What would you say if I told you that your association no longer needs association management software (AMS)?
You might argue with a statement that has such broad implications. I ask the question because I’m concerned that we might be employing old technology while trying to deploy new purpose-built apps to handle specific needs. I see associations trying to solve current problems like providing member communities and delivering personalized content with systems that simply are not designed for the tasks. And systems that no longer meet our needs may be creating incredible frustrations. I think we need to have a far-reaching conversation about the digital ecosystems that support associations. Ask yourself, does your association really need an AMS?
We’re being compared to the biggest companies in the world. None of us has the budget of an Amazon, but our user experiences are being compared to large corporations every day. Our members can’t help it – they want to know, for example, why we cannot recommend additional information to help them answer a question. Amazon has been making personalized recommendations to its customers for years.
Our members want easy, personalized interactions with us. They want simple ways to find answers to their questions. They want to be recognized when they log in. We can choose products that provide those experiences, but how can we connect new capabilities to old systems? In order to compete, we need digital ecosystems that provide the services our members have come to expect.
Beginning of AMS
This conversation isn’t new. It started more than 30 years ago with all the Excel spreadsheets and Access databases that associations built to keep track of everything from their membership to their finances. We all knew there had to be a better way, so we turned to programmers who gave us a centralized database with a variety of modules in an enterprise package. It was awesome. It was an AMS.
And because they brought all that data together, the various AMS packages sold well. The packages, however, didn’t have a front end because at that time they didn’t need one. Or they had very basic front ends – no websites, no storefronts, no member profiles or portals. There were few ways a member could interact with the association online. In fact, creating a digital presence was just then becoming possible for associations.
The reason member interaction wasn’t included was that member interaction was not the driving force behind management packages. They were designed to make staff life easier. Developers designed the UI to help staff members make sense of their data. The technology developed to meet that need, and it was great for a very long time.
Member Experience Is Now a Priority
As the years passed, however, creating memorable member experiences became just as important as providing great staff experiences. Members wanted easy registration, online applications and dues payments, member communities, digital networking and virtual conferences.
To achieve these goals, we were able to connect disparate systems with APIs that were standardized for the first time. We started seeing SaaS products that allowed us to access applications from the web or the cloud, and we didn’t need to host servers in our offices anymore. Storage was no longer a major issue.
Technology developed so much that it was practical to build best-in-class systems dedicated to specific functions. If a meeting company planned to spend its R&D budget on developing a system for events, for example, wouldn’t they design it better than a typical AMS company might? The same could be true for publications and inventory and stores and job boards and many other functions. The purpose-built solutions typically have been better than AMS products in those areas.
AMS Might Not Be the Right Answer
In years past, we also hoped we could store all our data within an AMS package and designate it as the system of record. Many associations still may be able to operate within that framework, but when you get too sophisticated or too large, it becomes clear that the AMS is not the best place to store all your data. Data lakes or warehouses are much better solutions. So does your association need an AMS?
If you have software running your meetings and separate solutions running your online store, education and fundraising, you may not need an AMS product anymore. What you need is a customer database, like a CRM, linked to the best individual products available.
Instead, some associations are buying comprehensive AMSs and are using only a portion of them. They’re paying licensing fees for features they aren’t using, which can strain a budget. Or they’re developing their own products, thus becoming product companies themselves, which also is not a great solution.
Association executives and the companies that supply them need to have ecosystem discussions to build the systems that will allow effective competition in a digital world. Our business requirements are complicated and require complex solutions. We are not Amazon, but we should use their commitment to great user experiences as a guide.
Connect with Dennison and Associates Today
Would you like to take part in an ecosystem discussion? Does your association really need an AMS or should you consider planning for what comes next? It’s going to be an interesting conversation. Don’t miss it! Contact Dennison & Associates today for a consultation.
Featured image via Unsplash