WHAT 2 YEARS OF TECHNOLOGY ASSESSMENTS REVEAL ABOUT ASSOCIATION IT: DATA and DIGITAL
When we perform technology assessments for clients, we use our IT Maturity Model to gauge how effectively they’re managing IT across four domains: data, digital, infrastructure, and management. What are the most common technology issues for these associations? I looked back over the recommendations we made in the last two years to identify the five top areas for improvement in each technology domain. If your association hasn’t addressed these issues yet, the “next steps” I suggest are a good place to start.
1. Develop a data governance plan and process.
To become a data-informed organization, you must be able to trust your data. Clean, reliable data doesn’t happen without a data governance plan. A data governance team is charged with identifying the association’s objectives for data and developing policies and procedures for data management, for example, which system is the authoritative source for member data, which data is maintained and which is purged, and how data is shared with chapters.
- Establish a cross-functional data governance team.
- Identify data goals.
- Develop plan to tackle the most pressing/beneficial goals.
2. Develop strategy for improving data analysis and reporting.
Even if an organization’s data is clean, it’s often spread across multiple systems. Analyzing data across those disparate sources can be challenging. Many helpful tools exist but you first need to find the strategy that works best for your organization.
This strategy should include a change management plan. If your organization hasn’t historically been data-driven, you’ll need to focus on changing your approach to decision-making and establishing key performance indicators for each business function. This increased visibility into performance can make some staff anxious.
Discomfort in using data analytics tools may also be a barrier for change. The “build it and they will come” strategy does not typically work.
- Perform a gap analysis to see what the business needs from data versus what staff is able to access.
- Develop a plan to close those gaps. You may need the assistance of specialized consultants with expertise and experience in the association market.
3. Engage staff members more broadly in the use of the AMS and improve their access to data.
Many organizations defer to their IT team to manage the AMS and provide the data and reports necessary to support business processes. However, in the most mature organizations, non-IT staff take responsibility for the AMS and its data. If staff were better trained in understanding the data in the AMS and accessing it through reports, queries, and other tools, they would be less reliant on the IT department.
When a cross-functional staff team is responsible for AMS governance and management, data quality improves and business processes become more streamlined.
- Review the most frequent IT service requests related to your AMS.
- Develop a plan to train staff on how to fulfill those routine requests without IT’s assistance—or focus on super users.
- Provide training.
4. Evaluate award management (submission/review) systems.
Many associations have processes for managing the submission of applications or abstracts, criteria-based group review, scoring, and selection of successful candidates for awards, scholarships, or conference sessions. These processes are often cumbersome for staff and volunteers. Several systems on the market support this type of submission and review process, integrate with AMS/CRM platforms, and dramatically improve user experience and business process efficiency.
- Research award management systems and view some high-level demonstrations.
- Develop business and system requirements.
5. Begin building the foundation for member/constituent engagement scoring.
Member engagement scoring helps to measure the degree to which a member is involved with your association. Ideally, you should be able to capture data related to most member interactions with your organization. This data provides insight into at-risk members, activities that correlate with higher retention, steps for increasing engagement, and engagement trends.
- Determine if your AMS supports member engagement scoring.
- Inventory all the data you have on members and other constituents. (You’ve already done that for GDPR, right?)
Digital1. Identify an owner for digital strategy and content management.
An association’s digital presence has a major impact on membership growth and retention, as well as the membership experience. One staff person must be ultimately responsible for digital strategy and content management so assets will be optimally used to further the strategic and operational objectives of the organization.
- Determine if an existing staff person could serve in this role.
- If so, change their title and position description to reflect this new set of responsibilities.
- If not, advocate for getting a new position approved.
2. Make all parts of the website mobile-responsive.
Many association websites are still not mobile-responsive. It’s not enough to simply have a responsive website design, you must optimize your website for mobile users.
Prioritizing the mobile user experience is critical because most people now browse websites using their mobile devices. Additionally, your SEO will improve since Google search algorithms reward mobile-optimized sites with higher rankings in search results.
- Test your site using a mobile device and catalog areas where the user experience could be improved.
- Talk with your web developer to determine the effort to correct the issues you discover.
3. Enhance website search.
Even associations with a respectable web presence do not always pay enough attention to their website’s search functionality. A user-friendly search experience requires an effective use of content tagging and search engine tuning. Users should be able to search across all of your association’s web properties—LMS, online store, journals, blog, etc.—from a single place (federated search). They should also be able to filter search results based on certain criteria (faceted search), for example, topics and date published.
- Determine if your site search engine can support faceted or federated search.
- Develop a plan for improving site search.
4. Improve the use of website analytics.
Many associations don’t effectively use website analytics despite the invaluable insights this data can provide, for example, how site visitors are finding your content, how they interact with it, where they are coming from, which content is popular, and which content is never viewed. Insights from this data can help you improve website user experience, optimize website navigation, and measure the effectiveness of marketing campaigns.
- Determine if your web development partner or digital agency can help train staff to become more comfortable using a web analytics tool, for example, Google Tag Manager.
- Determine your key metrics.
- Develop a plan for improving these metrics.
Perform a content inventory and audit.
You must periodically remove redundant, outdated, and trivial (ROT) content from your website. When only relevant content is indexed on your site, you improve website search results and avoid the negative impact on your brand of potentially embarrassing out-of-date content. On a periodic basis, and before migrating to a new web CMS or site design, do a content inventory (“what do we have”) and audit (“is it still relevant, accurate, and meeting needs”) to keep your content fresh.
- Determine the last time a content inventory and audit was performed. If it was more than two years ago, make a plan to do it again.
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? If so, the suggested “next steps” are a good place to start. My next post will share the most common areas for improvement in the IT infrastructure and management domains. Until then, you can learn more about our IT Maturity Model and technology assessments on our website.