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  • 5 Technology Trends Every Association Executive Should Follow

    David Nour, 5 Technology Trends Every Association Executive Should Follow

    I have been consulting, speaking and publishing on the art and science of relationships for almost two decades now.  I’m always amazed at how much I learn after one of my books comes out. The publication opens up new opportunities to talk about my ideas, and that leads to meetings with people who are deep in the trenches doing what I have written about.

    Right now I’m writing a new book and working on revisions to several others. I try for 40-50 percent new content with each change.  My research process includes new interviews and circling back to people I respect and trust for conversations about the latest developments in their work.


    For updates on my book Return on Impact, I am specifically interested in what’s happening in the association space, which has unique attributes.

    • Even though the biggest associations are technically SMBs from the standpoint of revenue and employee count, they have an enormous impact on their industries.
    • They are often the governing body and—if their leaders are smart and non-partisan—they have influence along their industry’s entire supply chain.
    • They are the original social network, connecting a broad base of constituents.
    • Because of their nonprofit orientation, many don’t pay for exceptional talent and as a result, they are not benefitting from sufficient intellectual horsepower.
    • Unfortunately, because associations haven’t had to compete the way other business models do, they are prone to complacency.

    I’m painting with a broad brush, but if you are familiar with the association landscape, you recognize the truth in these generalizations.

    Recently I met an exception, and I'd like to share some of his exceptional thinking with you. Reggie Henry, CIO at the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). I have found most I.T. people are buried in their “speeds and feeds” and “bits and bytes.” Reggie is the opposite. He focuses on the business applications of that technology, not its features and functions. In our recent meeting, Reggie shared five key trends that are dramatically impacting the association world.

    1. Engagement. Engagement has for some time been a buzzword, but Reggie observed that many member-based associations deal with their members in an indirect manner that fails to meet them at their particular moments of need. The solution is mobile, which allows you to be of service at the time of their choosing and on the device of their choice. Google talks about the four “micro-moments" that represent needs-based segmentation: "I want to go. I want to know. I want to do. I want to buy." Associations have begun to offer mobile apps, but how many help with those four needs? Instead, we see event apps and brochure-ware. Savvy association apps will feature a lightweight front-end presentation layer that ties complex back-end systems together, offering much greater utility.
    2. Business analytics. Like engagement, “big data” is a buzzword we’ve heard for a long time. But as Reggie says, we have to move from "hindsight to insight." How do we go from glorified reporting to finding the important signals in that data? How can we bring data closer to real time, in ways that can impact decision-making? Here is a concrete example: ASAE began using location-aware beacons at exhibits that can deliver a heat map of the traffic flow in that exhibit floor in real time. If I see on Day 1 that the one corner of our exhibit hall is not getting traffic, on Day 2 I can move the food tables to that corner and drive more traffic into that dead spot. Beacons have now become so small they can be embedded in visitor badges. Now If an exhibitor says, “I’m not getting any traffic,” I can respond with real data. “Yes you are. 1500 people walked in your booth today.” Business analytics must become much more real time, much more actionable.

    1. Security and privacy. This was a surprise to me—not the topic, but the overkill in the association space that Reggie described. The security and privacy needs of member companies are far beyond what a typical association needs, yet because their members feel are so concerned (due to a few widely-publicized intrusions and hacks), associations are spending a lot of their effort and resources on overdoing their security measures. This is a burden on their small teams and is pulling investment away from other areas. Associations are just now starting to add CIOs to their C-suite, and that's a good thing, but let's stop investing in bulldozers to level a few molehills.
    1. Association Management Systems (AMS). We saw this same trend with ERP and CRM: software-as-a-service providers start with a core functionality, then try to be everything to everybody. Maybe an AMS really can be an effective learning management system, private social network and accounting program, but why should your association be their development test bed? Reggie tells me that a handful of forward-thinking associations are using proven tools like to support core functions like tracking people, organizations and product offerings. They are bolting on other functionality or building APIs to get that data out to other services. Those APIs (going back to mobile) lead to a lightweight presentation layer that streamlines functions like sales transactions.

    2. Much greater collaboration among association CEOs. My dad drove into me, "life is too short to make all the mistakes yourself." Reggie showed me how ASAE's online private social networks become tight-knit communities where peers problem-solve together. Collaborate, ASAE's platform based on technology by Higher Logic, offers role-specific groups for CEOs, executive directors, small association leaders, and more. They can talk frankly among themselves about issues like board strategy, security, governance, and performance.

    I’m feeling the “man love” for Reggie Henry, a genuinely great gentleman whose candor and perspective have enlarged my understanding of today’s association technology challenges. Follow these technology trends to inform your strategic decision-making.

    Nour Takeaways

    1. Association leaders must focus less on security and privacy, more on real-time business analytics.
    1. Engagement matters, so choose an AMS that has the exceptional functionality to support members' needs in real time, not "nice-to-have" bells and whistles.  
    1. Follow my dad’s advice—don’t make every mistake yourself. ASAE offers role-specific private social networks that help association leaders learn and grow together.
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