A few years ago one of my most successful clients told me that with all the advice I had given her for improving the management of her AMS, the single best piece of advice was to have her organization create an internal users group. My advice was simple: Have representatives (typically the “power users”) from each department within the association meet every other week to discuss all of the issues they are having with the AMS. The meeting would be focused ONLY on database issues (and the processes related to data management).
My client reported to me that after only three meetings, they had already made tremendous progress addressing the issues they had faced for several years.
So why should your organization establish an internal users group? Here are four reasons (and a bonus):
#1: Improve communications – By virtue of simply meeting to discuss AMS-related issues specifically, you will improve communications within your organization. The vast majority of issues that my clients bring to me involve staff working at cross-purposes within the database. That is, department A is doing things that conflict with the things department B is doing. Internal users group meetings will bring these issues to light and provide you an opportunity to address them before they get out of hand.
#2: Identify process issues – Once these lines of communication are opened, one of the first issues that will come to light is that different staff are processing the same data in a different manner. These differences in process can create huge problems with data integrity. Once process issues are identified, you can use these meetings to map out an agreed-upon process that all staff will use.
#3: Identify software bugs or weaknesses – One of the most interesting discoveries that associations make when they start internal users groups is that several staff have been “suffering” through the same bug, thinking that they were the only one suffering, or that there was no way to get the bug fixed. Many times I’ll hear from my clients “I had no idea that the other departments were having the same issues we were! I thought it was only us.”
#4: Generate new ideas – In time, as your user group becomes more adept at running meetings and quickly addressing user needs, you’ll see the focus of the group morph from simply “fixing things” to actually generating new ideas of how to use the database and your data.
BONUS: Save money! – Yes, internal users groups can save you money. How? By improving communication, improving processes, and improving the software. Internal users groups allow you to address problems and issues without intervention from your vendor. That saves you money, and likely will save you time. And the new ideas generated from the group may include revenue-generating programs.
An internal users group is very inexpensive to run. It simply takes time and discipline. And as my most successful clients have found, it can be incredibly rewarding.