Frank Sarlo from PDA recently posted the following to the ASAE technology listserver:

"Our Programs and Meetings Department is researching online conference registration systems that are separate from our AMS system. Their current choice is Cvent.

What are your thoughts about this separation of systems? Can the advantages gained outweigh the additional systems integration and training requirements for customer service staff?"

My immediate reaction when anyone asks this question is "What will you gain from the third-party system that you can't get from your AMS?" As it happens, I'm familiar with Frank's current AMS situation, and the answer is that the're probably better off going with Cvent because it will provide functionality and ease-of-use that his AMS does not.

But for many associations, the AMS they have in place will provide the functionality they need. So why do so many associations choose third-party systems? I have some theories:

  1. Staff perceives these systems as better because they're "easier" to use.
  2. Staff perceives these systems as better because they're focused on a specific area (e.g., meetings registration).
  3. The systems are actually better than what the AMS vendor can provide.

Frank asks the question every association should ask when faced with this: "Can the advantages gained outweigh the additional systems integration and training requirements for customer service staff?"

What are the advantages? If it's "ease of use" and "more specific," I'd have to be convinced that these reasons make up for the additional cost of integration, training, and maintenance. If the system actually provides functionality that the AMS cannot, then you may have a better argument.

What do you think? Does it make sense for an association to use third-party software, or should they always try to use their AMS first?