For any association staffer who has been through the process of trying to convince their board that it's time to invest in a new association management system, the question "Why do we need to spend so much money on a new database? Why can't we just buy (Microsoft) Access?" sends chills up the spine. (By the way, this could apply equally to FileMakerPro, MYSQL or any other database product.)
In my work with more than a hundred different associations and conversations among thousands of association staffers, this question comes up fairly frequently. After all, MSAccess is database software, the association needs a new database, so why don't we go out and buy Access and solve all of our problems? There are a variety of reasons why this won't work, but I'll outline just three reasons here:
- Access is database software, but it's not database software designed specifically to manage associations or membership organizations. Access is simply a "backend" database (with several front-end templates available) designed to manage whatever data management processes you can dream up (within reason). But unlike the more than 40 off-the-shelf packages available to the association market, Access is not designed, out-of-the-box, to manage associations and all of the processes they generally have to address. Things like membership dues, events registrations, accreditation and certification, exhibit sales, sponsorships, and committee management are frequently found as baseline functionality within off-the-shelf AMS packages. While these could be built in Access, you're not going to find them out-of-the-box when you purchase Access.
- Buying Access means you're now in the business of designing, building, and testing software. I've written extensively on why associations do NOT want to be in the business of designing their own software. You can read about that in detail here. But suffice it to say that unless your organization has the resources and the commitment to manage software development long-term (hint: very few associations do), buying Access and "rolling your own" is a very bad idea.
- When you buy Access, all you're buying is a software program. When you buy an AMS package specifically designed for association management, you're not just buying software, you're buying support from the company behind the product. That means you'll have access to training, consulting, and research and development (i.e., new features and functionality) that you'll never find in Access.
The idea of simply buying Access is very tempting. It's inexpensive, many businesses have experience with it, and after all, it's made by Microsoft. But as I've outlined above, the inherent risks and weaknesses of a generic database product makes it a very poor choice when there are so many good databases available that directly address the data management needs of associations.
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