Are you looking for a new association technology vendor?
If you are, you’re not alone. With association management systems alone, a recent survey revealed that 45% of association respondents are actively searching for a new system, and 38% have switched in the last five years.
Those numbers don’t surprise us. We regularly field calls from execs who wonder if it’s time to replace their legacy systems, who are frustrated with inconsistent reporting or who can’t start new programs because their system won’t support these initiatives. We hear their frustration across the board, regardless of the type of technology.
The AMS is often a target, but that doesn’t mean the learning management system, content management system, event management system and others are working perfectly and sharing information seamlessly.
By asking some key questions before you hire a vendor and commit to any system, you can make complicated decisions easier. Be honest with yourself and your team about your association’s capabilities, resources and limitations. Now is the time to dig for answers – even if they are uncomfortable.
No list of questions, however, can give you all the information you need. We’re sure additional questions will arise as you work, but we suggest that you start with these 7 questions to ask an association technology vendor as you begin your search for a new technology, including an AMS.
[Related: Benefits of Outsourcing for Your Association]
#1 – What are you trying to accomplish?
This is a foundational question for the start of any new project, and it is probably the most important one you’ll ask before you select new technology.
Make a list of all the projects that your association drives now, as well as those you’d like to implement. Try to think two to three years down the road and match your needs against the list of features in a new system to determine what elements you will need.
#2 – Do you really need a new system?
Sometimes, we’ve found that new technology doesn’t offer features that are substantially better than the legacy system. You might already have a system that has useful capabilities you don’t leverage fully.
For example, you might need help setting up basic reporting or identifying APIs to connect your system with another. Your staff may need training to build confidence in the validity of the reports they pull. And you might need to spend some time thinking through your business rules concerning membership, pricing and events. If the business rules aren’t clear, no system can produce reliable information.
If you need a new system, then you can proceed. If, however, you are plagued by “non-technology” issues that training or a review of business rules can resolve, you might be able to delay purchasing a new system.
#3 – How well does the technology align with your association’s specific needs and goals?
Once you know what you need, determine how well the new technology meets those requirements. One note of caution: software engineers are very talented and could probably program your computer to make coffee.
When you ask if the system could perform a task, the answer is almost always yes – with customization. And customization often requires you to spend more time and money.
Some customizations are valuable and worth the money you’ll spend developing them, but many may make your life more difficult. Customizations may seem like small changes, but they can slow down or derail updates several years down the line. We recommend avoiding most customizations and choosing a system that most closely matches your needs out of the box.
#4 – What is the vendor’s reputation within the association industry?
You’re not just choosing a product. You’re also choosing a partner. Every time the association technology vendor upgrades the system, you’ll work closely with them. Any time you have problems or need to make changes, you’ll work with the vendor. You want to hire a company that has a reputation for excellent products and responsive customer service. And you want a vendor that understands the association industry.
We know an association whose AMS vendor launched a new software release between Christmas and New Year’s. Bugs in the release shut down the association’s membership payment system during one of the busiest weeks of the year. The vendor’s response was poor because their engineers and customer service staff were off during the holiday. The system was down for days, costing the association thousands of dollars in lost renewals.
Be sure to check references and ask about the vendor’s reputation before you buy.
#5 – What will the new system cost over time?
As you compare prices, be sure to consider the total cost of ownership. You will know what the initial purchase price will be for software and implementation, but you should also compare the ongoing costs.
Review the association technology vendor’s price projections carefully. Look for hidden fees or ongoing maintenance costs. Ask about additional costs if they aren’t highlighted in the proposal. And ask about the cost of customizations.
#6 – What support and training does the vendor offer?
Ask about the scope and timing of training the vendor offers for your staff. If you have had problems with staff members using private databases or spreadsheets to do their work, your vendor can help you reassure staff members and transition them to the new system. The vendor might pull reports from the new system and compare them to the reports from private staff sources. If the two reports agree, all is well. If not, the vendor can find out why and then involve staff members in the solution.
This and other training can help get reluctant staffers on board and help enthusiastic staffers hit the ground running. Also, ask about user groups and user conferences hosted by the vendor. By posing a question to a user community or attending a user conference, your team can often solve problems quickly or recognize new issues without having to open a ticket with the vendor.
[Related: Benefits of Web3 for Associations]
#7 – How does the association technology vendor handle data security and compliance?
Your database holds personal data about your members, event attendees, students and anyone else who has business with your association.
Be sure to ask about the vendor’s commitment to data security and compliance with regulations like CAN-SPAM and GDPR. Ask them to provide details about their data protection measures and their commitment to maintaining data privacy.
Ask for Help When You Need It
Shopping for new technology can be a complicated process. These questions will help you make some early determinations about what you need and who can provide it. Your project will benefit if you can be specific in your RFP and requirements documentation.