What Works Best for Your AMS/CRM: a Swiss Army Knife or a Toolbox?

Mike Guerrieri | 11.18.19
Topics: AMS - Data - Membership
I have carried a small Swiss Army Knife in my pocket for most of my adult life (that’s a long time) except when flying with only a carry-on (grrr, TSA!). I love the convenience of not having to search for a pair of scissors or knife to open a stubborn package. My knife includes a pair of tweezers to remove a splinter and a screwdriver to tighten a small loose screw. I just reach into my pocket and my trusty tool is ready to help me with my task. I use it almost every day.

On the other hand, when I’m working on a DIY home or garden project, I appreciate the value of specialized tools: a utility knife to cut through strapping tape on a large box, a screwdriver with a 90-degree handle and ratchet to get into tight spaces, a Sawzall to cut through all sorts of stuff, and the toolbox overflows.


So how does your organization view its AMS/CRM?

Is it a Jack-of-all-trades (snide aside: master of none) or do you only use it for its association-specific modules (e.g., dues billing, committee management) and as the authoritative source of data for your customers?

There is no one right answer.

In fact, it’s somewhat of a false choice since, depending on your business requirements (always start there, right?), what might work best is a blend of the two approaches.

Don’t settle for less than the best of need AND breed.

If meetings and events are a substantial part of your revenue or you manage very complex and large events, the out-of-the-box AMS events module may not provide the high-quality customer experience your attendees expect. That’s when you want to look at best-of-need systems and do so with a rigorous system selection process. Make sure IT is in the conversation (along with other stakeholders, like accounting) to ensure that the vendor can support single sign-on (SSO) and they can meet your data integration requirements. Most importantly, make sure that IT has the bandwidth to handle their piece of the project.

We have found doing technology assessments for our clients, it is very uncommon that we see an organization that does not rely on some system outside of its AMS/CRM. It might be for events registration, awards management, advocacy, certification, fundraising, or some other business capability. This is largely driven by limitations of functionality in the built-in modules for the AMS. Just because they have a module, doesn’t mean it will perform well in all scenarios.

The downsides of using the best-of-need approach are added complexity (more systems/vendors to manage) and data integration (another system process to develop and monitor). Wherever possible, you want to reduce complexity because of the overhead of managing it and the risks it introduces. Data integrations are also typically an additional cost—even if you have staff who can develop them, vendors sometimes charge extra for the capability. Integrations must be thoroughly tested and then monitored to ensure they are performing correctly.

Sometimes, the AMS functionality may not be perfect, but it’s good enough. That’s ok. Or maybe your organization lacks technical resources to help with data integration or the budget to do the work. That’s ok, too. It is better to not compromise on data, so using the AMS module may have to do.

So, you must decide what is the best enterprise architecture (the plan for how your suite of applications and data support all the business processes and technology infrastructure of your organization) for your organization. It is important to make decisions about your architecture purposefully and in support of your organization’s overall strategy and your technology governance policies. That way, you’ll have the right tools to build something great.

No matter how you are using it, the critical questions to ask are:

  • Is it meeting the needs of your organization to provide customers and staff with an excellent user experience for conducting transactions securely and reliably?
  • Does it provide you with the data your organization needs to make decisions and better serve your members and other constituents? AND…
  • Does it fit your budget and technical capabilities?


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