6 AMS Fest Lessons for Selecting & Working with an Association Management System (AMS)

Gretchen Steenstra | 06.10.16
Topics: Events, AMS - Data - Membership

What do you think: Is the association management system (AMS) the center of an association technology universe or not?

If you’re the ‘owner’ of your association’s AMS, it sure might seem like it. However, that wasn’t the verdict at the AMS Fest in Chicago last month.

Looking back at my #amsfest notes and Tweets, six AMS principles stood out.

1. See your AMS and other technology as part of a larger community ecosystem.

As part of your organization’s technology ecosystem, your AMS must ‘play nice’ with other systems. But that’s not all. Reggie Henry, CIO at ASAE, said, “Today, members and customers assess your services and judge your association based on how you [and your systems] fit into their personal digital lives.”

For example, Rick Rutherford, Industry Resource Director at YourMembership, spoke about the need to be there during your member’s micro-moments—those moments in line at Starbucks when members are thinking, “I want to know X. I want to do Y. I want to buy Z.” How easy do your systems make it for members to interact with your organization during those micro-moments?

Test your member-facing processes. Try becoming a member, registering for a meeting, or making a purchase. What’s the experience like? How can you improve it? Yes, your systems must work well together to help you and your colleagues get your work done, but they can’t be association-centric. You must also evaluate them from the member perspective.


2. Get an exam for AMS heart disease.

Bruce Moe, Executive Director at the Missouri State Teachers Association, likened an AMS implementation to a heart transplant. The only problem is, your patient is awake while you’re doing the transplant!

The AMS, he said, is the heart of the association, pumping data through all the other systems. Data flow is critical. If the heart isn’t working well, or the data flow is obstructed, you’re going to have problems.

Rogue databases are a symptom of AMS heart disease. They’re not just a sign of staff breaking the rules—they’re a sign of staff taking the initiative to fix something because their existing tools don’t work well. Other symptoms of AMS heart disease:

  • Business objectives are impaired because “our AMS doesn’t let us do that.”
  • AMS support costs increase.
  • Upgrades are painful.
  • Integration is difficult or impossible.

3. Select the right people, not just the right tool.

Pamm Schroeder, Deputy Executive Vice President at the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, talked about finding the right AMS and AMS vendor for your association. Cultural fit between the AMS vendor and the organization is super important!

A cultural fit means you have compatible values and similar attitudes. For example, do you have an innovative or traditional culture? Would you rather the vendor push you to try new things or follow your lead?

Do you want a vendor or a partner? Pamm said to do your homework before choosing a new AMS, for example, check out Review My AMS for authentic reviews from system users.

Often, the system selection decision will come down to culture. What would it be like to work with the vendor? Visit their office. Meet the team. Will you trust this team when things get rocky? Money should not be the most important factor in AMS selection. Your relationship is a critical success factor.

4. Think about data before you think about systems.

During AMS Fest, someone Tweeted a huge take-away:

@ReggieHenry says #DataAnalytics is crucial for associations in the next wave. #AMSFest pic.twitter.com/fJ2ndQVFjL — Bear Analytics (@BearAnalytics) May 10, 2016

The first crowd-sourced session at AMS Fest was about data, in this case, scoring and measuring member engagement. Kevin Burt, Sales Director at ASI, showed the impact of data analytics: Only 1/3 of associations have an engagement and scoring plan, yet those organizations have higher renewal rates.

When you’re searching for a new AMS or CRM, it’s important to focus on getting data out as easily as you can add it to the system, so you can track things like member engagement. Before configuring your AMS, review the type of data you’re collecting and how you will use that data.

5. Make a comprehensive 'shopping list.'

During the discovery phase, focus on identifying requirements, not mapping your existing workflows. Don’t try to replicate the processes of your outdated system. Someone at AMS Fest said, “To replicate stupidity doesn’t make sense.”

Jim Pearson, PMP, stressed the importance of adding the right APIs and SSOs to your requirements, allowing you to meet or exceed your members’ expectations for the online experience. Reggie Henry said the API issue is so critical that he spends money to test several so he can make sure to get the right one. If the idea of working with APIs and SSOs makes your head spin, you can always get a consultant to help you identify and select the best ones for your needs.

6. Implement a wellness regimen for your AMS.

Bruce Moe also provided several AMS wellness tips:

  • Bend your business processes before you customize an AMS. A good AMS is flexible.
  • Most importantly, a cross-functional team should be part of your AMS implementation. The project team must have representation from every department.
  • Continue to invest in training. Put it in your budget for the second year, the third year, and beyond.
  • Decentralize data entry and standardize processes. Bruce said everyone on his staff of 50 can and is expected to update the database as needed.

Bonus tips:

  • Sig VanDamme reminded everyone to check your attitude on failure. Failure is an option on the innovation road. We need to be comfortable with failure.
  • But don’t get too comfortable with your current successes. Keep an eye on the future. Need proof? Think about the opportunities missed by some formerly big brands: Kodak, Encyclopedia Britannica, Blackberry, taxis.
  • Think big, start small, fail fast. Test!!! Identify the riskiest parts and start prototyping there.

More AMS resources are a click away.

AMS Fest offered a great opportunity to discuss AMS/CRM trends and best practices. You might consider attending one near you. Of course, it’s not the only resource. If this discussion interests you, here’s some additional reading. And I’m always happy to swap AMS banter when you see me out and about.

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