A veteran’s view – the how and why of technology at #AUDC13

AMS Nerd Reunion. That’s what #AUDC13 was for me. I was in my element. While scurrying from session to keynote to social event, I noticed a few strong themes at the Avectra Users and Developers Conference that echoed other recent gatherings, such as ASAE’s Technology Conference.

I know what technology is available to me – but how are people using it?

There has been a lot of discussion about associations keeping up with the latest IT trends and anticipating what their members and customers need before they are forced to play another round of catch-up. In recent years, the technology options for all businesses have exploded. This year, more sessions focused on how associations were using technology instead of demonstrating new options. I think we all need a little break from the SNO (shiny new object) to get to know a few key pieces of existing technology and how to use them well.

  • Instead of “what is new with social media?” attendees were treated to practical ways to develop a genuine social message or campaign. Kylee Coffman lead the session “Social Media Truth or Dare” in which she challenged the audience to recite their associations’ social media policies and discussed the pros and cons of robo Tweets.
  • Debbie King of DSK Solutions hosted a panel discussion of the use of sophisticated business intelligence tools. Several organizations use the baseline tools in the AMS, while others use tools such as Tableau. There’s no perfect solution; how you approach BI depends on the data your association needs to make decisions, and how complex that data is. If you do not have a lot of data to analyze, you can start with a more basic tool.

Sometimes, you just need to know how to program the VCR, right? (Please tell me, even in this era of streaming and Blu-ray, that you get this reference!)

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If you build it, they may not come.

In additional to the technology know-how, attendees were interested in how to help people adopt and adapt to technology. Several sessions were offered on how to engage and educate staff and members. Avectra introduced a fishbowl-style session in which audience members were encouraged to participate. The speakers introduced a topic and attendees would join the discussion and offer insights while the speakers stepped away from the microphone. This was a refreshing change from classroom-style learning.

And, of course, what is AUDC without a rousing game of PM Poker! Sorry I don’t have any snapshots to share this year. Let’s just say, you had to be there. (Well, duh.)

Why are associations using technology?

In addition to learning practical applications for extending or enhancing association technology offerings, attendees sought reasons behind the necessity of technology, business practices, and data. For example, I can install a new BI tool and aggregate and analyze lots of data – even big data – but why? What questions are we answering? What does the data support? Is the data accurate and relevant? As the fire hose of information continues to blast us, it is becoming more and more important to build thoughtful projects that bring true value to the association. Less can be more in terms of fewer initiatives of higher quality.

Sometimes working on a lean budget or with inexperienced staff can lead to great innovation or insight. Start with a small group of dedicated staff and members – you might achieve great results. National League of Cities wanted to try a mobile app for their annual conference. Instead of writing the app from scratch, they collaborated with a netFORUM partner, Avodigy, to prototype a conference app. Both companies agreed to work on the pilot together. While it wasn’t perfect, they created a solid, affordable solution for the association. In addition, the partnership won an Avectra Innovation Award.

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Many of the attendees were looking for ways to configure baseline features in netFORUM to extend or enhance the business instead of building new functionality from scratch. While the AMS features may not be as glamorous and cool as other options, they offer a good proving ground to test ideas.

Teach them to fish.

If new or existing functionality is not being embraced by staff or membership – what is the cause? Is it lack of understanding? Training? Communication? Education is one element of a project plan that is often dismissed or forgotten. People have an innate need to learn new things and contribute to projects. However, they frequently need a little push.

Many associations have learned that if you build a new community or Twitter feed, members may NOT come. Initiatives must answer a demand and have a solid plan to nurture the content so it has the opportunity to grow into useful information.

Disconnect to reconnect.

Finally, in this world of Google Hangouts, Skype, email abundance, and text mania, it’s nice to sit and talk to the person behind the screen. We enjoy talking with each other, sharing stories, celebrating successes and reflecting on failures. Participating in events like this allows me to recharge my creative batteries, strengthen relationships with colleagues, and meet new people. What’s not fabulous about that? If you have the opportunity to attend a specialized conference in your field, I strongly urge you to do so! You’ll end up like me – coming back for more year after year, contributing, and building strong networks that inspire lifelong learning. You might even turn into an AMS nerd yourself.

Photo credits: top photo by nathansnostalgia; bottom photo by Gretchen Steenstra