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Trochlil’s Data Management Hierarchy

In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed a theory that as humans meet basic needs, they seek to satisfy successively higher needs that occupy a set hierarchy. Maslow’s hierarchy starts at basic physiological needs (e.g. breathing, food and water) and runs to self-actualization (e.g. spontaneity, creativity and problem solving).

Data management mirrors this hierarchy. With apologies to Maslow, here is Trochlil’s Hierarchy of Data Management Needs.

At the bottom of the pyramid is data collection. This is the simple act of keeping track members and customers. This is conducted in Outlook groups, Excel spreadsheets, Word documents and other simple databases. At this level, data collection is conducted where it is easiest to do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t allow much beyond keeping track of simple contact information and maybe some details, such as membership expiration date or who attended a certain conference. Too many associations are still functioning at this basic level.

The next level is data control. Control of data usually implies a centralized data management system, with querying and reporting functionality. Data control includes tracking financial transactions, accounts receivable, and staff/customer interactions. Data control also suggests that clear business processes have been established and communicated to staff in the form of training and written documentation. In addition, data control allows the organization to generate useful reports and queries, such as “report cards” that reflect total participation of a given member or customer (such as length of membership, number of meetings attended and products purchased). associations that have invested resources in fully centralized data management systems are usually at least at this level.

The third level in the hierarchy is data segmentation. With segmentation, people and organizations are segmented or classified based on a variety of variables, such as age, job role, membership type, geographic location, special interests and so on. These segments reach beyond typical transactional details to get closer to what a customer really values from the organization.

The top of the pyramid is data usage. This is self-actualization for data management. Self-actualization of data management means using the data to actually create new value for an organization. With the data you’re collected, the organization will be able to develop new products and services, based on who the customers are and what they’re requesting. (This is the promise of business intelligence.) This is very rarified air, indeed. Very few associations operate at this level.

So where does your association lie on the pyramid? And what will it take to get you to the next level, and ultimately to self-actualization? Achieving self-actualization will move your data management practices from a necessary evil and cost center to a potential revenue generator. Isn’t that where we all want to be?

This article originally appeared in the May 18, 2007 issue of Association Trends. Reprinted with permission.

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