You Should Call the Shots—Not Your AMS

We know that legacy technology is prone to breakage and dustiness and that it can hold your organization back if you're not careful. If you're a leader trying to make heads and tails of your tech offerings, here's an important consideration: Ultimately, your infrastructure should drive your growth—not stand in the way.

In my blog post last week, I took a pretty blunt stab at United Airlines for a weak tech-upgrade strategy that showed a lack of foresight. This week, let me give the company a little bit of credit where credit is due—by highlighting an example of where United gave a lot of credit where credit was due.

What’s the one thing airlines have in spades that most businesses don’t have? If you answered “overhead,” that’s technically right, but you’d be a lot closer if you answered “bonus miles.” And United took advantage of that asset by offering savvy programmers a million airline miles, each, for finding vulnerabilities in their web systems.

“It’s really interesting that United did what they did,” Jordan Weins, one of the award recipients, told Reuters. “There actually aren’t that many companies in any industry outside of technology that do bug bounties.”

Which speaks to a point about technology in organizations:  You can, in fact, teach an old dog new tricks. United solved a tech problem with a leadership answer, and associations could probably learn a lot from that.

Can You Adapt?

This makes for a perfect segue into a recent report from the nonprofit technology company Advanced Solutions International that highlights how the right tech strategies can revamp organizational performance. In The Association CEO’s Guide to Improving Organizational Performance, ASI Chairman and CEO Bob Alves and President and CTO Don Robertson emphasize that organizations often find themselves sorting through a morass of complicated technology that hasn’t kept pace. Often, this means they have to pull up legacy systems that don’t play nice with modern requirements.

“All of these databases become silos of information that are not designed to work together,” Alves and Robertson write. “This causes ongoing complexity, which leads to more problems. Supporting different technologies and complex integrations becomes a stumbling block to upgrades.”

The greatest gains come from [ASI] clients who focus on driving continuous performance improvement through best practices.

Perhaps the most important thing that report does is lay out the hidden costs of changing new technology or relying on old tech. Costs can be in the form of sheer manpower or in changes to implementation.

“So, you may start out with a certain new system budget in Year 1, but by the time you add in all the upgrades, customizations, integrations, etc., those costs could triple by Year 3,” the report notes.

Pain Now, Gain Later

Ultimately, the goal should be to limit these hiccups and structural shifts down the road, to ensure that you’re not signing on to big headaches you didn’t expect. The best way to do this, Alves and Robertson say, is by embracing a strategy that emphasizes continual upgrades, clean data, and a web platform wedded directly to the AMS. Oh, and rather than letting the technology define the plot, the business needs should.

“The greatest gains come from [ASI] clients who focus on driving continuous performance improvement through best practices,” they write. “These clients focus on maximizing member engagement, particularly web-based engagement.”

That’s an essential point for association leaders to understand and accept. If you focus on constant iteration rather than working around the limitations of your tech, there’s a good chance you’ll be better able to make business decisions on a dime.

This requires some difficult decision-making, admittedly—immediately after making this point, ASI’s Alves and Robertson suggest combining all your databases into a single silo and simplifying your application structure—but perhaps a big, difficult decision now could pave the way for smaller, easier decisions down the road.

This road may end with an embrace of software-as-a-service (SaaS) thinking, a distancing from nonessential technology focuses, or a different direction entirely. But it should start with a discussion about the technology, how it helps you reach your business goals, and the cost-benefit ratio of a big upgrade.

And hey, if you’re stuck with a giant enterprise beast like United is, you can always leverage your business strengths to make up for your technology failings. Hope you’ve got some awesome member benefits handy.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

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

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