Lessons From #Tech13: We’re One, But We’re Not the Same

At ASAE's 2013 Technology Conference & Expo, the path-oriented approach illustrated something long clear for both associations and vendors: Technology is a bigger conversation than ever, and our needs often might diverge—even when we have a common end.

We’re one, but we’re not the same. We get to carry each other, carry each other…oneU2, “One”

Last week’s ASAE Technology Conference & Expo pulled off a neat trick, with conference sessions split into multiple paths targeting different types of association staffers—from CIOs to CEOs to social media gurus to content marketing geniuses to developers who find themselves suddenly having to support iPhones. The paths were varied, but all led to the same place: your members.

With technology becoming such a shared experience across all parts of the business, the new challenge is to understand, or at least appreciate, one another’s needs.

But that doesn’t mean all these people “get” one another. If anything, we’re still struggling to understand our coworkers’ needs and hoping to voice our own concerns along the way. A joke by Delcor’s Dave Coriale during his technical session intro exemplified this point:

There’s plenty of room for social media sessions at conferences, but it’s an understandable feeling—infrastructure folks have increasingly become a smaller part of a much larger conversation. With technology becoming such a shared experience across all parts of the business, the new challenge is to understand, or at least appreciate, one another’s needs.

Speaking to that, I have a couple examples of these kinds of disconnects from the conference. I’m curious to hear your take on them.

The AMS Divide

Easily the funniest session was Thursday’s “The AMS Dating Game,” where association executives and technical solution providers wore thrift-store clothing and dropped innuendo-laden questions and answers about their association management software needs and offerings. It was hilarious to watch, though perhaps it spoke to the distance between the two sides that the blind-date metaphor was so spot-on.

A later session about the future of AMS dropped the fake mustaches but drove the point home. The panel of ponderers—ASAE’s Reggie Henry, Aptify’s Amith Nagarajan, Information Technology Advisory Group’s Joanne Rang, and Effective Database Management’s Wes Trochlil— discussed numerous trends. The biggest potential game-changer was the concept of a “best-in-breed” approach of using multiple providers best attuned to specific skill sets rather than running a single platform that does some things better than others. Association execs tweeting in the audience seemed skeptical, some questioning the whether the AMS model was built to accommodate this, or if it would be feasible in the future. One example of this mindset:

But I’d like to defend the “best-in-breed” concept, which also faced skepticism from people tweeting during the closing town hall panel. Right now, other software spaces, such as social media and CRM, have totally embraced this concept under a different name: the app store. (In fact, SalesForce recently launched a private app store concept that could translate back to the association space.) Perhaps the concept needs tweaking for the specific needs of associations, but I do think that a building-block approach is common in other software spaces and holds much potential here. Startups like IFTTT and Zapier show how exciting the idea of API-focused glue—API being application programming interface—actually can be.

Another relevant point from the session: Customization often makes it difficult for associations to keep up with current trends, because it becomes harder to upgrade. But if AMSes were more modular, there conceivably would be less to customize, because you’d be able to go with the best fit for your needs, while still being able to upgrade.

But cost concerns remain a barrier. The reason you can hook together a bunch of small social tools fairly easily is because they’re relatively cheap. Your average AMS is not. If we’re going to see a shift to pluggable systems, the business models must keep pace.

Cloudy With a Chance of Storage

There’s no wrong way to jump onto the cloud.

Some associations will strive to make things seamless and the transition invisible to  users. Others will make a more dramatic change based on their needs, spend months testing it internally, and then launch it with much fanfare. That description fits the experiences of two panelists, the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association’s Paul Stilp and the Solar Electric Power Association’s Frank Grace, whose groups took entirely different approaches to launching their cloud platforms.

It’s great to see more associations move in this direction, and even better to hear comments throughout the conference that understood the benefits. That was a big change from last year, where one attendee offered up private FTP servers as an alternative to the cloud—to guffaws.

But throughout the sessions, I heard comments disparaging Dropbox, a personal cloud solution with a huge user base. It gives IT people headaches because it’s out of their control and is almost always brought in without their knowledge. But I think its use will reach a point, just as bring-your-own-device did, when we’ll have to accept it as a fact of life and focus on building good policies rather than pointing daggers at it. (It’s worth noting that Dropbox is building out its enterprise solutions.)

If you haven’t made the move to the cloud yet, now’s a good time. (For one thing, many cloud providers offer discounts to nonprofits.) But make sure your changes aren’t leaving your users behind. They have to use the dang thing every day.

Working Through Disconnects

And I can’t be holding on to what you got, when all you got is hurt…

Many mistake the classic U2 song “One” for being a love ballad or a song about accepting one another’s differences. It’s not. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s actually a song about working around the differences of others, something Bono wrote at a time when his band nearly broke up.

“It’s not saying we even want to get along, but that we have to get along together in this world if it is to survive,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 1993. “It’s a reminder that we have no choice.”

Bono’s words might come in handy for your teams. People in an organization, or even the outside vendors they use, have different needs and handle technology in different ways. They play different roles, but eventually you’re all in this thing together.

That’s what the various paths at last week’s tech conference illustrated. We run complex organizations. This stuff doesn’t come easy. But the best organizations keep things moving, even when it feels like there’s little common ground.

We’re one, but we’re not the same.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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