There is a classic management aphorism that no strategy ever failed on design; it’s the implementation that counts. The same is very true for selecting a new association management system. No database ever failed on selection; if it fails, it usually fails because of poor implementation.
While there are definitely different “classes” of AMSes for different types of associations (e.g., very large membership base vs. very small), if you’ve done your due diligence and selected a system that is appropriate for your organization, success or failure will depend on implementation. When I work with my clients on system selection, I’m making sure they’re getting a system that will fit their needs and their budget. But the real test comes at implementation time.
During the implementation process, there are five key areas where the project can come off the rails. These are:
Data conversion – Data conversion is taking your existing data from one or more data sources (e.g., your current database, Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, Outlook contacts) and importing them into the new AMS. It is critical that the organization identify all of the potential data sources that need to be converted, and then identify which data actually needs to be converted (i.e., just because you have the data now does NOT mean it has to be converted into the new database).
System configuration – Configuration (and sometimes customization) is the process of setting up the system to correctly manage your data. Simple examples of configuration include setting up your membership types and rules (e.g., membership is on an anniversary basis, with a 30-day grace period at expiration). Configuration is a critical step because if the system is not configured correctly, it won’t produce the results you’re seeking.
Training – This is perhaps the most important step in the process, and the step that often gets the least attention. Proper training is absolutely essential to ensuring user adoption. If users don’t understand how to use the system as they need to use it, they won’t use it. This point is critical: The training must focus on how the staff will use the system in their jobs on a day-to-day basis.
Testing – This is the stage in the process where, once trained, staff need to “play” in the database, to test for accuracy of data conversion, correctness of system configuration, and confirmation that staff really knows how to use the system to do their jobs.
Documentation – While most vendors will provide some form of generic system documentation for your database, very few will document your actual processes for your specific organization. This step is the most tedious and the least likely to be done at all. Documenting how you do things within the database will go a long way to user adoption and success.
In the broad scheme of things, selecting a database is easy. Implementing and actually using it effectively is much more difficult. Knowing these four risk areas can help you have a successful implementation.
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