What’s Plaguing Associations 2012 – The Dog That Didn’t Bark

For six years I have conducted a one-question, non-scientific survey of association executives, asking them “What data management/database issue are you being challenged with right now?”

This year I received over 170 responses from association executives representing all types and sizes of associations. As I always do, I’ve taken these qualitative responses and categorized them into some broad topic areas.

The top five categories accounted for 74% of all the responses. Those categories are:

  • Web and third party integration – 20%
  • Data integrity – 18%
  • Business Process – 12%
  • Data silos – 12%
  • Reporting – 12%

Other issues gaining mention included converting to a new system (7%) and vendor issues (7%).

Not surprisingly, these issues are very similar to the issues that have been reported over the previous five surveys. (You can see the previous results write-ups here.)

But what I find most interesting in these responses is the dog that didn’t bark; that is, what’s not being reported.

Social Media
In the 170+ responses to this survey, only two responses actually make reference to “social media” or “social community.” In both cases, these are references to integrating a social community platform or actual social media accounts. Given how much attention social media has received over the past three years, I’m a little surprised not to see it mentioned more often.

There may be several reasons for this. First, respondents may not think of social media as related to the database, and therefore it’s not a “database issue.” Related to this, it may be that social media is handled by departments (e.g., communications) that are less likely to be responding to this survey. Or it may simply be that social media isn’t as significant to associations as the buzz might suggest.

Mobile Applications
I’m hearing a lot from my clients about the need for adapting mobile applications for their association, especially as it relates to their larger meetings. Many of my clients have already rolled out a mobile app and are now looking to improve upon it. Others are still studying in hopes of finding the best approach.

But surprisingly, the word “mobile” only came up three times in these survey responses. So again, asking the question “why is that,” the possible answers may be similar to social media. The people responding to this survey are not responsible for mobile apps, or mobile apps aren’t as significant as the buzz might suggest. My gut says it’s the former; mobile apps are on associations’ radar, but the development of those apps are in the communications and/or events department, once removed from data management (which may be a mistake).

Business Intelligence
And finally, there is business intelligence. This phrase has hummed around the association market for over five years now (the first mention of it in my blog is in early 2007). Yet very, very few associations have implemented any form of real business intelligence programs. In this year’s survey, only two respondents mention business intelligence. And in both cases, the phrase was used in relationship to better managing the data, rather than in reference to any formal business intelligence program.

Why do associations struggle so much with business intelligence? The complete answer is for another column, but in short, I believe it’s out of fear: fear of not knowing how to do it “right,” fear of finding out things that contradict conventional wisdom, and fear of having to do things differently as a result of what the business intelligence is telling us.

Managing your database effectively is a process, not an event. That is reflected in the continued identification of consistent themes year over year (e.g., data integrity, reporting, integration). But beyond the day-to-day, associations need to look at how they’re leveraging their data, not just managing it (e.g., using business intelligence). The results of this survey suggest we’ve still got a long way to go.

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