AMSFest brought an energized and inquisitive crowd to Chicago last week. In a creative North Side loft, AMS software vendors, partners, and association executives looking for new software solutions met to discuss the changing technology landscape and strategies on making sound selection decisions.

The two-day conference kicked off with Founder Teri Carden greeting the crowd and giving an overview of the association management software field. Carden started the site Review My AMS in 2014 and has since collected hundreds of reviews from actual users—from associations large and small—about the customer service, ease of use, and reliability of their membership systems.

Kicking off #AMSFest! Our founder & Wonder Woman Teri Carden kicks off the day! pic.twitter.com/okjgKrSp6R

— Review My AMS (@ReviewMyAMS) June 7, 2017

So, how do people really feel about their AMS?

Carden said the majority (62%) of reviewers on her site would, in fact, recommend their system. But that doesn’t mean that the industry should sit back and rest on its laurels. After all, that number could be—and should be—considerably higher. 

There are several tactics software vendors could employ to increase that number—I’d suggest listening to customer feedback as a start. Carden noted that those most apt to recommend their system were from IT departments, while those with less direct involvement with the system (e.g., meetings and education) weren’t nearly as impressed. 

Why is this?

In his keynote address, Thad Lurie, COO for EDUCAUSE, suggested that it has to do with setting the right expectations. In an effort to please their association clients, Lurie said, software vendors have been willing to do anything asked of them, which has resulted in AMSs that are congested with applications that do little to push the innovative envelope. 

At the same time, association executives (and their members) harbor the expectations that their membership software vendors will provide a technological experience akin to Amazon and Netflix. But, as Lurie pointed out, while the largest associations have operating revenues in the hundreds of millions, the companies setting these expectations have budgets of 14 times that—and that’s just for R&D!

The disparity, then, becomes obvious. While vendors are pushed (and are agreeing) to do more, the focus and the budget gets dispersed into a variety of features. Expectations should be set on both sides to allow for focus in the fields of innovation and not to continually reproduce the status quo.

Let’s talk about investing

It’s certainly no secret that an infusion of cash has come into the AMS software market (e.g., most recently Aptify was acquired by Community Brands).

To kick off the second day of the conference, Ben Martin, founder of TheNird.org, facilitated an Investor Panel that confronted head-on the change the industry is experiencing due to the involvement of venture captialists and private equity firms.

Attendees asking real tough questions to the Investor Panel. #amsfest pic.twitter.com/wcw2xy2EBO

— Teri Carden (@TeriTally) June 8, 2017

The key takeaway from the panel was that such investment can allow space for tech innovation and creation that associations have grown to expect. With so much changing, however, vendors need to keep the lines of dialog open, freely communicating how they’re investing and their strategy for technological growth.

In between these general sessions, attendees were treated to demos from 15 vendors and could choose from a variety of breakout sessions that could help motivate and facilitate the adoption of new technology at an association, including everything from adopting a cultural shift for change to getting set for success before an implementation.

If you attended AMSFest, I’d love to hear what your own highlights were. Please leave them in the comments below.