Emily Rabbitt, CAE
Emily Rabbitt, CAE, is a former manager of research content and knowledge resources for the ASAE Foundation.
To keep pace with evolving organizational and member needs, leaders must connect their association’s information technology to strategic planning and organizational goals.
Information technology encompasses far more than infrastructure—it‘s integral to every aspect of an association’s operations. That’s one takeaway from Tech Success for Associations, the ASAE Foundation research report on the state of association technology.
Tech Success for Associations explores the operations of IT departments and association decision makers and how the sector manages technology. According to the report, associations that are the most effective at technology management integrate IT into strategic planning and facilitate discussions about technology throughout the organization.
The research findings, which make it clear that IT has a critical role to play in strategic planning, were used to inform the following recommendations.
Integrate strategic planning and technology planning. At associations that were rated highly for IT management and strategic maturity, staff across departments understood the organization’s overall goals and how leaders made technology decisions. Leaders at these associations make decisions about technology systems alongside organizational decisions to ensure they have the right technology to support their strategic objectives. At the other end of the spectrum, organizations with low maturity ratings struggled to integrate IT with strategic planning. In these situations, staff made project decisions without the insight of IT decision makers, and these associations lacked organization-wide communications about the strategic plan.
Leaders at the most effective organizations reported a more proactive, big-picture approach to investing in technology investment.
Plan for the big picture. Big-picture planning is a challenge for many associations, and many leaders focus instead on managing short-term solutions. Study participants rated themselves lowest on their technology-investment strategy, which half of respondents said was “reactive.” Leaders at the most effective organizations reported a more proactive approach to investing in technology. These leaders adopt new technologies, like cloud-based storage, that both support organizational goals and enable their staff to focus on other issues.
Involve staff from across departments in technology decisions. Association staff members depend on technology to do their work, but they often don’t get the opportunity to weigh in on their technology needs. Only half of study participants said that they had collaborative processes for technology planning. Staff collaboration engenders buy-in, and ideas can be honed and improved through discussion and debate. Association leaders can foster those conversations by establishing forums for staff to discuss technology ideas and initiatives.
Technology doesn’t just support an organization’s work—it’s also changing how teams work together. Leadership today means factoring IT needs into any high-level strategy discussions and ensuring that staff are co-creating the systems they need to do their work effectively, now and into the future.