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Washington DC AMS Fest Fall 2018 Recap

By Dave Gambino

Earlier this month AMS Fest, powered by Association TRENDS, wrapped up in Washington, DC. This was the largest AMS Fest we’ve attended and, in addition to presenting previews of Engage AMS, we were able to participate in a number of sessions during the conference. As always, the event not only provided great networking opportunities but also offered new insights into association trends and technology advances.

Data Remains King

While data management is still a hot topic in the association space, there were some new conversations being had at the event. Julie Sciullo, CEO, Association Analytics, and, Gretchen Steenstra, DelCor Technology Solutions, presented the session “Data Governance – Bachelorette Style!, pairing associations with data structues that best matched their needs, wants and desires. It was fun take on serious topics. During the session they discussed data storage and how to develop a strong, flexible data governance plan.

Another conversation revolved around data hoarding, or the idea that all data is of value and should be kept. We discussed how this can actually do more harm than good and lead to performance issues. If the data doesn’t have a purpose, you shouldn’t necessarily be hanging onto it. Don't be a hoarder. It is okay to let go of data you don’t need.

There were many discussions around data quality and GIGO (“garbage in, garbage out).” In an interesting announcement, Association TRENDS revealed that it is now offering a data cleansing service to associations.

Bells and whistles

As in most industries now, the IoT (Internet of Things) was a hot topic. We soon realized that many association solution providers are releasing products with a lot of bells and whistles. Sure we could register your members through their Samsung refrigerator - but why? Just because the market has these powerful tools, it doesn’t mean that your association needs them (yet). So, be certain that the organization needs the tools and has the manpower to learn and use them.

That said, we did notice a number of solutions that focused on doing one thing really well. After all, associations need a strong association management system (AMS), otherwise all the other bells and whistles are kind of moot. We also believe association software will head into this sort of modular direction where each solution focuses on doing its part extremely well and associations will be able to connect disparate systems more readily through APIs than in the past.

Outside perspectives

The best session of the event was the “Ask Anything Panel: Everything to Do with Selection and Implementation Challenges.” The panel consisted of Wes Trochlil, president, Effective Database Management, Moira Edwards, president, Ellipsis Partners and Gretchen Steenstra, strategic consultant, DelCor Technology Solutions.

While many associations retain consultants to help them through the AMS selection process, the panel reminded the audience that consultants provide a fresh -- and industry experienced -- look at association business processes. For example, you may think a specific business need is unique. However, based on their experience, a consultant will know if this need is common across the industry and can provide best practices on how to meet that need.

Alternatively, if an association is adamant about a need because it’s their business model, a consultant is a good person to step in and say ‘Let’s really challenge that.’ This is especially valuable if software can’t serve that need right out of the box and the association will have to make a substantial investment for custom development. Sometimes it’s smarter to re-think business rules than to try to build software to accomplish this very specific task.

Lacking customer support

Each year during AMS Fest, communications between association executives and technology vendors also reveal common pain points. Once again this year, we heard that the general decline in customer support triggered associations to leave, or consider leaving, their AMS vendor. Now interestingly enough, we’ve also heard about it from the vendors. 

The insight we gathered at AMS Fest served to confirm to us that we are on the right track with our own platform and services. Engage AMS is solid, simple-to-use and priced for associations both large and small. We believe that service is key and that it’s critical to provide associations with a solution that meets their business needs, provides ample training for their staff and offers strong support services for a long-term partnership.

As we look forward, we will continue to attend industry events, such as the upcoming AMS Fest in Chicago in the Spring, to look for ways to help associations run more efficiently so they can focus on what matters most -- their members.

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