When Derek Leman of 501CIO passed along this post after his first time at AMS Fest, we couldn’t help but to share with you. Great insights from his time in DC. Thanks for sharing, Derek! 

Lessons from AMS Fest in Washington D.C.

When you get together with a hundred and fifty people in downtown Washington D.C. to talk about associations and tech, you want it to be a lively group. AMS Fest did not disappoint. The crowd was more than one third association people, staff and execs with an interest in the software systems that are supposed to make the magic happen. The other group, more than half the attendees, were software company reps and consultants. They were there to promise definitely, indubitably, with absolute certainty to make that magic happen.

Just say “Tech Conference” and some people (mistakenly) picture a bunch of dull, monotonous Dilbert look-alikes droning on about security, hacking, and servers. Forget that image. This crowd had beer for lunch. There were thought leaders, like people who buy software companies for huge dollar amounts. There were well-groomed company owners with names reminiscent of action movie heroes. There were softly spoken, but articulate, mavens of association processes and the ways software can smooth them out. As always with any event put on by ReviewMyAMS, we enjoyed the delightfully over-the-top verve and fire of Teri Carden hosting sessions and making us all feel important.

Okay, so this was no room full of droning Dilbert look-alikes. But who cares, right?

What is AMS Fest and why is it exciting?

AMS Fest, it’s the outgrowth of ReviewMyAMS.com. So even if you weren’t here and even if you can’t make it to the next one, there’s always the website where you can read relevant reviews and learn gobs of stuff. There are fifty-six brands of AMS (association management systems) reviewed on the website (about twenty of them were at this most recent AMS Fest). We were there representing iMIS as were reps from the parent software company, ASI (Advanced Solultions International).

AMS Fest is exciting for a lot of reasons:

  • Associations should be killing it with technology. Members of associations expect to see cool stuff from their beloved organization.
  • Oh, and members want to see said “cool stuff” from their smart phones, because they don’t bring laptops to lunch where they want to do their personal business (like register for Annual Conference).
  • Technology is whizzing along right now and a lot of associations are, well, a decade behind (there, I said it).
  • AMS Fest is grass roots. Crowd-sourced sessions. Bringing association and software people together for meaningful talk. It puts you, the association, in the driver’s seat to talk about what matters to you.
  • There is a kind of honesty and practicality that happens when twenty “competing” vendors are in a small space and you can ask anything you want.
  • It turns out the world of AMS vendors is not one where clawing, biting, and scratching for the top happen. The congeniality between brands was evident.
  • People who come to AMS Fest are almost certainly as cool and smart as you are, so you’re going to learn and enjoy.
  • I know I learned more than I expected to — and I came with monster enthusiasm.
  • They have beer for lunch.

I’ll briefly go over some of what I learned. I think of the biggest takeaways for me under three headings. We have more reason than ever to believe associations are getting better and better access to technological pixie dust. Business strategy, not technological inventiveness, must lead the way. And the last is more down to earth: associations who implement technology change need to do so with a smart process and clear communication.

Association Technology is Headed for Pixie Dust

We heard a lot about one of the big reasons for optimism about association technology. Big time investment is being made in association tech companies. There are Private Equity firms and other investors acquiring or buying in some cases minority investments in AMS companies. That includes, by the way, iMIS, the software we represent at 501CiO Consulting.

The money being poured in means two things for sure. The first is that investors believe the association industry is stable, predictable, bound to keep making revenue. Our industry is a place for capital to be invested and grow things like retirement funds.

The second is that the software is going to get the needed R&D dollars to get better. AMS’s are more and more looking as cool as the systems used in the for-profit world.

Who wins? Well, your association and your members do.

Lead from Business Strategy in Your Technology

It’s a technology product, right? So progress is about making computers do cool techie things. Um, no.

Bringing your association into the future as even more of a leader in society, even more indispensable to the people of your corner of the world, is about business strategy. Strategy is what leads good tech innovation.

What processes can your association do better? What ways can you save members time and money? How can you drive up participation, increasing everyone’s enjoyment? What will lead members along in their journey so more of them get access to the great things you’ve always known your association offered? Oh, and how can you do it better than that for-profit competition out there?

One mistake that was mentioned in more than one panel and by people from different sides of the crowd was the tendency for top leadership to be disengaged from tech implementations. The C-Suite knows business and strategy. Involvement from the top is vital.

Another misstep that is apparently common is a failure to bring all the users of an association’s software to the table in planning an implementation. You’ll want your technology to be set up to make a winner out of all departments. Great input often comes from those closest to the action. So getting the top leadership in on the strategy is vital, but leaving out people who see the rubber meet the road is just as important.

Getting More from AMS Vendors and Consultants Takes Intelligent Communication

And finally, I learned that brains and mouthiness combine for a big win. Seriously, panelists and people who have been through it explained how more planning before calling in the software vendors is helpful. And vendors and consultants agreed — we liked it when associations had more specific ideas about what would make their technology bust the sound barrier.

The brains part includes so many things that were mentioned. Getting data clean, by throwing out historical data that really doesn’t matter and cleaning up what’s left, is an intelligent way to start. Getting the whole team at the association to talk about things the software needs to do is next on the Einstein list. There were tips like: instead of asking a vendor to do a demo, ask them to show you specific pre-determined things so you know they can bring the magic. Plan for more training — and budget for it — than your board thinks you really need to spend. Training is expensive and it gets too little attention was the much-affirmed conclusion of a variety of people at AMS Fest.

The mouthy part included one of my favorite tips. When a vendor is implementing your system, complain fast and complain loudly if something isn’t working. The prime example related to training. If the training isn’t helping your users really understand how to do actual tasks that are your association’s meat and potatoes, say it right away. But the rule in general is to combine the intelligent thing with the communication thing.

Okay, that was a bit long. I know I said a lot. Thank you for reading and I will use less words next time. Oh, the next AMS Fest will be May 2017. See you there!

Like what you are reading?  Click here to subscribe to 501CIO’s newsletter.

501CiO Consulting, LLC, specializes in getting small and mid-sized associations affordably into the Cloud version of iMIS. We build award-winning websites for associations. We setup, we train, we implement. Most of all we serve the association industry proudly.