How This Army of One Drives Change in Her Association

When Sue Garrity went to war with the same old way of doing things, she brought her most potent weapon: herself.

For many department heads, it isn’t always easy keeping your staff on the same page and in lockstep with your vision and strategy.

For Sue Garrity, Sr., Director of Information Systems & Technology for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, it’s no problem at all. That’s because, as she explains with a laugh, “my role here is being our entire IT department of one person!”

Sure, being a department of one person makes internal communication very easy (“Hey me, do that!”), but overseeing the tech that connects 40 employees, 6,000 members and 4,500 prospects of your association? Not always so easy.

As the head of IT, Garrity constantly needs to be prepared for unexpected challenges. She also needs to be searching for opportunities to innovate. And last year, she got to do both all at once.

The Michigan Chamber’s long-time Association Management System vendor informed Garrity that they were merging with a leader in the AMS space, Impexium, and it was up to her to go along for the ride or look elsewhere. It was a major decision to make, says Garrity. “A big concern in switching from one software vendor to another for your entire line of business is the unknown: What is my conversion going to look like? What will the transition be like? Will they understand our business rules? That type of thing.”

After several meetings and demos, Garrity was not only pleased with the transition plan, but also with all the new bells and whistles they were about to get. “It felt like we were bringing brought into the current century!” she laughs.

A lot of the procedures that the Michigan Chamber used were heavily customized, which Garrity realized they needed to get away from if they wanted to move forward. “Customization kind of ties your hands from getting upgrades to the product,” she notes, “So we really liked the idea that the new AMS system was planning on doing quarterly releases of new features and functionality, and that they would be putting out this roadmap so we’d be able to take a look at what was coming and give them feedback on what was most critical to us.”

At the top of their critical list was user-friendliness for their members, and happily, Garrity says, the new system delivered. “It’s clearly much easier to use for members who want to log in and do business with us because the number of people who are taking advantage of doing that continues to increase as the number of phone calls that we get from people who are confused has gone down a lot.”

These new features have not only improved the experience for members, they’ve also helped inspire ideas within the Michigan Chamber. Garrity explains, “We’ll look at features that are available and say, ‘Oh, you know other people are selling their certifications as a way to promote people signing up for a slate of events. We haven’t done that before. Maybe we should consider doing that.’ So it’s given us a way to look at other opportunities for marketing.”

And it has cut down significantly on time devoted to that most dreaded of tasks: training the newbies. “That’s the proof in the pudding of its effectiveness,” says Garrity. “For our ongoing operations, we’re seeing that this is something where new employees can just dig in and figure out how to use fairly easily.”

And the future is really what this is all about, says this army of one. “I personally feel like changing and make improvements is absolutely necessary for the organization to remain viable. If we continue evolving, we’ll continue to meet the challenges that our members may present to us, and that is really critical to our long-term success.”

Change may be the only constant in business – but that doesn’t make organizational transformation any easier. Association leaders are balancing competing priorities and increasing demands, enough to make even the most driven executive fall victim to the inertia of the status-quo.

But not every association stays still while the world seems to change around them. For her willingness to upset the association technology status-quo, Impexium is proud to recognize Sue Garrity as one of 2018’s Association Technology Disruptors!