Four Tips for CEOs Thinking About Tech

Technology is one of a universe of things an association executive needs to stay on top of. But you can avoid getting stuck in the weeds.

You don’t have to love Twitter, Joomla, your AMS, or your website. But you do have to know something about each of them.

How much, though? That’s a question I explored in my feature in the June/July issue of Associations Now, speaking to handful of association execs and tech experts to gather their advice on how technology and the C-suite can better get along. Part of the solution, I found, was more fully integrating technology into the C-suite, making sure that conversations about technology were folded into broader strategic discussions. The American Gastroenterological Association, for instance, conducted an internal audit and decided to seek out a VP-level tech position for “somebody who could connect the dots among the various departments and projects,” according to AGA co-executive vice president Thomas J. Serena.

It’s never as simple as adding a button.

The experts I spoke with had more tips for CEOs than I could fit into the article. So here are a handful of additional suggestions for thinking about tech from the perch of the corner office.

  1. Think High-Level, and Think in Terms of Efficiencies. David Zepponi, president and CEO of the California Association of Community Managers, looks at technology from the perspective of cost savings. “I see it as a strategic advantage, and, frankly, a strategic necessity—you need to think about technology if you want to survive,” he says. “Association management is often about reducing costs, and it provides you with a way to do that.” That said, he trusts the details to staff. “I need to stay up on the concept level—I need to have people who understand what my vision is for the technology and can add to that, and do the detail work.”
  2. Be careful about piling on to your AMS. John Mancini, president of the Association for Information and Image Management, has been a vocal critic of AMS technology. But even if you disagree with his concern that an association’s data shouldn’t reside in one system, there’s still value to his point that leaders should make sure that the association’s data-handling is flexible. “We’ve asked these systems to be learning management systems and web content systems and financial systems and event management systems and publishing systems and email marketing systems and everything in between,” he says. “And the rate of change within each of these entities is surpassing the ability of bundled AMS systems to keep up with the change.”
  3. Invite your IT team to think strategically. Trevor S. Mitchell, CAE, executive director of membership and technology at ARMA International, is impatient with leaders whose problem-solving tactic with tech is to spend more money, or to ask IT staff to jury-rig an quick fix. “It’s never as simple as adding a button,” he says. Instead encourage conversations about the larger problems that the association is trying to address—tech staffers can often devise a smarter solution that doesn’t require needless expense. “We’re not just here to fix problems,” he says. “We’re here to understand where the organization is going from all aspects, but particularly membership. How do we leverage technology to help us maximize our relationship with members?”
  4. Get the board behind you, and help them know their role. If you’re making big changes to your technology structure, perhaps one that requires a sizable expenditure, getting the board behind you is “absolutely job one,” says Tom Hood CPA, CITP, CGMA, president of the Maryland Society of CPAs. Executives should “make sure you can show how and why it aligns to that overall association strategy.” But because board members often come to tech discussions with particular ideas about preferred technologies, CEOs should be diligent to keep the conversations strategic. “I would be very careful to use or not to use tech as a big topic of conversation because it becomes so much of an operational issue,” Zepponi says.

How do you stay on top of technology trends and manage decisionmaking about technology at your association? Share your experiences in the comments.


Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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