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Don’t Expect EVERYTHING from Your Database
18 January 2011, by , in Data Management, Executive, 5 comments

I’m working on an RFP for a client for the selection of new association management software system. As I’m working through the list of required functionality, I’m struck by just how much functionality is available in today’s systems, especially as compared to what things were like two decades ago when I first started working in AMS systems.

Because things are so amazing, we have a tendency to think that we should be able to do EVERYTHING in our database. And when the functionality we want isn’t there, we get upset. (I admit to suffering from this at times.) I was reminded of a great monologue from the comedian Louis CK when he was a guest on Conan O’Brien’s show. His riff is entitled “Evereything’s Amazing& Nobody’s Happy. (You can view it here.)

It’s really important to have realistic expectations about what your database can and cannot do. And it’s important to keep things in perspective; so many of the things we can do now didn’t even exist 20 years ago. Some of them didn’t exist five years ago!

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  • Good point, Wes. On the other hand, I wish associations were MORE demanding of AMS vendors when it comes to usability. My recent work includes usability reviews and tests of basic ecommerce functions in some very popular AMSs, and it is surprising how needlessly complex and unlike good consumer sites association ecommerce can be. If associations demanded easier joining, renewing, event registration, and purchasing functions out of the box, the whole association community–including the AMS vendors–would benefit.

  • Wes Trochlil

    Thanks for the comment, Jacqui, and you’re right, clients do need to push harder. But a minor defense of the AMS vendors: Very often the business rules that associations have make it difficult to mimic “typical” e-commerce sites. For example, Amazon only needs to know who I am how I’m going to pay in order to take my order. But for an event registration, the system may also need to know if I’m a member or not, which sessions I’m attending, am I bringing a guest, and on and on and on.

    That doesn’t mean the vendors can’t improve (they can), but again, we need to be realistic about what’s possible.

  • Understood and agreed, Wes. I worked in associations for many years and understand both the fundamental business processes, and also how some orgs fall into the trap of “this is how we’ve always done it.” However, complex business rules are no excuse for poor user experience. So, here’s a message to the associations and AMS vendors: When information needs to be gathered (and can’t be prepopulated from an existing record), gather it, but keep transactions as simple as possible, learn from the process flows of successful sites (e.g., Amazon, PayPal), and let people see where they are in a process. They will be more likely to complete the transaction online.

  • Wes Trochlil

    You’re right. And I’ve been on a soapbox for some time that associations need to think more about getting the sale first and the “extraneous” data later. See here: http://effectivedatabase.com/2008/07/24/collect-as-little-data-as-possible-when-selling/

  • Is there room on that soapbox for me? That’s a great blog post. Only essential info should be gathered in the critical path of a transaction. Never get in the way of people wanting to spend money with your association. : )

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National Association of Life Brokerage Agencies

“Wes was able to come in and offer tangible, relevant advice that made us more productive immediately. I value his understanding of databases but more so, his understanding of how nonprofits work. There was no lost time educating him about how membership organizations are “different.” Wes recommended changes in processes as well as tips and tricks that were easy to implement made an immediate positive impact.”

Mary Pat Paris, Executive Director
International Registration Plan

Mary Pat Paris
International Registration Plan

“This is the second database implementation we’ve done since I have been at Western Arts Alliance (WAA). The first I did on my own. This time we engaged Wes Trochlil as our database planning consultant. Let me tell you, this process is a whole lot easier having Wes on your team! For a small association like WAA, it’s tempting for board and EDs to question the justification and expense of a database planning consultant. But it’s the small associations that need Effective Database Management the most. Wes strengthened our planning process, clarified our needs requirements, helped us steer around solutions that couldn’t meet our objectives, and saved us money in the long haul.”

Tim Wilson, Executive Director
Western Arts Alliance

Tim Wilson
Western Arts Alliance
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