In principle, an association management system is a game-changing technology solution.
Associations use them to manage nearly every aspect of their membership program: sign-ups, renewals, donations, event registrations, email marketing, invoices and more.
By using an AMS, associations can handle all of those tasks in one place. It should save time for employees and money for the association.
But experienced association leaders know it doesn’t always work out that way.
In fact, we have talked to many associations over the years who are not only disappointed in their AMS performance — they’re often truly frustrated.
Most of these associations were using a legacy AMS when we talked — systems like iMIS, Personify, and NetForum. And their frustrations ran along a few common themes.
This post attempts to classify the legacy AMS frustrations we hear most often. If you work at an association, it’s likely you recognize at least some of these problems.
AMS frustration for many associations starts at a basic level: If they have a legacy AMS solution, they have to manage the entire IT infrastructure of the system. That means they need to:
- Lease a datacenter
- Purchase servers
- Purchase networking equipment (routers, firewalls, etc.)
- Hire administrators
- Apply vendor updates and security patches regularly
- Be knowledgeable about the most current threat vectors
- Apply best-practice countermeasures against those threats
DIY frustrations continue when it’s time to update software. Vendor updates on legacy AMS solutions are the association’s responsibility.
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Vendor updates are difficult enough on their own. But if the AMS has been customized, the customizations often must be updated and thoroughly tested, as well. This can be a huge burden on the association, taking months to complete with costs in the six-figure range.
And in the end, the updates often give the association little improved functionality.
Finally, DIY difficulties extend to compliance. Legacy AMS solutions are rarely compliant with recently passed regulations such as GDPR and CCPA. So associations must update their AMS on their own to gain compliance — and this sometimes introduces additional customization issues.
As described above, the promise of an AMS is that it puts all the things an association wants to do into one technology package.
But it is not always that simple. It’s quite common for associations to need to integrate their AMS with an existing enterprise system. These solutions handle:
- Finance and accounting
- Human relations
- Customer relationship management
- Content management systems
- Member web portals
- Data warehouses
- Mobile solutions
Integrating enterprise IT systems can be difficult, and legacy AMS solutions weren’t designed with integration in mind.
The only way to integrate with some legacy AMS solutions is to hit the underlying database (frequently Oracle) directly — and that is the hardest type of integration.
Associations run into another set of issues when they realize their legacy AMS isn’t flexible enough.
Specifically, these problems surface when associations want an AMS that:
• Can be extended and improved easily. Some AMS solutions have a rich marketplace of plug-and-play add-ons that can quickly extend the functionality of the AMS. And that extension doesn’t require large and expensive development or integration projects.
• Can implement complex business rules quickly. Legacy systems don’t offer low-code or no-code platforms that allow the association to implement complex business rules on their own. Instead, the association has to engage expensive and hard-to-find developers.
• Looks and acts like modern software. Legacy AMS solutions often have cumbersome fat-clients or dated Web UIs — and updating them isn’t easy, as noted above.
Member Relation Frustrations
Associations that want the benefits of a modern Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution while using a legacy AMS often aren’t content.
Their AMS doesn’t make it easy to track and report on all member touchpoints. Delivering personalized content is difficult. Obtaining a complete understanding of a member’s lifetime journey isn’t possible.
What that means is the association is missing chances to deepen its relationship with its members. And it’s missing opportunities to increase retention and lifetime revenue.