What’s Plaguing associations- 2011

This marks the fifth year that I have conducted my one-question, non-scientific survey of association executives, asking them simply “What data management/database issue are you being challenged with right now?”

Nearly 150 association executives, representing all types and sizes of associations, responded. As I always do, I’ve taken these qualitative responses and categorized them into some broad topic areas.

Two things jumped out at me with this year’s responses. The first is that integration to other systems, including websites, continues to be a challenge. I think there is a silver lining here, in that associations are using multiple systems (think AMS, website, third party registration tools, social media tools) and realize that there is a lot of overlapping or complimentary data that needs to be integrated to the primary database. So while integration is a challenge, it’s good that more associations are recognizing the need for integrating these systems.
The second surprise was the addition of a category I’m calling “Strategic management.” As you’ll see from the comments below, strategic management includes topics such as how to manage staffing, staying abreast of changes in technology, and better managing the data to address the organization’s objectives.

I believe this new set of issues is reflective of the maturing of the AMS market and the users of AMS products. For example, going back five years to the first time this survey was conducted, the spread of issues related very much to functional needs, e.g., querying/reporting, and data integrity. While these continue to be issues for associations, the issues under strategic management suggest that the “infrastructure” issues (i.e., making the system work) are being ironed out, and now associations are looking at how they can use the system more effectively.

With no further ado, here is the breakout of responses, and my commentary on the top four areas:

  • Integration (web and third parties) 27%
  • Strategic management 22%
  • Data integrity 14%
  • Reporting/querying 11%
  • Selection and implementation 7%
  • Vendor issues 6%
  • Other issues 13%


Integration (web and third parties) – 27%

Integration is, and always will be, a challenge. There is no question with new technologies (e.g., XML, APIs) that integration has become much, much easier than a decade ago. But challenges remain. As noted above, the silver lining is that more associations are working toward integrating their disparate systems, and that’s a good thing.

Representative comments:

  • “Consolidating multiple databases and getting the db managers working together.”
  • “Data residing in multiple systems that don’t talk to each other.”
  • “We have a pilot running with some of our affiliates to capture more in-depth information on program offerings. Would love to integrate with our primary database at some point in the future for purposes of rolling up information.”
  • “Integrating multiple data systems (separate system for annual conference, lack of single log in for our career center, component data management is separate from HQ).”

Strategic management – 22%

As AMS products become more mature and provide more functionality at lower cost points, associations can finally start looking at using their data management systems strategically. These comments reflect some of the challenges associations face as they move from making the system work to actually using the system to advance the organization’s mission.
Representative comments:

  • “Identifying the “right” data management projects to work on next.”
  • “Knowing that we’re not using our database as effectively as we could be and not really knowing where to start.”
  • “Having enough knowledge (how) and manpower (who) to utilize all of the available data.”
  • “Coordination across the organization.”

Data integrity – 14%

Like integration above, data integrity is a challenge that will never go away. Just like a printed directory is out of date the moment it hits the street, a database is never 100% clean. Keeping the data clean and up-to-date is simply one of the ongoing requirements of maintaining a healthy database.
Representative comments:

  • “Gathering and sealessly integrating data collected using outside systems such as social media and webmonkey/zoomerang et al.”
  • “Correctness of the data.”
  • “Duplicate records.”
  • “Keeping data clean.”

Reporting/querying – 11%

Your database is relatively useless if the data you have in it is difficult or impossible to extract. Reporting and querying are the tools we use to get that data, and the more difficult it is to query on or report from your database, the less value it has.
Representative comments:

  • “Unlocking content from document prison and sharing it as data seamlessly and intelligently with our stakeholders.”
  • “Having to request IT to pull majority of our queries.”
  • “Extracting reports from the data we already collect.”
  • “Pulling names for marketing lists. The queries are cumbersome and complex.”


As these comments reflect, managing your association database is an ongoing challenge. One does not just “plug it in and forget it.” But the move to more strategic thinking about how we use data is an encouraging sign that the market is beginning to mature.

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