September 18, 2014
This is part of a series of articles focusing on questions your association will want to ask about various aspects of your organization.
Choosing an AMS is an important decision your organization will have to live with for years to come - unless of course you have an endless supply of cash and can switch systems every other year. As you shop around it’s critical that you identify all of the benefits and drawbacks of any vendor’s solution. By asking the right questions about the technology behind your AMS, you’ll be able to make apples-to-apples comparisons and know exactly what you’re getting into before you commit valuable time and resources into the process. Here are the questions your association must ask about technology.
For most associations, being able to integrate the technology you use for your AMS with the other solutions your organization uses is key. Even though your AMS may be the hub for your association’s records and activities, there are going to be times when you’ll want to use other solutions to accomplish specific tasks. You’ll want your AMS to be able to integrate with any third party solutions you are using to run your association. If you can’t integrate your disparate systems, you run the risk of having breaks in the processes your association uses or creating tons of manual work for your staff. Make sure you can integrate the systems that you are planning to use before you make a commitment to them.
"Being able to integrate the #technology you use for your AMS with the other solutions your organization uses is key”
The application programming interface, or API, is an important feature of any viable technology solution. Sooner or later you’ll want to move data between your AMS and another system, like a third party solution, and you’ll need a reasonable way to do this. Most functions, like membership directory fulfillment, for example, require real-time integration using the API. You’ll want to be sure that the solution you use allows data to be saved and queried through the API, in order to ensure you get the functionality you need.
Another thing you’ll want to ask about the technology solution you’re considering is if the system is completely open. This is important. Usually, when you run into problems doing integrations in your current system, it’s because the API was coded many years after the database was. This results in an API that’s out of sync with the core product, leaving it limited to read operations with no real time push or pull of data and no ability to query through the API. For this reason, you should beware of read-only APIs. They may be fine for populating your website with data from your AMS, but not when you need true integration, you need the ability to write back into your API. You’ll want to have a system that’s completely open so that API can work the way you want it to.
What if you want to send an email just to double check your HTML is correct? What if you want to practice dropping all expired members before you do it live? Or train your staff on sample data? If you want to test the functionality of your system without doing things “for real”, you’ll need a sandbox or test environment. These environments let you build a full copy of your existing data at any time and use it as a testing bed for your staff, for sample customizations and for integrations. You’ll want to make sure the technology solution you’re considering is capable of doing this.
This may sound like a superficial question, but it’s not. Technology changes all the time, and you want to be using a database that was coded recently, not 20 years ago. Think about how much we’ve seen technology change in the past 20 years. From your first cell phone (in a bag), to the first one that could text, to finally the smartphone we use now, the transition has been incredible. If I asked you to dig up your first cell phone and use it today, would you? Never. It probably wouldn’t even be supported on the network. It’s the same with your AMS. Making the leap to new technology allows you to perform limitless integrations on an open system. Your staff will notice and so will your members.
The next time you’re considering upgrading your technology, make sure you ask these five questions. All solutions are not created equal, and you’ll want to make sure you understand what you’re getting and that you’re getting the most out of your association’s next investment.