Tech Ecosystems: What They Are, and How They Can Benefit Your Association
Analyzing your association's tech ecosystem helps create harmony between systems and business processes.
It doesn’t take more than a quick Google search to see headlines buzzing about “tech ecosystems”—and for good reason.
From a biological perspective, ecosystems are so interconnected that even minor disruptions can trigger chain events that affect the system’s overall health. Viewing technology through this lens helps associations understand the breadth of digital tools they are using and how their interactions affect the system as a whole.
“A tech ecosystem, in my context, is made up of a collection of business systems that interact with your core association management solution or data,” said Gretchen Steenstra, director of client strategy at DelCor Technology Solutions. “Now that associations need to act more quickly and spin up a variety of options to interact with members, the need for a diverse, yet connected, ecosystem is essential—not a future aspiration.”
Associations should regularly audit their tech ecosystems to identify trends, pitfalls, and opportunities. “Sometimes the conversations that take place during a review end up being the most important part of the process,” Steenstra said. “Aligning what members and business units need with what technology can provide is critical in creating positive experiences.”
Steenstra said the most sophisticated organizations often manage their ecosystems with a comprehensive technology strategy, including detailed enterprise architecture diagrams and documentation. But a simplified version of a strategy and diagram can benefit every organization.
“Sharing a map or summary educates technology partners and creates a common language,” she said. “DelCor recommends having an annual planning meeting with your vendor partners at least once a year to share the organization’s goals and discuss the best partner for the project and ongoing maintenance and training needs.”
Technology Selection Begins with Ecosystem Analysis
In her role at DelCor, Steenstra helps associations identify business objectives, assess and guide the selection of technology management systems, and connect business needs to technology resources. She said it’s essential to begin any technology selection project with an understanding of desired outcomes.
“We always start with the goals and objectives of the selection project,” she said. “Who’s doing what? What systems do you have, and how may they be impacted? Who owns the systems, and how do they need to be part of this conversation? What processes need to be maintained, adjusted, or created?”
Associations with multiple technology vendors should ensure everyone has a seat at the table. Steenstra said one of her clients recently had a two-part conversation along these lines. In the first, the client brought together business owners to get a big-picture view of their goals and outcomes, which were to improve education and outreach. Then, the client brought his AMS, learning management, and website providers together for a discussion centered on the group’s tech ecosystem.
“It was the most productive conversation he had ever had with any of his vendors because their guards were down,” Steenstra said. “They were appreciative to be part of the conversation rather than being told, ‘Oh, by the way, this decision has been made, and now you, as a vendor, will need to do some reverse engineering to make it happen.’”
Analysis of an association’s tech ecosystem is rarely a heavy lift, but achieving alignment among disparate systems can be a challenging (but necessary) task. Steenstra has seen this play out in various ways.
“We’ve seen cases where people have identified the systems in play, how they want the member experience to look, and how they want their data to move,” she said. “Then, when they talk to their vendors, there may be data that’s extremely difficult to integrate. Organizations must prioritize the request and related efforts. Do you want to pay $5,000 to align the data to support the data analytics process, or are you OK with the more general information?”
This ongoing balancing act creates tension between the business team members and technology professionals. Getting those decisions right can be difficult, but some tension is a healthy part of the process.
“The discussions can be an excellent consensus-building process,” Steenstra said. “Sometimes it can be a spirited discussion but not negative. The goal is to find common ground and hear a shift from ‘I don’t like the technology team’ to ‘the team doesn’t understand the user experience I’m trying to create.”
Ecosystem discussions also help board members and leaders better understand the value of certain investments. “A picture is worth 1,000 words and helps the board understand the connection between systems and the services being delivered to members,” Steenstra said. “That insight makes them more comfortable and willing to support the organization’s project and budget requests.”
Ultimately, in the same way an ecologist’s understanding of a biological ecosystem helps promote life-sustaining balance, conversations about tech ecosystems energize organizations to gain clarity, seek alignment, and take action to improve the member experience.
DelCor works closely with associations and nonprofits to offer outsourced IT support, CIO services, technology assessments, and digital workplace consulting. For more information on DelCor’s digital workplace consulting services and association technology solutions, visit delcor.com.