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Pros and Cons of Proprietary vs. Platform-Based Association Management Systems

By Rich Campbell

Choosing association-management software (AMS) can be a challenge. To narrow down the options, first decide between a proprietary AMS (built entirely by a single vendor) and one built on top of another application or platform, such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 or Salesforce.

The following are key considerations for the decision process.

Integration

It is important to find an AMS solution that speaks directly to your accounting and financial software, and vice versa, to help ensure a seamless integration. One place to start is Microsoft Office, used daily by 1.2 billion people around the world. While a proprietary AMS can be built to integrate with Microsoft Office and any number of financial applications, issues might arise when these applications are upgraded. Proprietary AMS developers generally don't know in advance about changes or new versions of the software.

Customization

Proprietary association-management software can be fully customized to offer exactly what your association needs. It also allows you to maintain complete control over the system. The downside is that proprietary AMS users have to go to programmers to make any changes to the system. These changes can be time-consuming and costly, and staff might struggle to learn complicated new functions.

With Microsoft Dynamics 365 or Salesforce-based solutions, customizations are focused on user experiences.This eliminates the need to customize the actual software functionality and simplifies processes across the association to ensure a smooth upgrade path.

Community Support

With millions of people using Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Salesforce, such platform-based systems come with a built-in community that can share a wealth of knowledge based on their own experiences. Questions about a proprietary AMS have to go through the vendor, and the user has to wait for an answer from a developer.

Research & Development

Companies like Microsoft and Salesforce invest millions of dollars each year in research and development for new upgrades. In 2016, Microsoft spent nearly $12 billion on R&D projects and employed 37,000 R&D staff. A proprietary AMS company might spend only $5 million a year.

Pricing

Most of the platform association-management software products have different levels of service and pricing. Vendors can provide an estimate of what its AMS solution will truly cost, but it's important to know what is essential to your organization. Also, since the cost of developing new features and upgrades for a platform system are offset by the vendor's R&D investment and the number of individuals using these systems, the costs to your association are often much lower than proprietary software. No matter which option you choose, an AMS is a huge investment. Make sure the software fits the needs of your association and will scale with it into the future.

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