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How IT directors can hone their strategic chops

(Everything Else) Permanent link

Mr. Mutton Chops

The role of IT directors is changing.

Their old foray – maintenance and management of association technology systems and network infrastructure – is increasingly being outsourced to SaaS and cloud hosting providers. What’s an IT director to do? Instead of being technology custodians only, IT directors now serve as in-house technology advisors, ambassadors, and strategic planners.

However, to earn a seat at the strategic planning table, first you must change your own perception about your role and the value you deliver – a topic I covered in my last post – before you can change the perceptions of others. Then, you must begin delivering that strategic value to fellow staff members and to your organization and its members.

Make a technology plan.

An understanding of association goals and member needs will help you develop a technology plan that will support your organization’s progress toward meeting those goals and needs. That knowledge can be acquired in discussions with senior management staff and department heads about:

  • Your organization’s mission, goals, and plans for achieving those goals.
  • Departmental goals, problems, processes, needs, and wants.
  • Member needs and aspirations.
  • The collection and use of member data.

After these discussions, it’s time to analyze what you’ve heard. 

  • How are your existing technology and data being used to provide value to members?
  • How is it helping your organization achieve its goals?
  • How is it hindering your organization? Is it being underutilized?
  • What can you and the IT department do in the coming year (or 2 or 3) to help the organization achieve its goals?

A technology plan that’s aligned with your organization’s strategic plan will strengthen your value as a strategic partner and solution provider for senior staff, volunteer leaders, and department heads. 

Keep learning.

Being strategic requires future-oriented thinking. Think creatively! How could technology be used to support the staff, organization, and members in achieving their goals? 

For that answer, you may have to go beyond your office walls. A technology leader must keep aware of current trends and how they could help your association advance its business goals and objectives. One way to do that is to compare notes with a peer network of association technology staff. What issues are they dealing with? How are they using technology to solve problems? What’s on their radar? 

Keep up with technology developments in the for-profit sector. While many associations are notoriously late adopters, there are many lessons that can be learned from tech successes and failures in the commercial world that you can apply in your association work.

Make connections and stay informed about association technology issues by joining ASAE or your state SAE. Even better, get involved with ASAE’s or your state SAE’s technology council. 

Familiarize yourself with the technology and vendors in the association market. The expo floors at ASAE conferences, especially at the ASAE Technology Conference (mark your calendar for December 15-16, 2015), provide a one-stop experience for learning about vendors and their products and services. 

The most effective association technology leaders didn’t get to where they are merely by minding the servers or creating reports. It takes hard work, perseverance, and attention to the big picture to successfully climb the ladder and become a meaningful contributor to the senior management team. Make sure you do your homework so that when you do get a seat at the table, you’re ready.

 

Flickr photo by Nate

The path from IT director to technology leader

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mountain path

The role of association IT directors has shifted as the maintenance and management of technology systems and network infrastructure are increasingly handled by SaaS and cloud hosting providers. No longer confined solely to an operational role, IT directors now focus on managing relationships with the vendors who provide these services, and serving as in-house technology advisors, ambassadors, and strategic planners.

However, as I suggested to IT directors in my last post, if you want to earn a seat at the strategic planning table, you must start seeing yourselves as positive change agents, not merely hardware custodians. You need to hone your strategic chops and change your own perception about your role and the value you can deliver before you can change the perceptions of others – and ultimately earn a seat at the decision-making table.

Move beyond technology support to become a technology leader.

If fellow staff members, senior management staff, and volunteer leaders still see you merely as the “fix-it” guy or gal, you’ve got some work to do. However, by employing savvy people skills, you can successfully change your image. Instead of being only hardware- or app-centric, work on becoming more staff- and member-centric. A good place to start is by understanding not only the mix of products and services offered by your association, but also their effect on members – focusing on the value delivered to them.

Being a technology leader also means holding people accountable for following IT policies and procedures. For example, with the heightened use of technology in all departments comes the need to document key processes – something that is not the responsibility of IT. You must also effectively make the case for why it’s in the staff’s best interest to adhere to clear and straightforward IT policies, lest you continue to be viewed as responsible for all things plugged in and blinking.

You (and your organization) will benefit in the long-run if you coach staff to take their share of responsibility for technology. For example, it’s in the association’s best interest that staff members comply with security procedures and mobile device management policies you put in place. Compliance is more likely if staff members understand how these policies benefit the organization and how they can easily comply. If you understand their perspective and concerns, you will be more successful in gaining their trust and compliance.

Develop a better understanding of member needs and association goals.

To become (and to become viewed as) more member- and staff-centric, dedicate time to discussing the big picture – your organization’s mission, goals, and plans for achieving those goals – with senior staff. Learn about the association’s strengths, weaknesses, and resources. Where is your association the leader? Where does it need help?

After you have a solid understanding of organizational issues, meet with department heads to discuss their goals, problems, processes, needs, and wants. How can IT help them achieve those goals or solve those problems? 

To make sure you understand the member and attendee perspectives, sit down with membership, education, and conference staff to talk about the needs and aspirations of members and other market segments. Find out what type of data is being collected, where it resides, and how it’s being used. Ask if you can sit in on focus groups or have access to survey results so you can better understand members, their needs, and the interaction between them and the association.

One of them

If you want to be accepted as “one of them” by senior staff, you must understand the association’s goals, programs, products, and members as well as they do. And, you must become more strategic in your thoughts and actions – a topic I’ll cover in my next post. Only then will others see you as a strategic solution provider and partner.

 

Flickr photo by Jocelyn Kinghorn

Save a seat for IT at your strategic planning table

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yellow desk chair

SaaS apps and cloud hosting are changing the roles of today’s IT leaders. Now, those CIOs and IT directors are (or should be) focused less on putting out fires and managing systems, and more on helping staff find technology solutions to business problems. This shift in IT’s role means they now have the opportunity to spend more time facilitating – and even driving – change for their organizations.

You don't have to have “CIO” in your title to impact change. IT staff can still act like CIOs. And they should.

An organization’s IT leaders are in a unique position to be internal advisors to fellow association staff. They can educate staff and leadership on how technology can help them achieve objectives and improve operations. And, they can help staff take advantage of the data and technology they have (or could have in the future).

However, since this is a new role for most IT staff, they may get some push-back from their colleagues. These days, since everyone’s a consumer of technology, many people also think they’re experts on technology. Granted, association staff now know more about technology than they ever did in the past, but that knowledge is usually limited to the specific technology they use.

New role for IT: internal technology consultant

It’s the business of IT staff to know what kinds of tools are available to help their organization fulfill its mission and to help their colleagues select and implement those tools. Ideally, they find out how other organizations are using technology to operate efficiently and achieve goals. IT staff are in-house futurists – figuring out how new technologies will affect their association’s industry or profession, members, customers of members, stakeholders, and the association itself.

New role for IT: moving beyond the help desk and server room

Traditionally, the IT department was charged only with keeping the servers, network, and desktops running. Like an electric company keeping the lights on, IT ran technology like a utility. No one else in the office messed with technology for fear of causing a meltdown.

Now, every department increasingly uses technology to do their work. IT staff no longer hangs out in the server room. They’re all over the building helping the entire organization use technology to work more efficiently and achieve their objectives. Because of this new role, they naturally have a more holistic view of the organization and its technology usage and needs. 

Despite this new perspective, in many organizations, IT is still seen as the fix-the-printer or find-the-file department. IT must continue to support staff operationally, yet their potential isn’t being utilized if they’re not given the opportunity to contribute on a strategic level too. Sometimes it’s senior staff who pigeon-holes IT to the help desk role, but often it’s IT staff themselves who resist becoming more strategic. 

New role for IT: strategic planner

To help their organization achieve its goals most effectively, every IT department, even a “department of one,” must develop a technology plan. A technology plan is based on the organization’s strategic plan as well as the short- and long-term business goals of the organization. Careful alignment between the technology plan and the strategic plan helps to establish buy-in around the building and decreases the likelihood of resistance to any changes in systems and processes.

Before developing a technology plan, IT staff must first understand their organization’s goals and direction. Discussions with staff leadership and colleagues about organizational and departmental objectives will help IT staff identify technology priorities. Even if the organization doesn’t have an official strategic plan, these conversations with staff about the organization’s mission and goals will help IT staff formulate a technology plan that moves the organization forward.  

New role for IT: technology ambassador

IT staff no longer has the luxury of working most of their day in solitude. They must focus on building relationships with and educating those who make decisions about technology investments. They must help staff and volunteer leaders understand how technology can make it possible for the organization to achieve strategic goals in the coming year – and beyond. It’s only when furnished with this understanding that decision-makers will invest in the appropriate network infrastructure and technology systems.

This “technology ambassador” role is essential to organizational success. IT can no longer be a spectator of progress. Instead, IT must be a catalyst of progress. This new role requires IT staff to be in the communication loop at the senior level – participating in board meetings and strategic planning sessions.

However, having a seat at the strategic planning table must be earned.

First, IT staff must start seeing themselves as positive change agents, not merely machine custodians. Taking the initiative – whether that involves keeping aware of current trends and their applicability to advance business goals or acting as a visionary to connect mission and vision to initiatives – is the key to effective IT leadership.

If you want a seat at the table, you need to set a place for yourself first.

 

Flickr photo by Ashley

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

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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

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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