It’s not always easy to tell when you should adopt a new piece of technology or upgrade to a more recent version of software. Do you really need to purchase every generation of the iPhone? Why do you have to restart your computer to upgrade Adobe when you just did it last week? This decision is made much more difficult when dealing with enterprise software. Because the licensing and customization of new software can cost upwards of tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, you must weigh the benefits of an upgrade with the substantial costs associated with it. This can often instill a certain sense of inertia in which it becomes easier to stick with the status quo rather than make the difficult determination that your technology is out of date.
I certainly won’t argue that an association needs to adopt every shiny new platform that springs up, but in some cases I’ve seen organizations continue to operate on woefully antiquated association management software long after it’s passed its expiration date. Not only does this weigh the association down with inefficiencies (thereby driving up costs), but it also hurts staff morale and alienates members. After a certain point, it starts costing you much more to stay with the current system than if you were to upgrade to a new one.
The tricky part is identifying the exact moment when the costs of staying with the current AMS overtake the price of an upgrade. Here are four signs that this might be the case:
It’s not browser-based
In a world that is increasingly cloud-focused, it’s no longer acceptable for a piece of software to be inaccessible from your web browser. Believe it or not, there are organizations that I still talk to today that have systems so outdated that their client server operations are still only accessible inside their office. Not only is it expected that your AMS is accessible from the browser, but at this point there needs to be mobile functionality as well. If you assess most of the major enterprise CRM software solutions offered today — from Microsoft Dynamics CRM (now 365) to NetSuite to Salesforce — nearly every single one has Android and iOS applications available to users.
Your software vendor has stopped issuing new updates
Most enterprise software companies, even as they launch new versions, will make the good faith effort of continuing to release patches and updates to older versions of their software. But even the largest companies can only continue to maintain an old version for so long, and eventually they’ll make an announcement that they will no longer provide ongoing support for a previous generation. Yet despite this announcement, many organizations continue to power on with their outdated version, even as they get left further and further behind.
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Your staff is constantly creating workarounds
Once a piece of software becomes sufficiently outdated, you’ll notice that staff members, frustrated with the software’s limitations, will begin to develop workarounds both inside and outside the software. Perhaps they start managing contacts in shared Excel spreadsheets or, even worse, adopting unauthorized shadow IT to get the job done. Once this happens, your association runs the risk of delivering poor service because its information systems are no longer talking to each other. For instance, a member might go to register a change of address, but, because the AMS is no longer integrated with your marketing channels, they still continue to receive your quarterly magazine at their old address.
There’s no API integration available
Recently I wrote an article that mentioned how older enterprise software companies used to build all-in-one platforms that attempted to incorporate every conceivable use case that an organization would need. But with the rise of APIs (application programming interfaces) and specialized software, you should really have the ability to adopt only best-of-breed solutions. If you are currently using a system that does not have an API it will make integrations with other systems prohibitively expensive, or even impossible.
I understand why an association would want to put off upgrading its software. There’s always a certain level of sticker shock when you learn the upfront cost of upgrading or moving to a new platform. But when you consider how much your staff is being impeded as a result of having to engage in workarounds, the amount of employee turnover you have to deal with as a result of disillusionment, and the loss in membership you’re experiencing due to your antiquated technology, then the costs of not switching are substantial. Eventually, you reach a point at which continuing on the current system isn’t just costing you money, it’s rendering your organization obsolete.
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