Over the course of 2 ½ days at the AUDC, more than 60 sessions were presented, ranging from how to use certain modules or tools within the netFORUM products, to case studies on how associations are leveraging the products. I attended several sessions focused, broadly, on business intelligence and communications. I found three sessions particularly noteworthy.

Dynamic Newsletter Content

The first was presented by Sigma Theta Tau International (SSTI) and Highroad Solution. STTI worked with Highroad to integrate a third-party email tool (Blue Hornet) into their netFORUM installation, in order to allow for much broader and deeper segmentation among SSTI’s members. In SSTI’s case, they have over 180(!!) different segments that a member may receive information about. Obviously managing this data can be quite a chore.

But what impressed me most is the ability of the integration to allow for dynamically presented content within SSTI’s newsletter. In a nutshell, SSTI can create content for their hundreds of segments, and depending on which segments the customer has selected or belongs to, the customer will receive only the content that is relevant to them. (If you’re a member of ASAE, you may have already seen this in action with their Associations Now Extra emails, which do the same thing.)

In the ongoing battle for your members’ and customers’ attention, this is incredibly powerful, and I expect to see more associations moving toward this process. I also expect to see more vendors (both email and AMS) providing this kind of functionality.

Using Tableau

The second session of note was presented by Gordon Schmittling, American Association of Family Physicians (AAFP), and Bryce Gartner, of icimo. The two organizations have worked together to implement multiple dashboards within AAFP based on data from many different data sources, including netFORUM. The dashboards were developed in Tableau, a very powerful (but affordable) data visualization software. Among other things, these charts and dashboards allow AAFP to track membership, events registrations, and certification programs in realtime, and provide opportunities to ask even more questions about the data.

As with the email marketing above, this is something that associations are increasingly seeking, and something that most of the AMS vendors are making some effort to provide. I expect to see demand for this type of functionality to continue to increase over the coming years.

Implementing Business Intelligence

The third session of note was presented by Debbie King of DSK Solutions, along with a panel of association participants. Debbie presented a methodology for how associations can begin to look at and implement business intelligence and analytics programs within their own organizations. Debbie made three points about business intelligence that I think bear repeating:

  1. At its root, BI is not about technology, but about business objectives. You don’t do BI for BI’s sake; you do it to achieve some business goal. And you have to know what that is before you run screaming down the path of implementing a new BI initiative.
  2. Don’t try to eat the whole elephant. Debbie related one story about a failed BI implementation (not hers!) where the association had spent two years and a million dollars trying to implement a BI initiative. As Debbie put it, that was too long, and they tried to do too much. Start small. Learn from each initiative. Iterative “baby steps” are a far better approach than trying to eat the whole elephant (if I may mix metaphors).
  3. One of the great values of BI programs is that they can help you not only answer questions you have now, but unearth new questions you’ve not previously thought of. When you start seeing your data in a whole new way, you’ll start asking questions that had never crossed your mind before. What started as “how many registrants do I have now” leads to “how many are from a certain geographic reason” to “why are more coming from there than other places”?