What’s Plaguing Associations 2008

Just over a year ago I conducted an unscientific survey of about 100 association executives, asking them what one data management issue was weighing most heavily on their minds. I reported those results in a two-part series (here and here).

I conducted a follow-up survey this year, and frankly, one of the results surprised me a bit. The responses were almost evenly divided among the following three categories:

  • System integration: integrating third-party systems and/or data to the primary database.
  • Data integrity: Ensuring that the data in the database is up to date and accurate.
  • System selection and implementation: selecting and implementing new association management systems.

System Integration

With the advent of web-based data management tools, associations have more options than ever for selecting “best of breed” systems for different areas of data management. For example, an association could choose to manage event registration on one system, exhibit management on a second, content management on another, government relations on another, and membership on yet another. The result is that many associations are finding they have even more disparate sources of data, but that data still needs to be somehow centralized for analysis and marketing. This is where system integration comes in.

In addition, there is the element of integrating the association management system to the association’s website. This represented 20% of the respondents last year, and it is clearly an ongoing issue.

Data Integrity

This is an age-old problem, and really one of the pillars for long-term successful data management. The reality is that no database has perfect data; some subset of the data is always incorrect to some degree. The issue is what degree of inaccuracy is acceptable.

I’m working with a client now where we are hoping to identify what level of accuracy is acceptable for different data points within the system. For example, for membership counts and membership dollars, we’d like to see accuracy levels over 99%. But for email addresses, the level of accuracy can be (and will be) much lower.

System Selection and Implementation

This was the issue that surprised me. Fully one-third of the associations surveyed were in the process of looking for a new association management system or working on implementing one they had already selected. In last year’s survey, this issue didn’t even register on the results list.

My rule of thumb is that if associations make a wise choice of systems, and have a successful implementation, they should be able to get a minimum of seven years of useful life from an AMS. That’s a minimum. So this type of response shouldn’t show up on a survey like this very often.

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