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One System or Multiple Systems?

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?

About author:
  • T.B.

    Wes,

    Would it be more cost effective if the association decided to customize or make modifications to their events module? Will the association run into dupes between the two systems? Will C-Vent integrate with their current AMS product? These are questions the organization must consider before moving forward with any third party software package.

    I would first look to keep everything centralized in one location (AMS solution). If the organization can make changes to their AMS solution it makes more sense to make those modifications required to the events module instead of bringing in a new product. Although C-Vent is a great event registration package, it could ultimately cost more money and headache moving forward with such a solution.

    However, there are instances which an association is forced to evaluate other third party software packages such as accounting systems. Because many of the AMS packages don’t have full blown accounting systems they are forced to integrate the two together. This would be the only instance in which I would allow my association to investigate other third party software packages.

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“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

“We came to Wes because we were very frustrated with our existing AMS and we wanted to improve our capabilities as soon as practicable. Wes very quickly helped us through a process of identifying our needs, identifying potential vendors, and selecting a new system that we’ll be able to move into very quickly. I especially appreciated Wes’s candor about our processes as well as the systems we were looking at. He was a great resource to have in a period of high anxiety for our organization. I would highly recommend Wes for any similar project.”

Jack Chiasson, CMP Executive Director
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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