Success depends on good technology and clear business rules

It is a common misperception among assns (and most businesses, for that matter) that “more technology” can fix problems. But frequently, the problem isn’t just the technology, it is also the business rules.

Your business rules dictate how you do business. By rules, I mean the procedure stating who can enter data in the database, how that data is entered, how invoicing is processed, etc. Business rules also explain your membership types and criteria, your event registration categories, and participation in your certification program. The best technology in the world cannot overcome poor (or nonexistent) business rules.

The four-quadrant graph at right illustrates the relationship between business rules and technology.

In the lower left quadrant, you have un-clear business rules and weak technology. Unfortunately, this situation accounts for nearly 1/3 of all assns. Not only is the staff unclear about how they should process data, they have poor technology supporting that data. The result is a floundering organization that is unable to grow or reach its potential because the infrastructure is not in place. In the upper left hand quadrant we find assns who have strong, up-to-date technology, but have very unclear business rules. In this case, the assn has a good assn management system and a well-constructed website. They may even have the two “talking” to each other. Yet because of unclear business rules, staff is dealing with lots of data errors including inconsistent addresses, titles, and roles, undercharging or overcharging for products and services, and overlooked or incorrect invoicing. By my estimates, nearly a quarter of all assns fall in this category.

The lower right hand quadrant represents organizations with clear business rules but weak technology. Smaller assns with very tight budgets (or boards that are too tight with reserves) often find themselves in this situation. The result of good business rules and bad technology is that staff spends an inordinate amount of time processing data that could be automated. For example, assns in this quadrant frequently process orders (e.g., membership joins and renewals) manually rather than allowing members to go online and join or renew using a credit card. I estimate fewer than 20% of assns are in this quadrant.

Finally, in the upper right hand category, we have a successful assn. In this quadrant, the organization has clearly defined its business rules, and it has technology in place that can support these rules. Rather than spending time processing data and payments, staff can focus on pursuing the mission of the organization, while letting the technology do the heavy lifting. In my experience, fewer than 20% of assns consistently operate in this quadrant.

So which quadrant does your organization fall into? As you can see, strong technology alone will not make your organization successful. Indeed, you are likely to be more successful with clear business rules than strong technology, though ideally you will have both.

This article originally appeared in the November 2, 2007 issue of Association Trends. Reprinted with permission.


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