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We all hear about the rapid pace of technology change and we can see the results of new technology all around us. What is sometimes less obvious are underlying changes in technology models and how they impact organizations.
The decision framework for technology is changing from one that emphasizes technology as a tactical toolset to accomplish existing tasks, to a strategic set to be leveraged to advance the goals of the organization. While it is still important to have technical plans, it is increasingly important to have an IT strategy plan. This plan aligns technology with organization goals and describes how the application of technology will help the organization achieve those goals. Specific applications are then selected to enable the strategy. It is critical that senior executives are engaged in this process to understand the opportunities and challenges new models and technologies pose for the organization and to make judgment calls on competing priorities.
Trends and Changing Models
Hosted solutions. Not too many years ago, most mid-to-large associations hosted licensed association management software in-house. These systems often were highly customized to meet the specific needs of the association. The situation is rapidly changing. The percentage of associations hosting an AMS product in-house dipped below 50 percent for the first time in 2012 (Lehman Reports AMS Market Study). Most have shifted hosting to their AMS provider.
Many small and medium-size associations are moving to commercial AMS products. Most of this increase is the use of online AMS services including both standardized SaaS (Software as a Service) offerings and customizable, hosted solutions. Of associations that made a change in the past four years, three-quarters of associations in the $1-2 million range implemented a new AMS product and more than half of those in the $2-5 million range did so. Fewer than one-third of the largest associations did so, mostly by upgrading an existing solution.
Third-party applications. Increased reliability and security coupled with faster network speeds makes it feasible for organizations to contract with third-party providers for specialized services and interconnect those services with their membership database. Findings from the 2012 Lehman Reports Technology Study show that associations already are using or have plans to acquire services to support online meeting registration, social media and community, e-learning, advanced email communications, and advanced reporting capabilities. These services enable associations to more effectively engage and market to members online, offer professional development and networking capabilities, and enhance their own understanding of key business metrics, trends and patterns.
Deeper, two-way integration. Within online services, such as websites and online applications, an increasing level of member activity is taking place, such as community postings and interactions, response to email marketing communications, and e-learning participation. As associations move to make greater use of the CRM capabilities within their AMS, it becomes critical that the member records accurately reflects the full range of interactions with the associations, including those taking place in the connected applications. Two-way integrations are required to accomplish this, writing information back to the AMS from the application. Findings from both the AMS and Technology studies clearly point to the importance of deep integrations between the AMS and third-party services and its increased importance as a decision factor for the selection of third-party services and AMS.
Changing role for IT. Not so long ago, a primary role for IT was to manage local hardware and software applications. This included servers for the AMS, website and email, and a range of licensed applications. Today much of that has been shifted to cloud-based systems and our study findings are that this shift is likely to continue. Email has remained a locally hosted application for many associations, but this too is changing.
With the shift to hosted solutions and the adoption of a best-of-breed approach to online applications, the role of IT shifts to one of managing these external resources. The role of IT continues to evolve with less of a primary focus on operational support and a greater focus on working with senior and department leadership to find effective solutions that will contribute to the success of the organization.
The IT strategy plan. All this brings us back to the need for a comprehensive IT strategy plan that goes beyond technical planning. The process and the resulting plan helps to ensure that organizations are positioned to fully leverage technology to achieve organization goals and strategies while providing a nontechnical decision framework for evaluating future purchases. A technology-independent IT strategy plan enables associations to take advantage of new approaches and technologies as they emerge without changing the strategy framework in which they function within the organization.
Lehman is with Lehman Associates, Alexandria, Va. Contact him at email@example.com.