Changing up the technology or software systems your association uses is scary. Most tech comes with a significant price tag and an even more significant amount of time and effort required to train on it and become proficient at its use. Because they fear the required investment of time and money, many association executives put off investing in newer, more efficient association tech until absolutely necessary.
However, associations shouldn’t be afraid to rebuild their tech setups or stacks if they know what they need the technology to do for their members and their staff, explained Jeffery Raven, vice president of product strategy, and Brian McLaren, senior director of product strategy at the American Institute of Architects (AIA), at the 2017 ASAE Technology Conference and Expo. The duo discussed their experience rebuilding the tech stack for AIA and developing best practices to ensure your association has the right technology in place to meet your operational and member needs.
Understanding the advantages of adopting new tech and regularly asking questions to ensure your choices are meeting your business needs will allow you to confidently manage the risks involved and set up your association to reap the maximum benefit from changing up your tech.
Raven and McLaren advised asking three basic questions regarding the tech changes your association desires:
1. WHEN do you look at technology?
“Always … and never,” McLaren said. Most modern professionals are always looking at technology to make sure it is doing what it is supposed to do.
However, instead of focusing on what the tech itself is doing, your association should be focused on the business need it fuels first and foremost. If a tool fits your business need, go with it. Don’t use a tech tool that is just okay because you already have that tool in place for another reason.
On the flip side, be wary of using too many tools. It’s possible to take on too many platforms that offer too little usability or too much, leading your staff to become overwhelmed with too many platforms to manage or too many reports to run that they don’t need or understand. If it’s painful to get the information your association needs, you’re not using the right tool(s).
2. HOW do you look at technology?
Once you’ve identified your business needs, look at your existing tech and decide what needs changing. Make tech-related decision-making member-centric. Start by getting member input about the information they want or need and how they would like to receive it. If you have ideas for big change, ask members their opinion first.
When considering how your association views technology, keep your expectations in check. Many associations want a tech platform that is not only outside their budget but outside their true needs as well. Technology platforms do not have to do everything in one swoop. Sometimes that type of tech doesn’t exist, and sometimes it’s simply not necessary to have a platform with full bells and whistles.
Next, consider how your association’s needs will grow in the short- and medium-term future. When considering its future tech needs, AIA decided to go with a decentralized, open-source-based software system that is not currently fully developed but holds big promise for becoming a more mainstream tech platform with even more robust capabilities in the near future. Many associations are gravitating toward one or more of these types of tech platforms:
These systems usually don’t require your association to purchase/manage big servers. SaaS and open source systems are remotely supported by teams of tech wizards available on demand, so your association doesn’t have to employ an independent army of IT professionals to manage them. With open source code shared across the Web, associations benefit from the collective knowledge and work of IT professionals and enthusiasts from varied industries whose goals are to create and refine the tech so that it better serves everyone. Headless APIs are systems that keep your content management system separate from the design and presentation of your end user sites: your website, online community, staff-facing database, etc. Headless APIs allow an organization to update the back end of their CMS without altering the user experience, or vice versa.
3. WHAT are the metrics your association cares about?
Adopting new technology isn’t all about cost. The cost is a significant factor, but the defining factor in your adoption of tech changes should be whether or not a software system, database or other platform provides and allows for analysis of the metrics most important to your association.
Have a plan for measuring the performance of new tech and a standard or goal against which you’ll decide if the tech changes you implement are worth the time, effort and money you invest – or not. If new tech isn’t performing the way you need it to, or if it turns out to be more difficult to use than is reasonably expected, don’t be afraid to rebuild. Better to make more changes that eventually result in an accessible system than to continue to struggle with technology that only frustrates everyone.
Changing up your association’s technology can be risky, but if you enter the process with clearly defined goals for what your association needs the tech to do, who will use it, and how they should benefit from the new tech platform, the payoffs will be much greater than the work needed to make the change.