Lessons from #ASAE20: Technology Is a Leadership Problem, Too

With small teams and big aspirations, association executives need to have a grasp on the way that strategy helps to shape their team’s use of technology. That’s a key takeaway from a virtual annual meeting that took place in home offices and living rooms, rather than a convention hall.

For many association pros, technology is a common part of life, but understanding what it actually does to make your association better can feel a bit cloudy. (And not just because most of what we do these days is being managed in the cloud.)

Association executives increasingly need to understand the integration of technology, especially if they are in a small-staff organization where there simply isn’t room for a dedicated technology executive on the team.

The plus side is that many executives across industries understand this need. The Gartner 2019 CEO and Senior Business Executive Survey found that, after growth, the second-most-important business priority for respondents was information technology, at 32 percent. In many ways, tech is the glue holding everything together, so it makes sense that leaders need to understand it.

For attendees of ASAE’s 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting & Exposition last week, the concepts of leadership and management were key points of discussion during multiple technology-focused sessions, and “management” was not limited to the CIO or the head of the IT department. Often, the advice targeted the broader executive team, which benefits from having and implementing the right types of technology.

For those who didn’t attend or haven’t had a chance to dive in, here are a few highlights:

Executives need an understanding of how tech and strategy work together. In “Digital Strategy: How to Integrate Strategic and Technology Goals,” Tecker International senior consultants Duane Capuano and Donna Dunn broke down the ways that technology challenges emerge for associations, with the session centered on a case study involving the Society for Vascular Ultrasound. One thing was clear: Executive leaders often face challenges managing a digital strategy. Part of the problem comes down to the role IT plays, a resource that’s often outsourced or handled by a team without senior management experience. This can lead to strategic chaos.

“Every department wants something different,” Dunn said of the challenges executive staff may face, citing examples of LMS platforms, databases, or AMS systems failing to work effectively or integrate across departments. “All of those things come up, and the person in that chair is going, OK, we have some challenges here.” Another problem, she said, is a lack of understanding by the board of a need for IT resources—something that executive directors or CEOs might have to make the case for.

Leaders need to focus on the cultural shift. It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that things are working correctly on a project just because the deliverables are being met and there’s a go-live date. There needs to be a strategic focus on putting the right people on the team to ensure a large-scale technological process will take. This focus on change management was a key idea from “What Could Go Wrong? Navigating Your Technology Transformation Initiatives to Success,” led by speakers Jeremy Lurey of Plus Delta Consulting, LLC, and Lynn Plummer of SingerLewak, LLP.

“These change efforts are complex, they’re multifaceted. It’s not just about programming the code; we can get great technologists to do that,” Lurey said. “It’s about having the right people involved in these projects from the beginning who are process owners and experts, who can deliver the process change we’re talking about.”

Leaders who know their history may be able to make sense of the future. Lisa Rau, executive chairman of Fionta, designed her session, “The Future of Technology for Associations,” with leaders in mind who won’t attend ASAE’s annual Technology Exploration Conference, by offering insights on how to evaluate new technology with the perspective of what came before. Citing examples such as Moore’s law, Rau noted the way that technology suddenly emerges with such sophistication that its benefits are everywhere. “By the time that the technology is ubiquitous like this, it’s like we almost forget what the time was like before,” she said.

In this context, evaluating new technologies and implementing them requires strategic thinking. “By and large, you want to be a fast follower,” Rau said. “You want to be proactive about evaluation of new technologies, but you really want to wait until the technology has achieved a certain market penetration and a certain level of maturity.” Some associations can get away with bleeding-edge technologies, she said, but most can’t.

Whether your association is built around a small staff or a big team, it’s increasingly important to have an understanding of how these many pieces work together. Taken as a whole, this is what many of last week’s technology sessions hinted at.

Because, let’s face it. As complex as this stuff is, there’s only so much handing off that you can do before it becomes a strategic problem at your doorstep.

(Ales Nesetril/Unsplash)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

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

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