What’s Plaguing Associations – 2010

This marks the fourth consecutive year that Ive conducted my unscientific  one question survey of associations, asking them for the one database issue they’re wrestling with right now. As with previous years, some of the answers confirm what Ive been learning with my clients, and some of the results surprised me.

Executive Summary

The five issues that received the most comments were:

  1. Integrating the database with other systems
  2. Managing the data the database holds
  3. Reporting on the data and customizing/configuring the database
  4. Selection and implementation of new systems
  5. Staffing

Most of these issues are consistent with the previous three surveys. System integration,  managing data, and data reporting are perennial issues with database management. One significant change from last years results: budgets/financial resources was barely mentioned; in its place is the need for staff with greater data management skills. Is this need for skilled labor a result of last years budget cuts?

Detailed Results
With over 100 association executives from the US and Canada responding, here are the results, based on my analysis:

Integration 20%
It did not surprise me to see that issues of integration were most prominent among the comments. Whether its integrating the database with the website, internal financial software, or other third party systems, integration is a challenge for many respondents. The good news here is that I consider integration a higher level problem. That is, if one of your primary concerns is integration, then youre probably operating your central database at a pretty high level of efficiency and sophistication. Here is a representative sampling of the comments received:

  • integrating with Outlook
  • integration of CRM with CMS
  • integration with multiple other database/tools.
  • integration with website
  • interfacing with e-store

Data entry/data management 18%
Challenges with management of data is a perennial (and never-ending) issue with databases, of course. The database is only as good and only as useful as the data that is in it. So it doesnt surprise me that data entry and management issues are foremost for many respondents. Representative comments included:

  • keeping [the database] updated and ensuring its reliability
  • too many changes and not enough resources – using temps requires a lot of retraining and may affect data integrity.
  • updating information and standardizing the way info is entered

As Ive outlined in many articles and blog posts, successful management of data is dependent on clearly established business rules, well-documented processes, and effective training. Ive worked with many of my clients on these issues, and one recommendation that seems to be very effective is to establish an internal power users group that meets on a regular bases (e.g., twice a month) to discuss any issues related to data management. My clients consistently report that these types of meetings are extremely useful for identifying underlying management issues, software bugs, and business process issues.

Reporting and customization 16%
Like data management, reporting and configuration are perennial issues. Customization and configuration allows users to collect the data they need to collect, and reporting allows users to extract that data in some useful manner. Representative comments included:

  • Getting data out of the current AMS in a usable format
  • Getting the information to cross compare…in an easy way and inexpensive way.
  • Easily being able to extract the product usage information in the format we want to use for analysis.

The data in the database is only useful if it can be extracted and used or analyzed. Ive worked with many clients over the years to help them identify what data needs to be extracted, how that data should be output, and how the client will use the data. There are plenty of tools and services available to assist with this, so if youre having troubles in these areas, you should explore your options with your vendor or a third-party consultant.

Implementation 13%
This topic includes any issues related to selecting and implementing a new AMS. I also included in this group those respondents who said, essentially, that they know their current system is inadequate, but have not made the decision to move to a new system. Implementation of new systems is always a challenge, as those who are in the middle of implementation know too well. Representative comments included:

  • Configuring an open source CRM. What an ugly mess. We should have read your advice earlier. [I agree! Wes]
  • whether we even need a database and if so, can we afford it.
  • The [database] is old and needs to be replaced, but we don’t have the staff bandwidth to manage a conversion at this time.

As I often tell my clients, the best software in the world is wasted if the staff cant or wont use it. A successful implementation depends on user adoption. User adoption is dependent on buy-in from staff (senior management and front-line). Buy-in comes from identifying whats in the best self-interest of each user, so you need to spend time identifying what that is and explaining to users how the new system will make their job (or their life) better, easier, faster, or whatever most appeals to them.

Staffing 13%
This is the topic that surprised me, quite frankly. There were several comments related to staffing, in particular issues surrounding finding staff with the right skill set, and getting staff to take ownership of the data and the systems that manage the data. Representative comments included:

  • Getting staff to use it.  Lack of buy in by top management.
  • No one person/group “owns” the database and the data inside it, so IT does whatever anyone asks them to, and we end up with things like the same field in 2 places, with half the data in one field and half in the other.
  • user adoption

The rest of the responses (20%) fell into a broad array of issues, including centralizing data management, managing the physical hardware for the database, and supporting homegrown systems.

As in years past, the issues associations continue to grapple with are system integration, data management, and reporting. The good news is that with each passing year, two of these issues (system integration and reporting) become easier, with the advent of better technology. However, issues like data management and staffing reflect the need for having properly trained and thinking people involved in the daily management of the database.


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