The Association Technology Stack: What You Need to Know

As a leader of an association or non-profit, you know that technology is critical to your success. But what do you need to know about managing the ‘tech stack’ at your organization?  This post will provide an overview of the association technology stack and help you understand the critical components of IT governance for associations.

We'll also discuss how to ensure that your technology investments are aligned with your overall strategy.  So, whether you're just starting out or looking to refresh your knowledge, this post is for you!

Let’s get started…

What is the ‘Tech Stack’

At its simplest, an association's technology stack is the collection of technology solutions the organization uses to carry out its mission. In many cases, the term is used to refer specifically to the types of software products that associations use to manage their member relationships. However, the technology stack can also include the tools and systems that associations use for other purposes, such as accounting, event management, or website development.

When it comes to choosing a technology stack, there are two main options: best of breed or an integrated solution. Best of breed refers to using the best software for each specific task, while an integrated solution combines all the necessary software into one package from a single vendor.

There are pros and cons to both approaches. Best of breed solutions can be more flexible and allow you to mix and match different software to find the perfect combination for your needs. However, they can also be more expensive and require more technical expertise to set up and maintain. Integrated solutions, on the other hand, can be cheaper and easier to use, but they may not offer the same level of flexibility as a best of breed solution.

At the moment, there are very few integrated solutions that solve all problems for associations.  To choose the best possible solutions for their needs, associations typically implement several best-of-breed solutions that have been designed specifically for a particular purpose, such as membership management or email marketing.

This makes the issue of creating an effective IT Governance process even more important.  Creating integration strategies for our best-of-breed applications is part of the overall IT governance process.

What is IT Governance?

IT governance is the management of your information technology (IT) to align it with the organizational strategy and ensure its efficient and effective use. It includes the people, process, and technology that make up your IT infrastructure. A well-run IT governance framework can help your association manage risk, improve decision making, and increase transparency and accountability.

Any organization, whether for-profit or non-profit, needs to have a solid management structure in place to be successful. This is especially true for associations and non-profits, which often have a more complex mission and a wider range of stakeholders.

The Importance of IT Governance

Associations and non-profits must carefully consider their unique needs when designing an IT governance framework. However, there are some common elements that all frameworks should include, such as clear roles and responsibilities, a process for making decisions, and a mechanism for monitoring compliance.

Many associations and non-profits have a small IT staff, which can make it difficult to keep up with the latest technology trends. Additionally, these organizations often have a limited budget, which can make it difficult to invest in new IT initiatives. However, there are a few steps that these organizations can take to ensure that their IT is right-sized and strategically aligned.

First, you should assess current IT needs and identify any areas where they may be underserved.

Second, you should develop a clear understanding of organizational goals and objectives. This will help to prioritize IT initiatives that are aligned with your strategic goals.

Finally, you should encourage innovation by investing in technologies that can help you deliver value to your members and customers. By taking these steps, associations and non-profits can ensure that their IT is right-sized and strategically aligned, which will allow them to better serve their members and achieve their organizational goals.

IT Governance Best Practices

There are several IT governance frameworks designed to help manage the tech stack in large organizations.  Examples include COBIT, ITIL, and ISO 27000.  As a practical matter, most associations lack the resources to fully implement or maintain these frameworks.

Cimatri has worked with our partners at InfoTech Research Group (ITRG) to develop a comprehensive IT Governance framework for associations and non-profits based on a subset of the larger COBIT framework. 

The Small Enterprise (SE) framework below incorporates industry best practices that will streamline IT governance for most associations and non-profits. 

There are five (5) core activities that EVERY association MUST accomplish for effective IT governance:

  1. IT Strategy - A sound IT strategy is integral to the success of any organization, whether for-profit or non-profit. Yet many associations and non-profits struggle to develop an effective IT strategy, often due to a lack of understanding of the role that IT plays in the organization. An effective IT strategy starts with alignment between management and the IT department. Without this alignment, it is difficult to develop a common vision for how IT can support the organization's goals. From there, an effective IT strategy requires a clear understanding of the people and processes involved. Only by taking into account the unique needs of the organization can an IT strategy be tailored to meet those needs. Finally, an effective IT strategy must take into account the ever-changing landscape of technology. By staying up-to-date on the latest advances, associations can ensure that their IT infrastructure is able to support their ever-evolving needs.
  2. IT Operations - IT operations for associations and nonprofits requires service desk support, vendor management, project management, and requirements gathering. These functions must be performed in an efficient and cost-effective manner to maintain the success of the organization. The service desk is responsible for providing front-line support to end users. This includes resolving issues related to hardware, software, networking, and other IT services. Vendor management is responsible for overseeing the performance of service providers and ensuring that they meet the needs of the organization. Project management is responsible for planning, executing, and monitoring IT projects.  Requirements gathering is responsible for understanding the business needs of the organization and documenting them in a format that can be used by project teams to create solutions. Each of these functions is essential to the success of IT operations for associations and nonprofits.
  3. Infrastructure Management - For any organization, large or small, efficient management of information technology (IT) infrastructure is essential to success. This is especially true for associations and non-profits, who often have limited resources and must make the most of every penny. Incident management, asset management, availability, capacity management, and change management are all key aspects of IT infrastructure management that must be taken into consideration. Incident management ensures that any issues that arise are dealt with quickly and efficiently. Asset management keeps track of all hardware and software assets and ensures that they are being used in the most effective way possible. Availability ensures that systems are up and running when they are needed. Capacity planning ensures that systems can handle projected future demand. And change management ensures that changes to systems are made in a controlled and safe manner. When all these aspects are taken into consideration, IT infrastructure can be managed effectively, allowing associaitons to focus on their core mission.
  4. Security & Risk Management - When it comes to IT security, associations and non-profits face unique challenges. They often have limited budgets and staff, yet are responsible for handling sensitive member data. They also must comply with a variety of regulations, including the EU General Data Privacy Regulations (GDPR), Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). As a result, it's essential for associations and non-profits to have a comprehensive security strategy in place. This strategy should address all aspects of security, from disaster recovery to business continuity to security operations. By taking a holistic approach to security, associations and non-profits can protect their members' data and ensure compliance with legal requirements.
  5. Application Management - Application management is critical for associations and non-profits. The right applications can make all the difference in terms of efficiency, productivity, and bottom-line results. But with so many options on the market, how can you choose the right applications for your organization? And once you've made your selections, how do you ensure that they're properly integrated and utilized? Here are four key considerations for application management in associations and non-profits:
    • Application selection: When choosing applications, it's important to consider the specific needs of your organization. What are your core objectives? What processes do you need to streamline? What data do you need to collect and analyze? Answering these questions will help you narrow down the field of options and choose the applications that are best suited for your organization
    • Data architecture: Once you've selected your applications, it's important to carefully consider how they will fit together from a data perspective. What data will be shared between applications? How will it be structured? How will it be accessed and updated? Establishing a well-designed data architecture is essential for ensuring that information can flow smoothly between applications.
    • Data governance: In addition to establishing a sound data architecture, it's also important to put in place governance structures and processes for managing data. Who will have access to which data sets? How will data be used and updated? What security measures need to be put in place? Addressing these questions is essential for ensuring that data is managed effectively and securely.
    • Analytics and reporting: Finally, it's important to think about how you'll track progress and measure success. What analytics tools will you use? What reports will you generate? How often will you review results? Answering these questions will ensure that you're able to effectively monitor application performance and identify areas for improvement.

Wrapping IT Up

While the IT governance process can be daunting, with careful planning and execution it need not be a source of frustration. By understanding the basics of IT governance and how it impacts your association’s ability to deliver on its mission, you as an association leader can ensure that technology is properly aligned with your organization’s needs.

Have you had success implementing IT Governance in your association?

Want to know more about your IT Governance?  Take our free online self-assessment.

Let us know if you are having challenges implementing IT Governance at your association.  We’re here to help.

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