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Consultant or Staff: It’s a Matter of Time and Mission

Your association is in desperate need of a new association management system. One of the first questions you must ask yourself is, “Can we manage this process with internal staff only, or is this a project that requires the services of an outside consultant?”

  • When considering outsourcing any task keep three issues in mind: Time: Does anyone on staff have time to manage this project successfully?
  • Skills: Does anyone on staff have the skill set necessary to complete this project successfully?
  • Association mission/core competency: Does having staff spend time on this project further the mission of our association?

There are several key steps to selecting and implementing association management system (AMS) software. Some you may decide are best handled by a consultant, and others may be primarily handled by staff. As you read through, apply the earlier three issues to each step to help answer these questions and determine whose responsibility they will be.

Who does the review?

Someone — a staff member or consultant — needs to review your existing business processes and procedures and interview all staff members who have any stake in the management of the association’s data. The results of this business process review not only will help you with selecting your AMS, but also will be used as the basis for developing association-specific documentation and training. The list of questions for a thorough review is as long as the number of business processes your association handles.

What is on the list of requirements?

The process review will help a staff member or a consultant develop a checklist of needs for the association’s AMS. Someone has to document every piece of functionality that the association needs or wants from the AMS and identify which of those functions is a must-have versus a nice-to-have.

What AMS products are available?

Once the checklist of requirements is complete, it’s time to compare those requirements with the off-the-shelf software packages that are available to the association market. A staff member or consultant should identify those vendors with products that seem most appropriate for the association (ASAE’s Technology Solutions Directory is a great source), and then conduct preliminary reviews of their products. The staff member or consultant should also consider whether a custom solution is appropriate.

Which systems are finalists?

From the broad list of possible products and vendors, narrow that list down to just a few (probably three or four). Here is where at least one staff member who will use the system should spend time getting to know the products and the vendors, possibly with guidance from a consultant. Have vendors demonstrate in detail and with the association’s data exactly how their system manages membership, events, publications, and all of the other issues identified in the business process review.

Who will be the AMS vendor?

Following the final demos, ultimately a staff member or staff team should select the product and vendor that most closely fits the association’s needs. It’s then time to negotiate the terms of the software contract, including deliverables and dates, maintenance agreements, and included services.

Who works on data conversion and software implementation?

At least one staff member, possibly along with a consultant, should help closely scrutinize existing data to determine which data should be kept and which can be discarded. While data is being converted to the newly installed software, the software must be tested to ensure that it is working as promised and that data has converted properly.

Who will do association-specific documentation and training?

Finally, once the software is operating live, someone has to document all of the association’s processes as well as train the users on the new software. This is a critical step in the process, as the best software in the world will fail if the users don’t know how to use it or if business processes are inconsistent. You may want to use a consultant for part or all of this process.

From this list you can see that the task of selecting and implementing a new AMS is not simple, nor is it brief. When considering whether staff members have the skills, time and focus to manage such a project, seriously weighing the impact of each of these steps will bring you to the right decision.

Reprinted with permission from the Winter 2001 issue of MEMBERSHIP FORUM, copyright 2001, American Society of Association Executives, Washington, D.C.