A Brief History
I started working in the association world 23 years ago this month. I was fresh out of college and was hired into an entry level position in the government affairs department of a national association in DC. I had a general understanding of associations and was more technically proficient than the average person in 1994, but I had no idea what an AMS was. I quickly learned that it was a custom piece of software built to do everything for our association. It was key to running the organization. Since the first web browser hadn’t been released we didn’t even have a web site, so all of our applications, registrations, etc. were done via mail for fax. I guess we were ahead of our time in one respect; we had single sign-on because we only had to one system to sign in to.
Evolution of Technology & How We Work
Business software has matured quite a bit since then and it’s time to change the way we look at association management software. We need to stop looking at the AMS as an all-in-one solution. Most organizations have separate accounting software and are using a content management system to run their web site. Many have adopted email marketing tools to stay in touch with their members or commercial help desk software like Zendesk. Most of what associations do is not unique to associations, and as the software market matures, we see more and more specialization. How many apps do you have on your phone that perform a single task? This trend means that there are companies that are often well-funded building software that does a piece of what your AMS does and they’re doing it better.
Associations have started taking advantage of this by leveraging new technologies for specific tasks. Annual conferences are a good example of this. You may have started by using a separate abstract management tool. Then you found a really sweet session and resource management application. That same company likely also has a really great mobile application for attendees. Finally, you recently contracted out all your exhibitor and sponsorship management and you realize that you’re only using your AMS to handle registrations. In some cases, you’ve outsourced your meeting completely. Of course, you’re still paying full price for your AMS and you’re only using a small percentage of the modules.
The Modern AMS
At Cobalt, we believe that the future of the AMS is software that does the core functions of an association really well with integrations to other, best-of-breed solutions to meet their needs. If you look at the modern association, its needs align more and more with commercial organizations. Members, attendees, sponsors and applicants are really customers, so it’s logical to see the trend towards customer relationship management (CRM) systems gaining traction in the AMS market.
CRM systems, especially those built on enterprise platforms like Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics 365, have made capabilities that were previously unavailable accessible to associations. They are also more open when it comes to integration with best-of-breed technologies. My favorite benefit is the ability to take advantage of their massive R&D and acquisition budgets. Even with all the recent investments and acquisitions in the AMS space, none of us are buying LinkedIn anytime soon…
I believe that the modern AMS offering will have core CRM functions, a rock solid membership module, flexible e-commerce capabilities, prebuilt member/customer self service components that can easily be plugged into your existing web site, and world-class integration capabilities for connecting to all your other applications. This CRM system will be the hub of your operations, but won’t be asked to do everything.
I know, I’m biased since Cobalt Membership Dynamics is built on the Microsoft Dynamics 365 platform, but I also believe this to be true.