At the ASAE Annual Meeting in Toronto I had the honor of speaking with a few of my colleagues and friends, Gretchen Steenstra, Moira Edwards, and Rene Shonerd, on making strategic technology decisions.
As organizational leaders some of the most critical decisions you make involves the technology that your association or nonprofit uses. A good AMS or LMS or the right engagement platform could make all the difference when it comes to increasing your organization’s productivity and effectiveness, and to serving your members.
But the right technology does so much more.
It helps your employees accomplish more, in less time. It makes it easier to see what needs to be improved and what is working well. It minimizes confusion and provide answers. It enhances your volunteer and member relationships. It’s unobtrusive and yet indispensable.
Making the wrong technological decision unfortunately can set your association back years, negatively impact finances, and even hurt your membership.
So, when the time comes to change or upgrade one of your technology systems or purchase new software, you should take the task seriously. There are plenty of checklists online and RFP guides that will help you keep track of the most obvious, tangible concerns including cost, functionality, system requirements, and security needs. Ticking those checkboxes may help you choose a technology or service that will work for the short-term, and maybe even get you through the year.
In order to find a long-term technology partner, however, there are a few other considerations you’ll want to factor in before making the big decision:
First, have a plan for how you’re going to evaluate the technology.
This is one of the most important steps in your decision-making process. Lots of organizations jump in before mapping out the evaluation process. Make sure the approach aligns with culture and the importance of the technology within the organization.
Make sure you involve the right people.
No major technology decision should ever be made by one person. Rather, you should gather a small team of advisors, stakeholders, and users to assess the current system and weigh in when it comes time to review proposals, demo the product, and perform a trial run. You want a comprehensive set of perspectives that will help you see exactly how the technology will integrate with your existing processes. That said, you don’t want your team of advisors to become too large, at which point decisions become impossible and project delays are inevitable. To ensure you are including only the most essential representatives, think through each person’s contribution and responsibilities when it comes to the technology. Who are power users, whose support do you need, who will be impacted by the tech, then define the team. If you can’t clearly define a person’s role, he/she probably doesn’t need to be involved (at least not at the highest levels).
Set realistic project goals.
Every technology project should begin with a goal, sometimes several. Think ahead one year down the road – what would you like to see happen in your association as a result of your new technology? Where would you like your association to be? In addition to improving member numbers, are there changes you’d like to see occur on the inside of your association? Do you have a vision for your overall efficiency and staff performance in the future? Evaluate how each vendor would help you achieve these objectives. As you make your way towards a final technology decision, it’s easy to lose the ever-so-important “30,000 foot view” and get wrapped up in minute details and technical specs. Do your best to make sure your team never loses sight of the end goal.
Consider how the technology fits into current systems and processes.
The definition of integrate is “to combine into one unified system.” When you are making an important technology decision, ask, “How will this technology integrate with our current software and processes so they operate as one unified system?” Hopefully the answer is some variation of “seamlessly.” For optimum efficiency, the whole really should be greater than the sum of its parts.
Ask about training and implementation.
There is the technical side of implementation but there is also the people side – don’t forget about the latter. A successful implementation can make the difference between 100% adoption and a waste of your valuable tech budget, so don’t underestimate the importance of this step. An ideal technology vendor should provide some training and implementation support, or at least have tips on what has worked in similar organizations.
Don’t just focus on the software itself, consider the technology provider and what kind of partner they will be in the long-term.
We think the technology vendor partnership is so important, we wrote a whole blog post about it. Think of it this way – your technology vendor will be playing an important role in the future of your business. And if you are truly both in this for the long haul, it will help to know you’re working with people who “get” you, your values, and your mission. Your partnership should be a two-way street, even in initial conversations. If you’re not seeing eye-to-eye or getting a friendly, reliable vibe, it may be time to move on.
Listen to your instincts. While this should not replace a careful vetting and testing process, at the end of the day, you want to make a decision that you’re going to be happy with for a long time. Especially when you end up with two vendors or two products that are head-to-head on paper (as well as most other things we’ve included on our list here), sometimes the clear winner is obvious. Go with your gut.
This of course brings you to the final step and goal of the process – making a decision!
For more information feel free to download our handout from the presentation.
We’re curious – has your association gone through the technology selection process recently? Have any tips or words of wisdom on how to achieve better long-term results? What is the one question you ask every tech vendor when going through the proposal process? We’d love to know.