Business First: The New Mandate for Association Tech

With technology changing so fast that even the experts can barely keep up, the formula for success has one key ingredient, said the thought leaders at the conclusion of ASAE's Technology Conference & Expo: a team approach where tech decision makers are relentlessly focused on business goals.

One thing seemed clear at the end of the ASAE 2013 Technology Conference & Expo: The days of the siloed IT department are numbered, if they’re not already gone.

That was the overarching consensus voiced by four thought leaders at the event’s concluding Technology Town Hall Thursday, where they shared the common themes that emerged during the two days of learning and networking. Chief among them: the need to build connections between technology initiatives and organizational strategy, so that an association’s tech infrastructure becomes a serious driver of business success.

If you’re a business person in the organization, find as many disruptive technologies as you can, bring them into your organization, and ask, ‘Why aren’t we doing this?’

That requires a shared language between tech leaders and executive management to close a communication gap that organizations have found difficult to bridge, they said.

What’s needed is a “greater understanding from leadership to a deep enough level that they can really be part of the [tech infrastructure] conversation. And on the flip side, the technology people [need]  enough information that they can understand the leadership’s agenda and the leadership’s goals,” said David Coriale, president of DelCor Technology Solutions.

Mission, business goals, and member needs  come first, and technology strategy follows, said Coriale, articulating a view echoed by his fellow thought leaders on the panel: John Mancini, president and CEO of the Association for Information and Image Management International; Dion Hinchcliffe, chief strategy officer at Dachis Group; and Kristina Halverson, owner of the content strategy firm Brain Traffic.

As they offered their concluding takeaways and answered audience questions at the town hall, a few top trends emerged:

Decentralization: Tech isn’t just for the team that manages systems and upgrades and helpdesks anymore. Today, “we’re all in the IT department,” said Hinchcliffe.

That goes especially for CEOs, who need to “personally engage” with technology, said Mancini. That means everything from finally getting on Facebook to looking outside the organization to what other successful enterprises are doing with technology. “If you’re a business person in the organization, find as many disruptive technologies as you can, bring them into your organization, and ask, ‘Why aren’t we doing this?’ It doesn’t mean you do it, but you get the conversation going,” he said.

Pain points:  “The pace of technology is increasing, but our ability to absorb it isn’t,” said Hinchcliffe. “There’s too much technology, too much to do, and not enough staff.” To manage in such an environment, IT departments need to improve the way they evaluate technology solutions and be willing to look at options that they may have resisted in the past, especially cloud-based alternatives. “IT needs to stop being Dr. No and be an enabler,” he said.

Better communication: Panel members agreed that culture change requires opening communication channels among business and tech departments and among staff at all levels.

“We have to acknowledge that emotional needs to be heard,” said Halverson. “We have to be better listeners for each other.” And when strategic decisions are made, “we need to be super-articulate about why we’re doing this, be decisive about how, identify who is involved and what their roles are, and ensure along the way that we’re communicating and that people are informed.”

Ultimately, panel members agreed on a closing message for attendees: Survival depends on associations learning how to draw business value from the mounting technology wave. If they don’t, they risk becoming irrelevant as members find what they need from other organizations that have figured it out.

“That,” Mancini said, “is the business imperative.”

(For more takeaways from Tech13, read Associations Now‘s other onsite coverage and visit our social media page.)

(iStock/Jupiter Images)

Julie Shoop

By Julie Shoop

Julie Shoop is the Editor-in-Chief of Associations Now. MORE

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