How Can Associations Keep Up In The Digital Age?

Organizations have been working to ‘digitally transform’ for several years now, and the pandemic has sped up the process for many of us. Remote working has become the norm, cloud-based infrastructure is commonplace, and cybersecurity has become mainstream in the ‘new normal’.

For associations, keeping up with new technology and processes is just as important as it is for other organizations. Focusing on innovation can enhance the member experience and help meet their expectations in the digital age.

What is Digital Transformation?

Digital transformation is a term commonly used to describe converting manual or non-digital processes to digital processes or upgrading current digital technology. It increases the efficiency of processes and operations at all levels of an organization.

However, there is a difference between digitization and digitalization.

For clarity going forward, let’s define digitization vs. digitalization.

  • Digitization means converting from analog to digital, and is used to improve internal processes in order to reduce costs.
  • Digitalization is more all-encompassing, and involves changing an association’s growth model to leverage technologies that not only improve processes, but to change the way the organization interacts with its stakeholders as well. So the focus is on transforming the way work is done more broadly.

Digital transformation involves both digitization and digitalization, but it focuses more on innovation and culture. The goal is to empower and enable teams to work differently, and better. It involves a complex culture change to leverage technologies and facilitate creativity and growth.

Potential Areas for Improvement

While digital transformation is applied to all functions of an association, it can be categorized into three broad areas:

  1. Day-to-Day Processes – Technology can be used to leverage the skills of team members and can be applied to all processes and services.
  2. Growth Model – Technology can be used to drive membership and enhance the member experience.  This includes the collection, organization, and use of data and analytics to drive member insights.
  3. Culture – An effective strategy changes the culture of an organization as team members are empowered to work more efficiently and encouraged to innovate. Digital processes take manual processes away so their time can be used to think creatively and find ways to improve the member experience.

The New Digital Age

In the late 2000s, keeping up with the times was all about search engine technology and data mining, and even things like mobile optimization and leveraging social media platforms were not universal yet. 

Now, we’ve moved to a new normal that involves using multiple devices, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, machine learning, edge technology, collaboration tools, low-code / no-code, and much more.

This is not a process that has an end. The transformation will be ongoing as digital disruption occurs, and organizations will need to adapt in order to keep up with industry changes. 

It’s a new way of engaging with members and thinking about processes and innovation going forward, which is why it requires a complete culture change within the association.

Why Should You Adopt a Transformation Strategy?

Digital transformation is not a trivial pursuit – it’s an ongoing process. So why should you consider taking on such a significant change in your organization? 

  • Innovation – Digital transformation encourages innovation by creating new ways to work together and communicate and speeding up tedious processes. Data can give insights about processes to make them faster and more agile.  It also saves time, allowing teams the freedom and breathing room to create and collaborate.
  • Improve Day-to-Day Processes – Data can inform about where processes can be improved, and digital processes can replace manual tasks and increase the speed and accuracy of processes and operations. Increased efficiency and speed can save an organization money, too.
  • Enhance the Member Experience – Data can provide insights that tell you not only how they behave, but how they think and feel, and what they want. Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) can change the way that new events, services, and content are designed and developed, leading to greater agility and speed of development.
  • Meet Members’ Digital Expectations – As technology changes, so do member expectations. They want speed of communication and delivery, seamless experiences, and access to what they want anytime, anywhere. They want to make purchases with minimal effort and to understand exactly what they are getting for their money in real-time. They want immediate, customized solutions. They also want to be recognized in communication by name, member history, preferences, and other data.

Associations that do not keep up with the times are passing up opportunities to grow and save money. Digital transformation for any organization, if done correctly, can have a huge return on investment.

Getting Started – A  Digital Transformation Framework

Updating your processes and transforming your organization does not happen by doing a “project” here and there over time. It must be a deliberate, well-thought process that starts with a strategic plan. Here are the key steps to getting started.

  1. Define what digital transformation means for your organization. What are your challenges? How well are you gathering and using data? What kinds of data do you collect, and is there more that you could use to drive insights? What is happening in your industry due to digital disruption? Determine what your ideal scenario looks like, considering all these questions and your specific goals. If your organization does not have a CIO, it might be time to hire one, or to hire a virtual CIO. You will need an expert to advise you, and guide you through the process.
  2. Outline all your current digital capabilities at all levels and assess how they are working. You need to find the gaps in your current capabilities, as well as the potential need for changes or upgrades. This assessment will also tell you what’s working well, giving you insight into what capabilities could be applied to other areas of your association.
  3. Evaluate your digital transformation options. Consider your internal processes and operations, your IT infrastructure, your member experience, your content offerings, and your innovation processes. Explore what technologies are available to you in all areas and determine priorities. You can use this information to begin to make a game plan.
  4. Discuss the process with your staff and your stakeholders, to make sure that everyone is on board, and that everyone understands that it is more than just a technology change – it’s a culture change. It is critical to have everyone on the same page and invested in the success of the plan as you move forward.
  5. Build a roadmap for your transformation based on your priorities and goals. What will provide the most value in terms of growth and/or cost savings? What will make the biggest difference in your association? Your roadmap needs to include a budget, and a plan to hire new talent to handle the transformation if necessary. You also need to establish a team to handle the process.
  6. Communicate the plan to the entire organization. Team members need to understand what will happen because it will be a sea change, not just a few upgrades here and there. When you talk about the plan, emphasize the benefits to each person in the organization and how it will create new opportunities to expand their roles. The entire association needs to share your vision, and to be excited about making it a reality.
  7. Begin to execute your plan with your team.

Best Practices in Digital Transformation

We’ve already discussed the first rule which is to engage your team and prepare them for the change. They should understand that they will have a new ability to take advantage of advances in technology to increase their productivity and to innovate. 

It’s also important to talk to your team to find out what they want and need. Ask them what technology they think would make their job easier.  What problems do they have within their role that could be solved with technology? 

Other best practices include:

  • Establish clear goals, particularly your objectives and key results. These OKRs will drive the roadmap that you will create. Start with the end in mind, and then create milestones that you need to achieve along the way.
  • Think of the transformation as a shift in your association’s culture in general, not just technology transformation. It cannot be performed by IT alone. The process must be done within the context of your association’s long-term success, so your transformation team should include all relevant internal stakeholders, not just IT people.
  • Your transformation will involve multiple projects, so make sure that all the parts align into a whole. You should have the proper resources allocated to each project so that no projects suffer or get delayed due to resource conflicts. 
  • Simplicity for members is key. The differences they see in your association after the change should be easy to understand and to use. The end result must be a positive experience for all users, both internal and external.

Don’t Get Left Behind

Digital transformation for all organizations is a “when” not an “if” question. Associations that do not adopt a “digital-first” mindset will miss opportunities to grow.  

Increase membership, cut costs, and maximize your potential for growth by focusing on updating your processes, technology, and culture. By adopting a digital strategy, your association will be able to provide a far more valuable experience to members. Members stay with an association that consistently provides value.

An increasingly popular method for transforming an association digitally is to utilize the services of a virtual chief information officer for your associations.

As an association, you need cost-effective ways of improving without disrupting service for your members. A full-time chief information officer is the obvious choice, but they can cost anywhere from $150,000 to $500,000 a year – so that’s not always an option.

Instead, many associations opt for a virtual, part-time CIO. Instead of a yearly salary, virtual CIOs guide you through a digital transformation. Contact Cimatri for information about our virtual CIO services.