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What’s Plaguing Associations 2013

For seven years I have conducted a one-question, non-scientific survey of association executives, asking them “What data management/database issue are you being challenged with right now?”

This year I received over 150 responses from association executives representing all types and sizes of associations. As I always do, I’ve taken these responses and categorized them into some broad topic areas.

Something interesting happened this year; there was no single issue that rose to the top. The breakout looks like this:

  • Data integrity: 14%
  • System change: 14%
  • Third-party integration: 13%
  • Poor technology: 11%
  • Reporting: 10%
  • Business Intelligence: 7%
  • Vendor issues: 6%
  • User adoption: 5%
  • Training: 3%
  • Other issues: 12%

In year’s past, top categories have included third-party system integration, data integrity, and reporting yet these issues accounted for just over a third of all issues reported this time. In prior years they have accounted for more than half of the issues reported.

So where is the shift in attention? Three items float to the top. While data integrity dropped, it is still in the top three, joined by poor technology, and business intelligence. Let’s take each in order.

Data Integrity: Data management’s “original sin,” data integrity has been with us since the dawn of keeping lists. A set of data is only as good as the accuracy of that data. And with an incredibly mobile society (both physically as well as virtually), keeping data clean and up-to-date is a never-ending problem . Some representative comments included, “Consistency when several users are entering the data” and “Keeping email addresses up-to-date in an organizational system where individuals use personal emails because there is no organizational email domain or it is not utilized (local government).”

Poor Technology: Let’s face it, there is always going to be some complaint about technology from our users. But the comments about poor technology in this year’s survey are reflective of an ever-growing expectation from users (and members and customers!) that our systems should be intuitive and attractive. I call it “the Amazon effect” and it’s quite real. All users expect to have a pleasant and positive experience when interacting with technology, especially online. Comments like “It’s not intuitive for my prospects to sign up on our website and join the Association,” and “The cosmetic appearance of our AMS in relation to our members’ expectations. It looks like 2001,” reflect the frustration that both customers and staff feel about their databases and websites.

Business Intelligence: As a buzzword, business intelligence (BI) has been with us for more than half a decade, but adoption of actual business intelligence activities within the association market have been slow to materialize. But with each passing year, BI garners more attention from data managers and association managers. That is reflected in the increase in responses that either mention business intelligence directly or refer to “data mining” or “data analytics.” As one respondent wrote, they are working on “Turning data into information – leveraging interactions into actionable follow ups.” That’s business intelligence in a nutshell!

Some issues with data management will be evergreen. For example, until we implant chips in everyone’s forehead, data integrity will always be a data management challenge. But I’m encouraged to see that associations are now beginning to grapple with higher-value issues like business intelligence and using data in a way that will help them improve effectiveness and advance their organization’s mission. That’s what data management should really be about.

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