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Your Database: You Have Three Choices

One of my primary consulting services is helping associations select new association management software systems. I get calls and emails all the time from association executives who are frustrated with the system they have in place. They are looking for guidance in choosing a system that’s right for their association. When it comes to the technology you have in place, you always have (at least) three options for how to deal with it:

Maintain Status Quo Simply continue to use what you have currently. Of course, when potential clients contact me, they’ve likely already made the decision to no longer maintain the status quo. But sometimes, after discussing the costs for switching systems and the attendant consulting fees, some associations decide they don’t have enough money for a complete change. So keeping in place what you already have is always an option.

Fix the Existing System With this option, rather than making a wholesale change to the software, you can choose to address some of the shortcomings in the existing system. If it is off-the-shelf software, this may mean working through an upgrade with the vendor. If it is a custom system, this may mean paying for additional customizations to address the needs that are currently not being met.

Switch to a New System A third option, of course, is to completely abandon the existing software and replace it. This is typically very attractive to most associations in this situation, because of the promise of new technology fixing current problems. And hey, who doesn’t like shiny new things? Of course, switching to a new system takes time and can be expensive, so making a switch typically requires a much larger commitment (in terms of time and money) than the first two options.

I recently worked with an association who had invested several hundred thousand dollars in an off-the-shelf AMS that they felt was not performing to the level they should expect from a system that cost that much. When they contacted me, they wanted help determining which of the three options above were right for them. Should they just suffer with what they have; could they improve what they have and continue to use it; or should they move to a new system? After some analysis it was clear that the software itself could support their needs, but that implementation of some key business process changes would be required. I’m happy to report that after several months of work, the association now is quite happy with their AMS and they feel like they are getting much more leverage from their initial investment. Regardless of which option you may choose, you should always review your business processes to ensure that you are leveraging the software as best you can. For many of my clients, changing the system is impractical because of the disruption it will cause. The additional expense and time wouldn’t justify a wholesale change. But changing HOW the current system is being used can be very affordable and provide tremendous returns.

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