Inside a Development Partnership Between An Association and Vendor

Associations Now September/October 2014 By: Katie Bascuas

When the Global Cold Chain Alliance wanted to digitize its directory, a partnership with a local tech vendor made the upgrade much more economical for both parties.

It all started at an association conference. Tori Liu, director of information systems at the Global Cold Chain Alliance, was talking with a rep from tech vendor and consulting firm Old Town IT when it suddenly dawned on them that they each had something the other needed.

For GCCA, it was a new, reasonably priced digital solution to replace its nearly 100-year-old print directory, and it just so happened that Old Town IT was in the process of developing such a product but was in need of financial backing and association input to help get it off the ground.

So the two organizations struck up a deal: GCCA would serve as the "guinea pig" beta tester for Old Town's new digital membership directory application, Connext, in exchange for a less expensive, fully customized directory.

"It was a little bit of a twist on the typical association-vendor relationship," says Liu. "For us, it was great because we got an opportunity to influence the product from the ground floor." Under the agreement, GCCA also avoids any ongoing licensing fees and will have access to free Connext upgrades and future enhancements.

Meanwhile, Old Town got a client who could serve as a sounding board for ideas during the crucial development process. And once the product was finalized, the company would use the GCCA personalized app and subsequent case study in its marketing efforts.

The arrangement wasn't without challenges. Liu says partnering with a vendor that was developing a new product from the ground up involved some risk.

"You're a little bit of a pioneer of sorts when you're doing codevelopment; like this," she says. "It's not like I could call up another association and ask them if Connext worked for them."

There was also the issue of mixing cultures. "They, as a tech company, are agile project managers, so we had to adjust ourselves to the fact that there's not necessarily going to be an end goal," Liu says. "Even the app we have now we know is not the final product. It's supposed to be iterative."

In the end, the challenges paid off. "I really felt like we got the best of both worlds," Liu says. "We had the cost benefits of an existing product coupled with the feel of a custom solution."

[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Best of Both Worlds."]

Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is an associate editor at Associations Now in Washington, DC.