Association enterprise system care & feeding: keep your mission-critical engines tuned up

Gretchen Steenstra | 10.04.13
Topics: Association Management - Leadership, Software Requirements & Selection


We may be having a last splash of summer this October. But, as you think about the impending cooler weather and winterizing your house and car (or dog!), don’t forget about the maintenance plan for your association’s enterprise systems: LMS, CMS, AMS, FMS.

Many organizations have detailed plans to maintain networks – ensuring the server resources are maximized, all software licenses are up to date, virus protection is current, and overall network is healthy.

Unfortunately, this is not the normal course for the “_MS” family mentioned above. While most associations renew their annual software maintenance agreements, they do not schedule regular performance reviews of all enterprise system.

It’s time for a comprehensive _MS Maintenance Plan.

Why is it important to do more than upgrade software when prescribed by the vendors? Consider a few items like:

  1. New features
  2. Organizational needs
  3. Staff growth
  4. System maturity
  5. Stagnancy kills systems

Let’s take a closer look at each one of those items.

New Features: When associations upgrade to stay “current” without evaluating new features and functionality, they miss a great opportunity to introduce options that may help improve processes or remove a workaround. Associations must plan and test every upgrade. Take the extra step to see if the system needs a simple oil change or it’s time for wiper blades too.

Organizational Needs: Every year, associations develop goals for the upcoming year. Frequently, individual staff performance measurements are tied to the association’s goals. Are your enterprise systems also in line with and supporting those goals? While every Association SHOULD have a Technology Management Plan or Supporting Departmental Strategic Plan, they don’t. 

At a minimum, the owner of each system should review major association goals and review how enterprise systems are supporting key initiatives. Is your association selling more downloaded publications? Considering establishing a foundation? Expanding education with certification? Adding reviews and ratings to content?

Before you start your upgrade, consult with the vendor to inquire about options that may support new or evolving initiatives. Determine the best way to incorporate the appropriate technology to support the initiatives. In some cases, it may be better to upgrade, then create a plan to roll out new functionality separately at a later date. In other cases, it’s better to introduce new features as part of the upgrade.

The extra time for this type of analysis and planning will not only improve the vitality of the system, but it also allows staff to nurture their relationship with vendor partners.

Staff Growth: When a new system launches, there is a great sense of relief and excitement. Then people start to realize how much they DON’T know about their shiny new system. It’s impossible to absorb all the nuances of a new system during the implementation process. Typically, it takes 9-12 months for staff to settle in and truly get to know a system. Upgrades allow staff to review SOPs and test plans developed during the implementation, and also to refine processes. Bonus: this is an excellent time to train new staff!

System Maturity: Aside from maximizing the potential of every upgrade, it is critical that associations perform formal assessments of their enterprise systems every 3-4 years. This assessment may follow the same path as the initial project scope and requirements process.  The process should include a review of the association’s goals and needs as compared to the current system. In some cases, only minor maintenance is required. Frequently, this assessment identifies areas where customizations are no longer needed due to improvements in the system or business process changes. The value of this type of assessment allows associations to refresh and realign enterprise systems and avoid unnecessary changes to systems due to stagnancy versus outgrowing the system. 

Stagnancy Kills System: DelCor helps many association select new systems. One of our first questions is, “Why are you searching for a new system?” One of the most common answers is, “We don’t like the system anymore. It’s boring and out of date.” As we dig in asking “why” until we get to the root of the problem, we frequently discover that the association had not maintained the system and staff training. They allowed the system to become stale. As a result, staff commitment to follow SOPs, ensure high-quality data, and exercise the system wanes. Within a year, staff loses confidence in the system and seeks a replacement. 

Creating a comprehensive Technology Plan that encompasses maintenance, upgrades, assessments, and training will ensures overall system health over time. In addition, regular investment will save associations significant amounts of money by deferring the replacement of a system due to lack of maintenance. Instead, organizations can invest that money in major projects and new initiatives.

Flickr photo by mreioval

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