Following are excerpts from interviews I recently conducted with the CEOs from six assn management software providers to get their perspective on how assns are using technology. CEOs interviewed were Brian Bruffey (BB), Protech Associates; Edi Dor (ED), TMA Resources; Thomas Howard (TH), Memberclicks; Kevin Hostutler (KH), ACGI Software; Amith Nagarajan (AN), Aptify; and Joanna Pineda (JP), Matrix Group International.
Note: Responses have been edited for clarity.
What are you hearing from your customers about how they are spending money on technology-related projects?
BB: “Our customers are looking toward technology even more so to create more efficiencies and effectively deliver to their members. They’re not pulling back, but they’re making sure they’re diligent and making smart decisions, and that’s where their database comes into play.”
“Data is the lifeblood of the organization. So, understanding what a database can do, that it can do more than just hold information. Ideally, organizations should move to recording member interactions.”
AN: “Many of our clients focus on professional education, and they’ve found their e-learning and traditional educational offerings have had stronger results from folks who are looking to upgrade their skills during the weaker economy. Most of our clients are looking to increase spending on technology, because they realize that technology can help them operate more efficiently and effectively.”
ED: “We posed this question to our customer advisory council. We’re seeing concerns about meeting attendance and advertising revenue. So we’re seeing budgets with no growth, or in some cases, a slight decrease, but so far, we’re not seeing major cuts.”
JP: “Pretty much every client has said, ‘We still need to serve our members,’ but nearly everyone is scaling back. And probably 20% of our clients are delaying projects until 2010.”
What’s the next big thing for data management?
BB: “Bringing data management to a user-level. We have to allow the user access rather than the technologists. We’re having success with delivering dashboards to users. These are snapshots of information that the user really needs to see.”
What’s the smartest thing assns can do now when it comes to managing their database?
AN: “If the assn can focus on providing a higher degree of relevant content that is truly meaningful to their members, they will prosper.”
ED: “Get as much as you can on to the web, so that you get a strong presence on line. Perhaps you can then translate that into packaging your intellectual property, creating digital download products and other types of intellectual property that you can sell.”
JP: “Look at the processes that are broken that affect the greatest number of staff and members, and fix it. Forget the politics and just fix what is no longer needed.”
TH: “Data is the lifeblood of the organization. So, understanding what a database can do, that it can do more than just hold information. Ideally, organizations should move to recording member interactions.”
KH: “Educating staff. Get your staff using the database effectively, to provide better service to the members.”
What’s the greatest challenge assns face with successfully managing their database?
KH: “A knowledge deficit of users. Not knowing what the software can do or should do to help them run their organization.”
BB: “Their ability to use just a fraction of the functionality and features that they have. They need to invest time to build the skills necessary to leverage the full power of what they have.”
TH: “Some type of strategy or vision of what you want to accomplish technologically. Without a strategy or vision, what you wind up with after a number of years is ‘How did I get here?’ So some sense of what you want to accomplish.”
ED: “Single biggest challenge is to leverage the tools at their disposal, especially on the reporting side. Being able to analyze where they stand, whether it’s against customer service metrics, or revenue metrics. Knowing that the integrity of the data is there so that they can make the right decisions.”
JP: “There are probably a lot more options that organizations have related to their data. With this plethora of options, organizations often have their data scattered everywhere, and it’s not integrated. We also see challenges with policies on integration, data management, etc.”
What are assns not doing with their database that they should be doing?
JP: “We’re not seeing assns use their database in a really meaningful way when it comes to targeted communications promoting their products and services. It amazes us that organizations will blanket communicate when they’re promoting a specific meeting or product. With databases these days, based on people’s interests and past activities, you can send targeted communications with a very targeted message.”
BB: “They really need to use their data in a manner that lets them drive their strategy. Really focus on what they have, look at what the information is telling them, and let that help shape their strategy moving forward, so that they can really help their members. Along with that, you have to look really hard at your policies and procedures and how that drives how you use your system.
What should assns be doing better?
BB: “They need to keep it simple. Stay focused on what their members want and drive the areas where they are consuming this technology and learn about this technology strategically. Focused learning that protects them from getting overwhelmed. They have to invest the time to learn the features of the software that are going to get you the most bang for your buck.”
These interivews can be heard in their entirety at http://effectivedatabase.com/category/ams-ceo-podcast-series/.
This article originally appeared in the March 20, 2009,, issue of Association Trends. Reprinted with permission.
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