#Tech17 Town Hall Sees a Tough, Transparent Conversation on Vendor Mergers

Capping off a year that significantly reshaped the association tech landscape, the 2017 Technology Conference and Expo was home to a thoughtful, questioning conversation on what these changes mean for both associations and the vendors themselves.

At the tail end of a 2017 defined by mergers in the association technology space, a morning town hall session at the 2017 Technology Conference & Expo put three of the sector’s best-known vendors—DelCor, Community Brands, and Higher Logic—in the middle of a discussion about what these moves mean for the groups they serve.

And despite the boldness of the moves—Community Brands has acquired at least five companies since being formed with the merger of three major association technology firms under one umbrella in April, while Higher Logic has acquired four companies since the beginning of 2017—a question emerged during the morning session: Are these acquisitions as disruptive as they seem?

Moderator Reggie Henry, CAE, who serves as ASAE’s chief information and engagement officer, gave voice to this point during the session, saying, “I haven’t seen the amount of disruption I had hoped I would see,” and suggesting that there was an opportunity to do a full-on revamp of the technology stacks that many organizations rely upon.

Meanwhile, Loretta Deluca, FASAE, the founder and CEO of DelCor Technology Solutions, suggested that many observers believe acquisitions show “that this market is being taken seriously now,” while she said the broad array of brands being kept around as part of the acquisitions would have to eventually give way to pruning.

“From a business person’s perspective, this has to turn into more consolidation within the brand,” Deluca said, noting that any such pruning would likely take place years down the road.

Rob Wenger, the CEO of Higher Logic, noted that the fragmentation in the space—many companies offering association management system services, for example—wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

“You’ve got so many companies, spending so much money, doing the exact same thing,” he noted.

(On the other hand, as Deluca noted, too few companies offering the same service is an equally not-good situation.)

The town hall, by its nature, leaned heavily on audience questions, some of which suggested a tough stance. One questioner wondered if the spate of mergers would lead to a decline in service as seen in the airline industry; another pondered if the companies would move as quickly to disrupt themselves as they were encouraging associations to do the same.

For the most part, though, the leaders, joined by Henry and American College of Chest Physicians CIO Ronald M. Moen, were game for the probing questions, with Community Brands President JP Guilbault spending much time discussing what he saw as a differentiator between prior mergers in the association space and the more recent spate of acquisitions.

“I think, by bringing these companies together, that’s changing the business model, because in the past, if you go back 10, 15 years, it hasn’t been really aggregating companies and employing them for the benefit of the customer,” Guilbault said in his comments. “It’s been, ‘Let me buy one company and figure out how to take the costs out of that company.’”

Perhaps the most interesting part of the discussion, raised by Moen, was the potential of moving away from models in which the AMS is at the center of an association’s technology infrastructure. He instead recommended connecting everything to an enterprise service provider, instead of connecting every component to one another “like cousins.”

“What we haven’t seen yet is people coming in to say, ‘It’s not that consolidation is going to help you have fewer integrations, it’s that we’re going to do integrations completely differently,’” Moen said.

It’s to be seen whether that sort of shift happens, but Wednesday’s town hall offered a lot of food for thought on what’s likely to become a growing trend in the coming years.

Speakers from left: Reggie Henry, Ronald M. Moen, Loretta Deluca, JP Guilbault, and Rob Wenger. (Sabrina Kidwai, APR, CAE)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

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

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