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What’s Plaguing Associations Now? (Part 1 of 2)

Part one of two

I recently conducted an unscientific poll of clients and contacts, asking them one simple question: What database issue are you being challenged with right now?

More than 120 responded. Interestingly, the answers fell almost evenly into five broad categories:

  • Reporting/querying 26%
  • Data integrity 20%
  • Web Integration 20%
  • Integration of multiple data sources 17%
  • Training/documentation 16%.

Reporting/querying
Since cavemen scratched words on rocks, getting data out of the database has been a challenge. The simple truth is, any data you have in your database is useless if you can’t get the data out. Many assns are facing this problem. One respondent said his assn’s biggest challenge is “getting good, informational data out of the database easily. We are limited and cannot ‘pull’ individuals by certain criteria easily.”

This is a frequent complaint, and there are several reasons for this:

  • There is no simple tool available to staff to actually query the database. For example, some off-the-shelf database systems restrict users to using the query tool provided by the vendor, but the tool does not have access to all of the fields in the database. This is a design weakness that needs to be addressed by the vendor.
  • Staff doesn’t know how to query the database. In this case, there might be tools available to query most fields in the database, but staff either doesn’t know how to use the tool or staff doesn’t understand the database well enough to query intelligently. In either case, this is a training issue (#5 above) and can be addressed with proper resources.

Data integrity
Data integrity is the second-most common concern of database managers in the poll. As one respondent put it, “I am sick to death of getting data pulls that are full of trash. Why is it I’m the only one how seems to catch it, or cares?”

She asks a good question: Why is she the only one who is catching data errors, or seems to care that there are errors? It could be staff doesn’t feel the impact of bad data when it occurs; that is they don’t experience the consequences of bad data. For example, if an e-mail goes out that has a 20% bounce back rate, who does that affect or impact? It should impact anyone depending on that data to deliver more product sales, more membership, or more event registrations. But too often those responsible for marketing assn products are allowed to say “The marketing failed because our lists were bad.” All staff who use data should be held responsible for keeping that data clean. Clean data is not just the responsibility of the membership or database manager.

There is also a training issue here. Staff need to be trained to understand the impact of bad data. They also need to be trained on how to clean up data when they find errors. And they need to have these principles reinforced repeatedly and frequently. In other words, this is not a “train them once and forget it” concept.

This article originally appeared in the July 27, 2007 issue of Association Trends. Reprinted with permission.

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