Predicting the future is not something we often do here at Aptify. However, we do try to anticipate the future or different possible futures to help associations prepare for whatever lies ahead. A big piece of that is trying to identify the trends and changes happening in the industry and where they’ll take us over the next year.
We recently asked 13 experts where they think association management is heading in 2017. Many of them spoke about changes in the association management software (AMS) space.
A growing menu of technology for associations
The days of having a bundled AMS with a million and one features may be fading out. Association management software is still the main meal, but a growing menu of side options give associations the flexibility to pick and choose the most useful functionality and features for their staff and members.
This preference for creating a customized array of technical tools has emerged because of changes in consumer behavior and changes in the association technology marketplace.
Association staff are bringing their consumer perspective to the office. We’re used to having it our way when we go shopping. We customize our purchases by size, color, frequency, and format.
This customization trend has changed the way people view association products and services. In response, many associations now offer learners a menu of educational formats: bites (micro-learning), snacks (conference session or webinar), and meals (conference or online course).
You also see this trend in new membership and sponsorship models offering a customized menu of benefits. “Over the last few years, many associations have re-evaluated and changed their membership model by creating tiered membership structures or hybrid memberships,” said Tony Rossell, author and senior vice president at Marketing General Incorporated.
Associations have access to a more extensive and diverse selection of technical tools, including association management software options, than ever before. Think about the number and variety of solutions in the ASAE Technology Conference exhibit hall earlier this week compared to just five years ago
Many associations also look outside the association technology marketplace for software. It’s not uncommon for business departments to shop online, without the help of the IT department, in the B2B technology marketplace for software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions that best meet their department’s needs.
“As a result of consumerization, mobile, and the cloud, we’re now back in a best-of-breed environment,” said John Mancini, author and respected leader of the AIIM global community of information professionals. “Business leaders within associations are seeking their own solutions, often independent of IT, and frequently finding them with process-specific SaaS providers.”
Strong APIs help to make integration possible between all these systems. Increasingly, associations are also using data warehouses to facilitate the analysis of data from disparate systems as well as data visualization software to produce dashboards and reports for staff and leaders.
More tools for making data-informed decisions
Loretta M. DeLuca, FASAE, founder and CEO of DelCor Technology Solutions, has long awaited the day when AMS vendors would focus on and, more importantly, the association community would embrace data analytics and business intelligence. That day has finally arrived.
“For decades, the ability of AMSs to store more and more data has increased exponentially, yet the ability to extract and manipulate this data to support business planning and decisions has not,” said DeLuca. “Finally, AMS vendors are paying more attention to this functionality within their applications.
The AMS is no longer just the ‘membership database.’ It holds “arguably the most valuable asset an organization owns,” according to DeLuca – data. Association management software should be user-friendly enough so everyone on staff can use it to learn more about member interests and behavior, to see the impact of their products and services, and to use that data to make better decisions about strategy, product development, content, marketing, and more.
You can improve your staff’s AMS user experience by improving their ability to collect and analyze data. “There are skilled third party providers who focus on data analytics, and the needed software tools are now available,” said DeLuca. The ultimate goal is for staff to use the data in your AMS and other systems “to make strategic, forward-facing decisions.
New players and new ideas push the industry forward
Some of the data analytics firms mentioned by DeLuca have served the association community for years, but others are new players in our market. Innovative ideas are emerging all over the association technology space, including the association management software niche
“I’ve seen five new AMS platforms pop up in the last year and several who have rebuilt their original infrastructure,” said Teri Carden, founder of ReviewMyAMS.com. “I don’t think this will slow down with the ease, pace, and price of developing new products.”
These are exciting times in the association management software world. We are constantly improving our products and services in response to client needs and in anticipation of what the future holds.
A dynamic technology market thanks to mergers and acquisitions
There’s nothing stagnant about the association technology market. Startups, mergers, acquisitions, new players – few in this market rest on their laurels or settle for being just average.
Because “some AMS companies are merging or acquiring other association business solutions (learning management system, email campaign system, online community), [they’re] situating their business as a suite of services for their clients,” said Carden.
Association consumers have different delivery models to consider during the AMS selection process. They can opt for an all-in-one AMS, a suite of services from one vendor, or best-in-breed systems from a variety of vendors.
“I think we’re going to see more mergers and acquisitions in 2017 and we’re going to see a lot more interest from outside investors,” said Carden. “Ultimately we’ll see substantial product upgrades.” Well-funded companies with more resources for research and development – that’s a win-win for everyone in our industry.
The choice between staying in place or moving forward
“I am one of many people who have been calling for real innovation in this community for a long time now, but only a scarce few, quite frankly, have answered the call,” said Jamie Notter, founding partner at WorkXO.
He’s right. We heard many association technology success stories this year at the Aptify Users Conference, ASAE conferences, and other industry gatherings. However, we also listened to private confessions of frustration from association professionals who have been stymied in their quest for innovative solutions by their association’s culture and practices.
Technology provides the tools to radically transform how an association delivers value, but that change often requires a shift in culture, mindset, and/or processes that many aren’t ready or willing to adopt. But here’s the thing: technology can also help your association take the first baby steps toward transformation. You can have it your way.
We enjoy watching how our clients leverage their association management software and other technology to make a difference in their members’ lives. However, as Notter pointed out, these associations are often the exception to the rule. “I am truly excited about the work being done by this minority of associations. And I am actively inviting more to join us on this path toward the future,” he said.
I second that invitation. Where do you think association management software is heading? How do you see it being used by associations in the future? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to download our 2017 Association Management Predictions from the Experts eBook.