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Don’t leave IT out of the loop

(Communications, Marketing, Membership) Permanent link


multitasking man

I admit it, I was one of the guilty ones. Back in my association days, my department neglected to include our IT colleagues in a couple of technology decisions. We didn’t consult them when we migrated our WordPress-hosted blog to a self-hosted blog, or when we selected a private community.

Why? Because we believed that IT didn’t understand our department’s challenges and needs. We didn’t want to trust them with our technology decisions. Plus, when you’re trying to get something done before the next board meeting, you don’t want to slow down and work around the IT department’s crazy schedule.

But I know better now. I know all too well the reasons why corners are cut and decisions are made without always including IT. But, not including them is a mistake. IT must be part of the conversation.

As a consultant, I see how technology decisions made in a departmental box can negatively impact an organization. One of the most common consequences of excluding IT is poor or non-existent integration between core technology systems. Without the appropriate integration, staff ends up manually reentering data and slapping on Band-Aids, and website visitors have a less-than-desirable user experience. Everyone’s work becomes harder.

If you include your IT colleagues early on in the selection process, they have the opportunity to understand your business goals and ensure that proper integrations occur. Plus, departments don’t always know that the software and technologies that could solve their problems already exist at the office. Communication between staff and the IT department is key – early and often.

Now that I’m on the consultant side of the association world, I also see how IT departments could do a better job of listening to business units and understanding their daily operations and their departmental goals. Sometimes, at least in my experience, IT professionals try to find a solution too quickly, and although I love that sense of urgency, it’s better to sit down and really listen to your colleagues so you can truly understand their needs and goals. Only then should a solution be offered.

The lack of collaboration between IT and other departments is sometimes a symptom of a dysfunctional culture at associations suffering the effects of silos and competing business units. From the top down, an organization must work diligently to create a harmonious working environment where professionals understand that only by working collectively can they better support the organization’s mission and goals.

 

Flickr photo by Domenico

IT and Marketing: The Reese’s Cup of Associations

(Communications, Marketing, Membership) Permanent link

 

 

One day, the IT director was walking down the hall on his way to the CFO’s office. He was so completely immersed in his notes about the annual technology plan that he didn’t see the marketing director walking his way. And she didn’t see him either. She was reviewing her annual marketing plan on her way to the CEO’s office when…

Ouch! Sorry! My mistake! Papers everywhere. They both knelt down to pick them up when each noticed some highlighted phrases in the other’s notes.

“Capture member data.” “Understand what members need.” “Reports by membership segments.” “Integration capability.”

They looked up at each other. 

“You got your technology on my marketing!”

“You got your marketing in my technology!”

Two great plans that plan great together.

 

IT and marketing departments really are coupled together nowadays. They make sure association staff has the tools and data they need to do their jobs. Both departments serve as internal advisors. They help colleagues identify and implement strategies, tactics, and tools to achieve departmental and organizational goals. 

But the relationship goes beyond that.

Association marketers especially rely on having access to the right data to better understand the behavior, interests, needs, and aspirations of different membership segments and target audiences. The IT department helps marketing staff select and implement the systems they need to collect and analyze data – website and email analytics, social media dashboards, association management systems, and exhibitor and event management systems.

The IT department provides a holistic view of the association and its technology – a perspective that’s needed to integrate disparate systems and bring data into one hub so marketing staff can have a 360-degree-view of someone’s interactions with the association. Querying and business intelligence tools help transform this data into useful and actionable information. These tools are critical if marketers and other staff are to make wise, data-informed decisions.

The IT and marketing staff are best positioned to share the benefits of these technology solutions with their colleagues by helping them learn how to use the association’s systems and tools to access, analyze, and leverage data. Many association positions involve marketing to some extent, and the same technology tools that assist the marketing department can also assist other departments with their work.

For example, association lobbyists wants to know which members are most affected by proposed legislation. Membership data housed in the AMS can help identify those members. Email marketing tools and tactics can mobilize these members to take political action. 

The IT department makes sure the lobbyists get the training they need to competently use the AMS and email marketing platform. The marketing department helps them craft the messaging and design of communication pieces. Together, the IT and marketing departments make one sweet in-house data team.

Blogger’s Digest: November 2014

(Everything Else) Permanent link

abstract color panels

We hope that all of our clients and friends had a great Thanksgiving. In case you were eating too much turkey to focus on tech issues, now’s your chance to catch up on our recent blog posts. If you have an idea or question for a future post, drop us a note at deardel@delcor.com. In the spirit of thanks, we extend ours to our clients, staff, colleagues, and community – particularly as our 30th anniversary and 30 Acts of Appreciation come to a close.

 

Upcoming Events

 

Flickr photo by Rob Deutscher

Use agile techniques to move a project through a waterfall world

(Project Management) Permanent link

dog jumping in agility course

Most association technology projects follow the traditional, waterfall methodology in which one phase of the project follows another, without any repetition of stages. This happens because association enterprise systems like association management systems are configurable – vendors aren’t developing them from scratch. 

However, if a project involves the development of new technology, like a customized mobile app, developers may use an agile methodology in which the project is broken up into a series of cycles called “sprints.” These cycles of testing and feedback require a much higher level of staff engagement and communication than the waterfall process. 

Regardless of the methodology used, these 4 techniques for identifying and communicating requirements during an agile development process can be applied to the requirements stage of an agile or waterfall project. They will help you clearly communicate to your internal IT department or your vendor what you need, so you have a better chance of actually getting it. 

1. Establish the ground rules for making decisions.

Before the discovery or requirements-gathering process begins, you must have the right people in the room and be able to answer these questions:

  • How do we know as a group when we’re done with the requirements?
  • How are we going to make that decision?
  • Who has the authority in the room to make that decision?

2. Plan for a structured conversation.

Don’t just sit down and start talking about requirements. You must have a structured conversation to ensure you deliver clear and complete requirements. It’s easy to overlook major factors when you approach discovery by starting with the question, “What do you want?” 

Having a tool for discussion visible either as a handout or on a poster – like the product dimensions below – helps provide the framework for a complete conversation. Consider it the “who, what, where, when, and why” for requirements – who are the users, what is the interface, what is the user environment, etc. As the project evolves, each dimension may be further developed.

The 7 Product Dimensions (chart) Source

3. Discuss expected value first.

Don’t be tempted by bells, whistles, and fun functionality. Focus first on the value that the product must provide in order to achieve your goals – not product features. What problem are you trying to solve? What value do you want to bring to the user? A vision statement can help clarify goals, for example:

  • What is the problem? Low student registration with existing online platform.
  • Whom does this problem affect? The 50% of members who have expressed interest in online education.
  • What’s the impact of this problem? Members want online education but can’t access it easily.
  • What is a successful solution? Students use their association login on their laptop or tablet to access an online platform where they can participate in an online learning experience and take away a unified transcript.

That’s what the product must provide to be successful. 

4. Write testing requirements before leaving the room.

When you’re developing product requirements, don’t forget to include a test plan. All requirements must be testable in likely scenarios. One technique – user stories – illustrate how a user (member, staff, or someone else) will interact with the product in real-life situations.

For example, there may be a series of a user stories about a member who needs 10 hours of continuing education a year to maintain her certification. 

Each user story will include details of each element of the process and can be prioritized and developed separately, for example:

  • The member uses the online registration system to login and purchase a course. 
  • The member sees the total number of credits earned to date.
  • The member can print a copy of her transcript.

The key is to define, prioritize, and illustrate what the product must do to meet the core set of requirements. Real-life scenarios like this one are very helpful to the configuration or development team. They can use these stories to pre-test the product before delivering it to you.

You know the old adage: success is 90% preparation and 10% execution. Be better prepared to articulate to your vendor what you need and why by:

  1. determining ahead of time how requirements decisions will be made,
  2. having a framework for discussions about requirements,
  3. focusing on value, and
  4. delivering testable user stories. 

Flickr photo (dog) by Thomas Teubert

What’s the difference between digital strategy, content strategy, and content marketing?

(Web, Usability, CMS) Permanent link

content low battery warning

Two of my favorite topics to dig into and break down are digital and content strategy. So I jumped at the chance to answer an association exec’s question on ASAE’s Collaborate community about how associations are defining content strategy vs. digital strategy vs. content marketing.

I was glad to see the exec making the distinction between these three terms since their meanings can cause confusion. Here’s how the client teams that work with DelCor are agreeing to use these terms.

Digital strategy is the framework an organization uses to set goals and make decisions about their collection of digital assets – for example, digital content like websites and e-newsletters, as well as financial, certification, and membership data. An association’s unique digital strategy guides decisions about the use of and goals for this data, and the tactics required to achieve those goals.

Content strategy is the framework used by an organization to set goals and make decisions about their content. Many organizations have a limited view of “content” and don’t see beyond their website. However, a growing number of organizations are starting to use the term “content” for their documents and other assets that might fall into a knowledge management framework as well. AIIM has a significant number of resources about enterprise content strategy and management.

Content marketing is the use of content to demonstrate knowledge, deliver value, and potentially solve someone’s problem. The goal of content marketing is to foster a further step of engagement by using content to help the prospective customer/member, in lieu of other forms of marketing or advertising. Our DelCor blog posts and white papers are examples of content marketing. Associations have HUGE opportunities for content marketing as part of their overall content strategy.

If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, the upcoming ASAE Technology Conference has a Content Pathway that “will explore how to develop a content strategy, the business of content governance, distribution methods, managing audience expectations, and promoting engagement.”

Flickr photo by Sean MacEntee

Is your organization ready for a data center disaster?

(Cloud Computing, Infrastructure, Security) Permanent link

hoagie

The other day I was waiting in line for a sandwich, famished, when from behind me I heard the words cloud, data center, and crash. I pretended not to listen, thinking it would be a good opportunity to conduct some informal market research. Besides, it would keep my mind off my growling stomach.

His story wasn’t so good. The data center hosting his company’s network – as well as their website, data, and applications – had a failure. It sounded like their office was offline for a few days. That’s a big deal.

After a while, it became clear just how big a deal it was. The details of the crash’s impact were tough to hear – complaint calls, lost orders, disrupted meetings, etc. Do I say something? And then my number was called – saved by my sandwich.

Still, it got me thinking. What kind of hosting “solution” did he have? Didn’t he know what would happen if there was a data center failure? 

And then I realized: How would he know unless someone told him? Maybe he didn’t know to ask his provider. But his provider should have been transparent about backup, reliability, and uptime. How could he not know, or know to ask?

Here’s what you need to know before you sign a cloud hosting contract, so you don’t end up in a similar situation.

If your data center has a disaster (a crash or a failure), you will be down until they restore your service. How long that takes depends on the severity of the crash.

Like the guy at the deli, you could be down for a very long time, unless your cloud provider has a disaster recovery (DR) site – another physical data center location to which your data is replicated and where systems can be failed over to.

Failover is when cloud service is transferred from a failing data center to a healthy one, so service is not interrupted. You want this feature in your hosting agreement to keep your operations running smoothly in the event of a problem at your primary data center.

We have multiple data centers for our DelCor Cloud Connection service, with locations in Northern Virginia and Chicago. Each acts as the disaster recovery and replication site for the other. 

Any kind of DR effort requires using backups and/or replications that are restored from some point-in-time in the past. If your cloud provider isn’t providing DR as part of the underlying cloud service, you’ll want to find a new cloud provider. Even if there are additional expenses for a DR solution, it’s better than not having access to your network, website, and data for days. 

If you’re not sure whether or what kind of DR services your cloud solution provides, talk to them and get answers – or give us a call here at DelCor to talk through various scenarios.

And never sign a contract on an empty stomach.

 

Flickr photo by Emily Orpin

Blogger’s Digest: October 2014

(Everything Else) Permanent link

Ctrl Alt Del painted pumpkins

On September 18, Gretchen participated in an ASAE Membership Section Council webinar, Think Like the Experts: Experienced Tips for a Hassle-Free AMS Selection. That webinar, combined with DelCor’s decades of experience in the AMS world, inspired an “Expert Tips” blog series to kick off our October posts. Catch up on that and more below, and share your comments on each post. Got an idea or suggestion for our blog? Drop us a note at deardel@delcor.com.

 

Recent & Upcoming Events

October was a busy month at DelCor – and around the association community! You might have seen us at the ASAE Summit Awards Dinner, BisNow’s Tech Strategies for Associations, CEO Update’s Association Leadership Awards dinner, or Association Palooza III. We continued our 30 Acts of Appreciation, supporting the Alexandria Family Fun Day and 5K as volunteers for the Running Brooke Fund, and getting spooky and silly with our staff for Halloween. We close out our year, and our 30 Acts, with contributions to community and appreciation for our clients and association friends. Stay tuned for more updates – and look for us at these upcoming events:

  • November 4: Election Day – make time to vote!
  • November 11: Veterans Day – DelCor is open.
  • November 12: ASAE’s Celebrating Women.
  • November 12-14: IT Nation, Orlando, FL.
  • November 14: Early registration for ASAE Technology Conference & Expo (December 16-17, Gaylord National Harbor) ends.
  • November 16-18: ASAE Partner Summit & Leadership Retreat, Louisville, KY.
  • November 19: Monthly Finance & Administration Roundtable: Ask the IT Experts.
  • November 27-28: DelCor closed in observance of Thanksgiving.

Flickr photo by Dov Harrington

The end of the website as we know it

(Web, Usability, CMS) Permanent link

Association Palooza III header image

On Tuesday, I attended Association Palooza III, a gathering of some 100 association executives confronting the future of digital. The event included 3 sessions about the digital landscape (websites/mobile/social), but I’d like to focus on just one: The End of the Website as We Know It.

Sure, it’s a provocative title – and the debate was too. Conversation and questions were inspired by session speakers Reggie Henry (CIO, ASAE), Dave Coriale (President, DelCor), Russ Magnuson (CEO/CTO, Results Direct), and facilitator Katie Atkinson (President, Results Direct).

This post is not a summary of the entire session – the conversations were intense! – just a few of my key takeaways.

First, a quick polling of the audience, to set the stage:

  • Less than 10% think websites are on the way out.
  • Less than 10% – albeit a different contingent – think members want more mobile services.
  • Less than 10% use personas.
  • Less than 10% have a content strategy (way less, actually).
  • Less than 10% think their association’s value proposition is clear.
  • Less than 10% – again, a different audience segment – think the value prop is too broad.

Evolution of the digital landscape

Reggie, long a proponent of mobile, observed that the world is [constantly] changing how it communicates. It’s imperative that associations right-size the communication channel for their specific member audiences.

Today’s website is a far cry from what it looked like in the early 90s. Russ described that evolution as brochure > gadgets > forms > kiosk. Just take a tour through the Wayback Machine and you’ll see for yourself!

Russ further noted that if you could cut open a website, like a tree, you’d see rings of investment. Investments like staff, CMS upgrades, integrations, and so on. But the website isn’t growing like a healthy tree, despite that investment. What’s preventing growth – in usefulness and revenue and member satisfaction?

Perhaps what’s missing is a content strategy. Noted Dave, early websites weren’t accompanied by content strategy plans. Even now, when associations go through CMS selection, they don’t develop a content strategy to support the CMS. Associations must match business goals to content, or the content is just there taking up valuable space, likely preventing members from finding what they really need.

Without a content strategy, right-sized communications, and accessibility that empowers members to do what they came to do, digital properties can flat-out wreck the customer experience.

A market of one

Perhaps the question of the day was this one from Reggie: what does a market of one look like? Because that’s who associations are marketing to now – the individual member, not some nebulous group of blue suits.

Reggie recommended personas as one way to help you narrow your focus, so you can clarify your website’s purpose and audience. Personas can help identify your audience segments, their behaviors, and their needs.

Russ emphasized that behavior trumps profiling [through surveys] any day. By analyzing behavior, you don’t need to survey members on their wants and needs (which they may not be able to explicitly detail anyway). Rather, behavior provides evidence for decision making, and can help your association earn the right to more directly market to that member. You can use that behavioral evidence to further clarify the individual member’s needs and desires, providing a truly personalized experience.

To develop personas of your user groups, Dave suggested drilling into what a day in the life of your users looks like. Are they on the road or behind a desk? Do they take 5 minutes for lunch, or an hour? Reggie went even further; sit in on their meetings and watch them in action, in their offices. What do they struggle with? What do they need that they don’t have?

Another tool for developing for personas is a focus group. Sure, it’s a time commitment to conduct and analyze a focus group, but it’s direct input from your membership that’s difficult to acquire in depth in any other way.

Once you’ve developed personas, you can (and should) use them to inform your content strategy, said Dave.

Ultimately, said Reggie, the association’s task is to build digital properties that help the user do what they came to do, and nothing more. If they came to your desktop or mobile site to join, it has to work simply, on any platform. Let them join, and don’t immediately start cross-selling them into conferences or books. 

The age of Easy Pass

One audience member described the Easy Pass lifestyle. You can drive the Eastern seaboard with one device. You set it up, and you don’t have to think about it. Why can’t association websites provide that same experience, without misdirecting or overloading members?

Then there’s the opposite of easy: Amazon. Yep, it came up as an example more than once. But Dave revealed that Amazon’s ease-of-use is actually horrible, particularly for new users. Yet, Amazon delivers value, and so people learn the system over time; they forget how hard it was to use in the beginning.

However, they may not be invested in taking the time to figure out how to use your website if it gives them too much trouble or too little value. You have to deliver enough value to make them want to learn your system – or simply design a better user experience from the start.

Oh, and stop comparing your site to Amazon.

It’s not just your website that should be easy; it’s also your mobile website, your mobile app, and your social communities. Katie observed that it can be intimidating to engage across all of these platforms, but those platforms – at least in the user’s mind – are melding. Declared Russ, there’s only one platform: the one the person is using right now.

While you’re designing easy-to-use experiences across all these platforms, said Dave, pay special attention to business rules. They’re usually what get in the way of having happy users. For example, if you want a visitor to fill out a form, don’t ask for everything you could possibly put in your database; get only what you need, and get the rest later. The visitor will be happier, and you’ll have a good starting point for building that relationship (and analyzing behavior). 

Coincidentally, Taco Bell is pushing the envelope on this topic, as reported in Associations Now. Is it the end of the website as we know it, or should we all just run for the border?

Association Palooza III was presented and sponsored by Results Direct and DelCor.

 

When should you reevaluate your AMS and other enterprise-wide systems?

(AMS, Association Management) Permanent link

dollar signs in hourglass

Recently in ASAE’s Collaborate community, an association executive asked about best practices or recommended timelines for reevaluating association management systems (AMS). In case you missed that discussion, here’s the advice I shared. 

Although I don’t have any hard data on the average timeframe for associations reevaluating their AMS, 5 years seems to be the magic number based on anecdotal evidence.

However, there are other times when it’s important to evaluate the current state of the market in light of your organization’s IT governance and management plan and your existing enterprise-wide systems – your AMS, customer relationship management system (CRM), content management system (CMS), and other mission-critical systems. Here are a few.

Change in business objectives.

If your organization embarks on a new business adventure, is your technology capable of supporting your new business objectives? For example, what if your organization creates a for-profit subsidiary or shifts its focus from events to education – is your existing technology up to the job?

Change in technology.

You’ll want to evaluate your existing technology in the context of today’s technology market. Are there new options available that will substantially increase your organization’s capability to fulfill your mission, vision, and business objectives? Is your existing technology holding you back from reaching your potential?

Change in your data management and related needs.

It’s time to look at new technology if your organization’s business intelligence and data analysis needs can’t be met effectively by your current platform. 

Substantial change in business processes.

Are you working inefficiently – for example, using workarounds and adopting redundant practices – because you’re trying to make an old system fit new business processes? 

Acquisition or merger.

Can your existing technology handle new demands resulting from an acquisition or merger?

Unavoidable system upgrade.

If your current platform is no longer supported by the vendor, that’s a good reason to look at alternatives. 

In addition to regularly scheduled reviews – for example, every 5 years – these event- and industry-based catalysts should prompt a comprehensive evaluation of your IT governance and management model. Don’t let your technology hold your organization back from fulfilling its mission.

Flickr photo by Bill Brooks

Expert tips: how to live happily ever after with your new AMS

(AMS, Association Management) Permanent link

pathway and sign: happily ever after starts here

If you’ve stuck around since the first in this series of posts inspired by the ASAE Membership Section virtual brown bag, Think like the Experts: Experienced Tips for a Hassle Free AMS, then you’ve already read my advice on:

  • Knowing why you want a new AMS
  • Knowing what you want in a new AMS
  • Understanding requirements
  • Making sure you and your team survive the project
  • Getting your money’s worth
  • Finding the best AMS vendor for your needs

I have two final thoughts.

 

1. You thought you were finished – but the best part of the project is just beginning.

To ensure a positive outcome for your AMS implementation, think of its launch as the first day of a new phase of the project. What I mean is: your project doesn’t end at launch; it transitions into another phase after you get to know your new AMS. I know you thought it was over, but this is when it gets really interesting.

Try to launch with as much baseline functionality and process as possible, that is, with the least amount of additional configuration and customization on top of the baseline system. Save 20-30% of your budget to further refine and configure the system after you have used it for 3-6 months.

2. Your AMS vendor is your partner – treat them like one.

Think of your AMS vendor as a partner. They have a stake in your success too. Consider them an extension of your staff. Beyond having a deep knowledge of their product and its capabilities, they’ve helped all kinds of associations use their AMS for all types of business processes.

Their AMS has been implemented to solve a wide range of business problems, integrate with a number of different systems, and produce all kinds of reports. Seek their advice. They may have new approaches to solving some of your association’s old problems.

Now you’re ready to roll.

So is your new AMS. You’ve planned thoroughly for launch, your staff are trained up (and management has an ongoing training plan), and your AMS vendor has your back. Good luck, and keep moving forward – that’s progress!

In case you missed something in this series…

Here are all of my “expert tips” posts, in chronological order: 

  1. What you need to know before selecting an AMS (10/3/14)
  2. The why and what of AMS selection (10/6/14)
  3. How to get your staff ready for a new AMS (10/7/14)
  4. Project team survival begins with change management (10/8/14)
  5. How to get your money’s worth from your AMS investment (10/9/14)
  6. How to find the best AMS vendor for your needs (10/10/14)
  7. How to live happily ever after with your new AMS (10/13/14)

 

Flickr photo by Leah Jones