5 Tips for Selecting an AMS Vendor

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!

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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