Here’s a newsflash for your IT department: Technology that is built for purpose (registration, expo sales, speaker management, etc.) does not need to integrate with your legacy association-management system in order to be implemented.
Your association has invested a ton of capital in its AMS (association-management system), the enterprise application for managing your business. When it was implemented, your association customized the heck out of it. Making changes or getting data into or out of the system is cumbersome and expensive. Your IT department thinks everything in the world needs to be tightly integrated. As a result, your association has lost its ability to be nimble and is prioritizing efficiency and data capture ahead of providing and serving the needs of your conference attendees.
I’m not recommending that you scratch what you have and invest six figures in a new enterprise system. Just don’t allow past technology decisions to affect your future attendee- and exhibitor-facing solutions. The inability to integrate is usually due to limitations of your AMS, not the built-for-purpose applications available today.
If real-time data and system integration is not easily done via “web services” (that’s geek-speak for what most legacy systems can’t do), a one-time import and export should be explored.
The IT department of the future will consider your members’ and conference attendees’ needs first. They’ll be able to quickly deploy member-facing software and connect the dots on the back end to help drive the business. They’ll embrace SaaS (Software as a Service) applications that continuously improve and evolve.
At the least, your IT department should make sure that every member- or attendee-facing technology can be consumed and fulfilled via mobile browser in 2012. I guarantee that at least 25 percent of your traffic is via mobile or tablet device. That number will grow exponentially over the next 24 months. If you think your members aren’t tech-savvy enough, think of your future members.
Fast Technology Fixes for 2012
In addition to mobile accessibility, here are the four major technology solutions that every major conference should have: 1. Sales CRM
- Your sales database is gold! Most AMS programs are built for membership management. Exposition, advertising, and sponsorship sales rarely fit that model. Savvy associations will implement a cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) software program that is shared among the sales team. Salesforce.com - the leading application - is affordable, easy to implement, and has tremendous capability to import and export data. 2. Registration
- If your system doesn’t prepopulate member data, you’re not making it easy to buy. Look into one of the SaaS-based registration software providers or outsource this function. Nearly every solution has the ability to verify membership and provide a good data export after the conference. 3. Itinerary planner
—Today’s attendees want to be able to pre-plan their conference and expo experience. They should be able to select each session and exhibitor that they wish to see. Ideally, you should have this capability for both web and mobile. You should assume that attendees will want to access these preferences from their work computer and from their personal mobile or tablet device. Preferences should sync across devices and platforms. 4. Real-time floor plan
- For exhibit sales, every major conference should have an online floor plan that is dynamically updated with every booth sold or placed on hold. These solutions are now a commodity and can be implemented at a very low cost. Provide this, and key the data into your AMS on the back end, if necessary.
Take Away I Don’t Hate IT
This column may come across as a rant. It is! The truth is, I love a good IT department, and not too long ago, several very large IT departments reported to me. My recent experience with some associations, however, has made me realize how hamstrung they are by their own silos. We’re at the mercy of our IT co-workers. When hardware or software doesn’t function the way it’s supposed to, the IT department pulls a rabbit out of a hat and saves the day. But many have a break/fix mentality: While they are great at putting out fires, they are not strategic enough to drive improvements that benefit those outside of your four walls - namely, your members. That needs to change.
In my column in the September 2007 issue of Convene(ITL), “Technology Solutions: Lease, Buy, or Build” (http://bit.ly/techsolutions)(LIN), I made the argument that leasing is almost always better than building, which remains true today.
Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, www.velvetchainsaw.com