. You might have already perused a few of my posts:

Now that I’m back and all caught up on email (ha!), I want to offer one more “bonus.” It’s particularly relevant for those of you who cruised the exhibit hall chatting with AMS vendors. You probably sought advice and commiseration from colleagues, too, right?

That’s fine, but here’s my word of caution: Just because someone likes their AMS, it doesn’t mean their AMS will be a good fit for your association. It’s a lot like buying a car—just because it works for your neighbor or your dad, doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for you.

Before you sign that contract or draw straws for a new AMS, here are some points I beg you to consider. Fasten your seat belt!

vintage ad - pontiac grand am

Loretta DeLuca’s 5 Tips for Selecting an AMS Vendor

Tip #1: Define your AMS selection criteria.

Before asking for AMS recommendations from your peers, you must first define your selection criteria. You need this criteria to narrow down, in a logical fashion, the group of associations (or peers) with similar selection criteria, and, therefore, to narrow down the pool of AMS vendors.

Determine how you will make a decision. Here’s just a sample of the types of selection criteria you might use.

  • Is it based solely on budget? (By the way, that’s never a good situation to be in.)
  • Is it based on a convoluted membership renewal process?
  • Or, if your IT department does a lot of development, is it based on the type of technology platform the AMS is built on?
     

Tip #2: Do your due diligence up front.

Find out how much due diligence your board requires. Develop a solicitation document that outlines the baseline functions needed, for example, a Request for Information (RFI) and/or a Request for Proposals (RFP), so you have a paper trail that distributes the risk moving forward.

Tip #3: Arrange a design study before moving into implementation.

The design study is a critical step in ensuring a smooth path ahead. During this phase, you give the vendor the opportunity to tell it like it is, for better or worse. For example, the vendor might tell you: “OK, I see that this is how you’re currently carrying out your processes. They don’t match our functionality in these areas. Are you going to change your processes or are we customizing your system?”

At the same time, during design study, you both determine how the system will actually be set up. “Member type” seems like a simple field to populate, but it means different things to different organizations. Does it mean “active” or “expired?” Or, does it mean “full” or “student?”

When we produce an RFP for clients, the RFP serves as the foundation for the design study. Because, at this point, we know the client and the vendor/product very well, we’re able to help bridge gaps and make decisions with the client on how to handle various situations.

When the design study is complete, you should have a design document, or roadmap, that clearly spells out how the system will be implemented. Ideally, this will include a not-to-exceed cost for implementation. Carefully review this document, as not doing so will inevitably lead to misunderstandings later on.

Tip #4: Solicit a reasonable number of vendors.

Don’t solicit 20 AMS vendors. Narrow it down to five at the most. Three is ideal. Otherwise, the RFP and selection process becomes too unwieldy. I once heard of an association who requested proposals from 25 AMS vendors. Nine months later, they were still trying to process them.

Tip #5: Be realistic with timelines.

Make sure you allow enough time to gather requirements, make a selection, do a design study, and implement the system. Three months is not enough! Also, before you begin the selection process, have a solid understanding of the time, money, and staff resources that will be required from your end.

Don’t be daunted.

Selecting a system can be a daunting process, but if you follow a solid process of due diligence, the resulting selection should be sound and defendable. The tough part really comes next. You’ve dotted your “i’s” and crossed your “t’s” for the selection—don’t let all your good work fall apart during implementation by doing all the wrong things.

 

Flickr photo by SenselAlan

Plan ahead: turn ASAE15 conference ideas into action

(Tech Tips, Innovative Ideas, Dear Del) Permanent link

lightbulb - it seemed like a good idea at the time

We all head out for ASAE Annual with this rosy vision of how THIS TIME we’ll find that silver bullet, that essential piece of info we can cart home and use to solve all our association’s problems.

Then WHAM! I don’t know if it happens on the trip home, or when we return to the hectic pace of the office, not to mention the backlog of work waiting for us there, but suddenly… blip! Your brilliant idea… it’s gone.

Fear not, intrepid travelers, help is here.

Since 4 brains are better than one, I joined Lisa Van Gemert of American Mensa; Trevor Mitchell, then at ARMA International, now at American Mensa; and Lauren Hefner of Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association for a session at ASAE’s Great Ideas Conference on turning ideas into action.

Today, I’m sharing a few of our insights on how you can take what you learn at ASAE Annual and actually retain and use it when you get back to the office.

The old conference m.o. (and how to overcome it)

First, let’s review how we usually take home ideas from conferences, as Lisa so adroitly did in our Great Ideas session:

You go onsite to the meeting, you take copious notes—pages and pages of notes in your tablet, phone, notebook, or assorted hotel notepads. You stow away handouts in your conference tote, along with exhibit swag. You feel pretty good about yourself with your Einstein-rivaling brain full of awesome ideas.

Then, if you’re anything like me, as you fly home you’re still buzzing from all the ideas you continue to capture on cocktail napkins, supremely confident that things are going to be different this time!

The next day, back in the office, you open your email. Oh look, 847 unread messages… WHAT?!?! You file your precious notes and handouts in a special folder that you intend to consult daily. Your computer dings: meeting in 15 minutes. Bummer. A glance at your calendar deflates you further: meetings, conference calls, and more meetings fill up the coming days. You no longer feel much like Einstein.

This is how it typically goes for many of us. However, Lisa made a conscious effort to change the way she approached conferences by planning ahead, making all the difference in the world, and now her ideas work for her (instead of languishing in some forgotten file).

Adopt, adapt, apply

Trevor took a slightly different approach. He primed himself before the conference to identify potential exercises he could bring home and apply to a specific issue he wanted to solve. Then, ideally, he’d help fellow staff members better understand the issue as it applied to key projects. Although he found a session he thought would be great at helping him explore this issue with his colleagues, the format as presented didn’t really fit the circumstances at his organization. So what did he do?

He took the main idea of the session (in this case, the PM PokerTM approach) and altered it to work back at his association. This tactic provided just what he needed to take what he learned and apply it effectively at home. It’s just this type of flexible thinking that event attendees should employ to get the most out of conference content.

The “rule of 3” method

To get more value from the ASAE conferences she attends, Lauren has a game plan: the “rule of 3” method. This framework allows her to focus her efforts and achieve measurable results.

Rule #1: Get answers to 3 questions.

On the plane there, make a list of 3 questions you want answered or 3 takeaways you wish to bring home. The goal is to get those questions answered by the end of the conference.

Rule #2: Go home with 3 immediately actionable items.

Seek to go home with 3 actionable items you can use that first week back—not things that create work, but things that are helpful. Lauren often Tweets these actionable items during the conference. These Tweets masquerade as helpful tips for the association community; but, in fact, they’re really notes to herself that she can revisit when putting them into action back home.

If you don’t have an actionable to-do, Lauren recommends listening for things your colleagues may be able to use—think outside your own area of responsibilities if you must.

Rule #3: Make 3 new friends.

Lastly, Lauren suggests that you plan to walk away with at least 3 new contacts you can immediately add to your network in a meaningful way—not merely as a LinkedIn buddy. These are folks who have something you need, have a need you can fill, or would be a good mentor or friend.

The usual conference m.o. is meeting dozens of people at a conference, collecting a pile of business cards, and adding them to the pile of faceless names from 2 years ago. You’ll never talk to these people if you don’t remember them.

Instead, every night during the conference, Lauren sends emails or connects on LinkedIn to new acquaintances. She reminds them of their discussion and suggests a plan to have a call or coffee in the next month. Some of these new acquaintances have become friends because she makes it her goal to collaborate with them, not just connect with them on LinkedIn. And that’s how Lauren ended up doing this session with me.

Create a personal plan of attack.

No matter how you choose to approach it, lay out some strategy for how you wish to get the most out of the many benefits that the ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo has to offer. Planning ahead is the key to making it a meaningful experience—one that actually helps you do your job in the future.

Go, learn, enjoy—and build in time to relax!

Subscribe  

 

Flickr photo by Mindy Johnson

DelCor Blogger’s Digest and #ASAE15 Preview: July 2015

(Everything Else) Permanent link

DelCor: Find Your IT Zen

Our technology therapists are headed to Detroit for the ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo. We’re channeling IT zen, to help you find yours—so you can advance your mission, vision, and business goals. If you follow us on Twitter, you’re already tuned in to our Tweets on Detroit trivia, #ASAE15, and zen tips. Find out more—and find your IT zen—at delcor.com/zen, The Hive, or Booth 315.

Blogger’s Digest: July 2015

Looking for new technology solutions at ASAE15? Dave advises, lay the foundation before eyeing new technology, to ensure your long-term success. (July 6, 2015)

While you’re on site in Detroit, you’ll likely be relying on your mobile for many things, including keeping up with your workload and your members. You wouldn’t want to log on to a crappy experience on your smartphone or tablet, would you? That’s why Dave says, ignoring mobile means missed opportunities. (July 14, 2015)

Whoa—there’s a new sheriff in town: technology governance. Find out how this business mindset can bring peace to the Wild West in High Noon at the IT Corral. (Tobin Conley, CAE, July 23, 2015)

Around the association community, the question “Is the AMS dead?” has been abuzz. But this is just one of many questions association executives ask about AMSes—trust me, we get lots of ’em! Loretta took to the blog last week to discuss The 5 AMS Trends You Need to Know, based on a webinar she presented earlier this year with Joanna Pineda, CEO, Matrix Group. Good pre-conference reading if you’re curious about what’s up with AMSes these days! Watch for bonus posts on the blog this week.

 

Upcoming Events

Tips for ASAE Annual from a seasoned pro

(Community, Events) Permanent link

Melissa Etheridge at ASAE Annual 2010 in Los Angeles

All of a sudden, ASAE Annual is just around the corner. Since I’ve been to many Annual Meetings, I’d like to share some tips I’ve learned along the way.

Establish your goals.

Don’t wait until the opening keynote to think about what you want to accomplish at the conference. You have a limited amount of time and energy to spend while you’re in Detroit. What’s your focus?

If education is your focus, what problems do you want to solve? What challenges do you want to address? What opportunities do you want to explore? What do you want to learn to do your job better or to advance in your career?

Education comes from many sources, not only sessions, but also fellow attendees. It’s not just networking—you’re learning, too. What type of people do you want to meet? Those with the same type of position as you, or those who are where you want to be in the next few years? Or do you want to reach out and help those who are coming up in the profession?

What do you want to learn from other attendees? Think about the questions, problems, and challenges you have. Be willing to share your own successes and failures.

Take advantage of first-timer resources.

ASAE has many resources for first-time attendees, including The Hive, a lounge (sponsored by DelCor) for Annual newbies. Stop by The Hive to meet staff and volunteers who will answer questions and provide guidance for navigating your first Annual. Or hang out and chat—the lounges are just another place to learn, after all.

To help you get your bearings, Convention Center tours leave from The Hive on Saturday. Or, pop by from 7:30 to 8:30 each morning to meet up with other first-timers and conference veterans alike.

beeWear your “newbie” label proudly.

Spot other first-time attendees by looking for the bee sticker on badges. “First Timer” ribbons will also be available at the registration desk. This “flair” gives you the perfect excuse to strike up a conversation with a fellow newbie. Don’t be surprised if you encounter other attendees (even DelCorians) wearing the bee in solidarity.

Read ASAE emails and website resources.

ASAE sends several emails ahead of the conference about events and ways to maximize your time at the meeting. Take time to read these before you arrive.

Check out the Annual website. In particular, you may want to browse these pages:

Seek advice.

It’s easy to get lost at a huge event like Annual. Before you go, get advice from people who have been there.

Check the #asae15 hashtag on Twitter for posts that might help you get the most out of the experience. Ask for tips on the #assnchat hashtag or in ASAE’s Collaborate community.

Open yourself to all educational opportunities.

If your goal is to get the best education you can in 3 days, you’ll need to plan ahead. Download the ASAE Events app and check off the sessions that interest you. Don’t just select one session per time slot—have a plan B and C too.

Conferences are a great time to let your brain run wild. Capture those great ideas and session notes using whatever method works best for you—maybe in a notebook or in the memo app on your phone—just don’t overly complicate things.

You’ve probably heard the cliché that the best education happens in the convention center hallways or hotel bars. Find out who else you know is going (start by checking the Attendee list above), get their cell phone number, and arrange to text each other to meet up during downtimes for a coffee or to stroll the expo floor together.

The expo floor is another educational opportunity, especially if you want to learn more about technology or other products and services that are relevant to your job. Giveaways are fun, but try not to envision yourself on “Supermarket Sweep.” Focus on interaction, not stuff. Ask exhibitors how other associations like yours are using their product or service. Vendors are a great source of ideas and information.  

If you plan to research or purchase a specific service or product in the near future, focus on those exhibitors. For example, if your association plans to purchase a new association management system (AMS) in the next year, visit AMS vendors. Ask them for tips on the requirements gathering and selection process. Talk about your challenges and ideas, and get a sense of how their system might help solve them.

Here’s an insider tip: many vendors have evening receptions for prospects and clients. If you truly are a prospect, you might get an invitation.

Be social.

Loretta enjoying the expo at ASAE Annual 2013 in DallasDuring shuttle rides, sessions, meals, and breaks, talk to the people around you. Many long-lasting friendships have started this way.

Go to as many social events as you can—that’s a huge part of Annual. And, that’s why ASAE makes a big deal of their opening and closing events. They know the importance of getting people together.

If big events aren’t normally your thing, take comfort in knowing that half the people there feel the same as you and are doing their best not to show it. It’s okay to be nervous. Think of some questions ahead of time. People like talking about their work and life. Be a good listener—that will take the pressure off you and make you an easy person to hang out with.

Take a break.

Not everyone can completely escape work while at Annual. Cut yourself some slack; otherwise it can get really stressful trying to juggle it all. You don’t have to go to every education session.

If you really need to get some work done, take your tablet with you, sit yourself down in a lounge, and commit to working for an hour. Then, when you’re done, you can get back to the conference.

Annual is a special experience that only comes once a year. Make the most of your time while you’re there. Come back with new ideas, new knowledge, and new friends.

Bonus AMS Trend: APIs and middleware—integration aides

(AMS, Association Management) Permanent link

vintage ad - plymouth duster

In earlier posts in this series about AMS trends, I’ve covered:

I know—it’s a top 5 list—but I can’t help discussing one more development.

AMS Bonus Trend: API and middleware

First, a translation: application programming interface (API) is a set of programming instructions and standards that allows systems and applications—for example, an AMS and a learning management system—to communicate and exchange data (integrate) with each other in a safe and secure manner. Most companies make their API documentation available to other developers and vendors so these integrations can be made.

AMS vendors typically have integration relationships with other association software products. That’s why it’s best to make an AMS selection first before you begin looking at additional software like a learning management system (LMS). Why spend money building an integration for one LMS if an integration has already been built for another LMS?

The exception to this scenario is the financial management system (FMS). This integration is one of the simplest to implement because AMS vendors are familiar with the small pool of “standard” financial management systems used by associations.

Integration has long been on my mind.

Back in 2003, I founded the Association Data Standards Consortium to create standards for vendors that developed and implemented software applications for the association community. After being taken over by ASAE, this effort fell by the wayside because vendor testing proved to be a challenge. After all, it was an effort led by volunteers, and AMS vendors were too busy supporting their clients (as it should be!).

So, I’m excited to report that a couple of vendors in the association space are building middleware—a software product that helps systems talk to each other. Middleware has the potential to make a world of difference for association technology. There’s certainly more to come on this emerging trend.

 

Flickr photo by SenselAlan

AMS Trend #5: Intelligent business decisions

(AMS, Association Management) Permanent link

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Wrapping up my series on the Top 5 AMS Trends You Need to Know, you might recall that we’ve already covered:

Now we turn to a topic I’m particularly passionate about: data.

Trend #5: Business intelligence is becoming a reality

Reporting is one of the weakest aspects of today’s AMS. Instead of focusing attention on the latest bells and whistles, AMS vendors should be giving associations the ability to more effectively use the data they collect.

An AMS shouldn’t merely be a data storage device. An AMS should be a business intelligence resource that helps an association become more strategic and move forward.

Business intelligence (BI) is not the same as reporting. BI is acquired when you can:

  • Ask questions of your system.
  • Get answers to those questions via data pulled from various sources.
  • Then make intelligent business decisions for your organization.

For example, you might want to know: what is the location of young members who are participating the most at our in-person meetings? You’d be hard pressed to find associations that can successfully get an answer to that type of question from their systems.

Here’s the good news: more associations are not only talking about using data and BI effectively, they’re doing it. More vendors are incorporating BI capabilities within their systems. And, third-party vendors are helping clients with BI work—pulling data from their AMS and other systems into a central hub.

Joanna Pineda (CEO of the Matrix Group) and I agree that the market demand for BI tools is coming from executive and senior staff who want to use technology in a strategic way, not merely as an operational tool. Associations that have moved on the IT Maturity Model from functional to effective (and ultimately to innovative) are eager to use their data to make intelligent business decisions. But until an organization has reached IT maturity, it’s difficult for people to understand the necessity of this technology.

Moving along the IT maturity spectrum and toward a BI mindset requires people to come together for a good deal of organizational soul-searching.

  • What are we trying to achieve?
  • What kind of information do we need?
  • Where will it come from?
  • How best should it be presented to us?

This exercise requires effort, but the impact is enormous: you can take advantage of a valuable, under-used resource within your reach—member and constituent data.

If you want to be the association of the future, you need to take advantage of that resource and have someone advocate for a business intelligence strategy. Why not you?

Get the free ITMM whitepaper

 

Flickr photo by SenselAlan