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Tablet Computing is the Future

Written by Ray van Hilst on . Posted in Technology

With the launch of the iPad this past year, I noticed a shift in how people use computer hardware and software to get their work done.  We are quickly moving from having all of our tools at our fingertips on our laptop to being comfortable with our data living on a server “in the cloud” and delivered through a web-enabled device.

Pre iPad, just a few of my “bleeding edge” friends used netbooks and relied on internet hosted tools.  But out of everyone I know, only one person made a netbook their main computer and everyone else used it as a back-up or second computer.

Right after the iPad launched in April, hardcore Apple fans rushed to be the first one on the block with the shiny new toy. But within a short time frame, I noticed “mainstream people” buying and using the iPad.  In fact by the time the first Buzz2010 session rolled around in June, there were 2 or three people using an iPad to take notes, check e-mail, tweet and do their on-site work.

Fast forward to ASAE Tech in December, and I felt like a Luddite for lugging around my laptop to take notes and get work done during the conference. In every session I attended I was outnumbered by iPads and saw firsthand how people on the go traveled light and still carried all their technology with them.  (Yes, an iPad is in my future. Just not now.)

And this trend is only going to accelerate.  There are (believable) rumors of the new iPad to be released in the first quarter of 2011. Samsung is releasing the Galaxy. Blackberry is releasing it’s own Tablet – the BlackBerry PlayBook. And even “good-old-fashioned” eReaders like the Nook have apps that allow you to check e-Mail and access online tools like Facebook.

In fact, tablet computers are going to overturn the marketplace so much that eMarketer predicts that worldwide sales will exceed 140 million units by the end of 2012 – a rapid jump from the 15.7 million sold in 2010.

So what does this mean for associations or our software and technology?  Much has been written by others about what this means for your members, so instead I’ll focus on a few items from the staff perspective.

Free WiFi at Events is Expected – ASAE Tech did a great job of offering free WiFi throughout the entire show (including meeting rooms) and it was appreciated by all attending.

However, what is noteworthy is how unique this is.  How many times have you walked into a seminar and there hasn’t been free WiFi? Or when checking into a hotel felt cheated because you need to pay $17.95 for internet access?

For now this is a market differentiator for facilities, but it won’t be that way for long. For meeting planners (and those selling to meeting planners) this is going to quickly become a key negotiating point as their attendees are going to expect 100% reliable, free accessible.

Mobile Web Will Be a Key Factor in Web Development  - Yes, I’ve said before that Mobile is A Next Big Thing, but It’s Not the Only Thing.  But as technology changes, associations regularly go through website redesigns and updates – and mobile needs to be on that list of updates.

As they get their technology houses in order, mobile will be a development priority to be considered during the AMS and CMS selection process.  Creating a mobile ready site or rapid development of a mobile app is going to be part of the project requirements and updates as well as the ability to deliver relevant member data and experiences to mobile devices.

Web Based Tools Will Drive Staff/Member Interactions – Your association’s members are finding answers in real time on internet enabled tablet devices.  Will you serve them in the same manner?

When you bump into a new board member at an event who wants an update on retention numbers can you give him current numbers? What happens when you are walking the show floor and you get accosted by a disgruntled exhibitor complaining about lower than expected attendance?

Once upon a time you could make a note or take a business card and reply when you got back to the office.  But real-time information availability means you are going to need real-time access for real-time response.  Your choice will be to carry a big-fat binder with you or make sure key systems like your event registration or association management software are 100% web enabled so you can access them on a tablet or similar mobile device.

As a good example, at this month’s ASAE Tech show I happened to catch up with one of Avectra’s sales people who showed me how they used netFORUM association management software on an iPad.

The bottom line is that mobile and tablet computers are changing how we do our business as fast as our member’s and customer’s expectations evolve.  It is going to require getting your association’s technology infrastructure updated, realigning some priorities and planning ahead.  But the sooner that these discussions and initiatives start happening, the better off your association will be as you look to the future of technology and your member experience.




ASAE Tech 2010 Takeaways – Mobile, Social and Accessibility

Written by Ray van Hilst on . Posted in Association Best Practices, Avectra Events

It’s been a week since the brightest technology minds in the association industry (or so we like to think of ourselves) gathered at the Washington Convention Center for the 2010 ASAE Technology Conference.  It was a whirlwind couple of days filled with new ideas, technologies and networking for an environment that is changing very quickly.

The past few years have seen rapid, wide-spread technology changes. 

Cloud computing has become so commonplace that even my 9-year-old exclaims “To the cloud.”  Mobile is an emerging force being driven by rapid adoption of iPhone and Android devices to the point that it’s starting to crack the wireless infrastructure

And each day offers new software tools an association could use but not much guidance on which tools they should use.

So with this as a background what were my key takeaways from ASAE Tech?  Here goes.

The need for great people will generate a talent revolution

For all of the conversation about software, hardware and social media – your ultimate success still relies on the people to make it go.  From Charlene Li’s presentation on Open Leadership to conversations about community management to a session on using web analytics; the ability to get people on board, facilitate change and then empower them to keep that change moving has to do with getting the right people engaged and participating.

In the end, it points to the fact that a talent revolution is underway as associations need to look for the right people to “get on the bus” (to use a Jim Collins phrase) or to find strong partners for an outside perspective so you can push forward. 

As membership levels have stagnated and revenue models shifted, empowered go-getters are changing the game and their associations are seeing the benefits of their forward thinking.

Mobile is A next big thing. But it’s not the only thing.

No matter where you fall in Jeff DeCagna and Lindy Dreyer’s “animated” discussion about mobile, it is clear that is going to change how we consumer the internet.  First of all, there’s fact that a number of vendors offer mobile solutions with their services including using the association management software on an iPad, serving up mobile versions of the association website or having mobile enabled communities.  Then there are the tools that help you figure out what to do including Google’s Mobile Reporting and perhaps the boldest idea I heard was to approach website redesigns by designing for mobile first.

However, while “mobile” still turns heads and gets people talking some of the most attended and engaging sessions that I saw were on the basics such as Selecting an Association Management System, Improving Website User Experience, conversations on Web Governance and more.  This suggests to me that before we embrace mobile technology, we better get our ducks in a row and establish a good technology foundation to build on – and then add a wicked mobile experience.

Everybody is doing Social. But many aren’t quite sure what they are doing.

In Holly Ross’s presentation she asked how many orgs had Facebook and LinkedIn pages.  All the hands went up.  She then asked how many had a strategy – and most of them went down.

The past few years have seen lots of presentations saying you should be doing social media and many organizations have started. However many are moving forward without a clearly defined strategy and what they want to accomplish.  I think most organizations need to see more case studies of defined strategy, implementation and results so they can plan for what they are going to do with these new tools.

For those of you that weren’t there, I highly recommend you check out her presentation and walk through some of the steps she identifies in her presentation.

Accessibility is the next big thing that no one is paying attention to.

Perhaps the most enlightening session I attended was presented by two lawyers from Venable LLP on the upcoming rulings from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and website accessibility.

Here’s the quick recap (and link to their handouts):

  • DOJ is creating new guidelines about websites accessible to the disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • DOJ is collecting comments and opinions in advance of the rule making (you can comment here).
  • The opinion of the lawyers (at least what I heard) is that DOJ is taking this seriously, but at some point it’s going to affect a lot of association websites.

There was lots of discussion in the room as to what this means for us in the online world and whether or not it’s going to affect our sites.  And for most of the questions, the answer was “we’ll have to see.”

It made me realize that website accessibility is being thought of and considered by a few forward thinking web developers and associations.  However, based on the volume of questions (and concern I heard in the voices), there are a lot of people who haven’t even started thinking about it.  They should as I’m sure it’s going to affect many aspects of our industry fairly soon.

Side note to ASAE:  If you are going to allow lawyers to present at a technology conference, PLEASE pair them with a technology person who can interpret for us geeks in the room.  They did their best, but their knowledge only went so deep in a room of people who love HTML code.

All in all, it was a great two days that told me more about what I need to go learn about going forward rather than filling my brain with new things I learned at the conference. And that’s perhaps the biggest value of a show like this, it helps us chart a path forward rather than focusing on the here and now.


Comments for ASAE Tech 2010 Takeaways – Mobile, Social and Accessibility


Who is YOUR LeBron?

Written by Ray van Hilst on . Posted in Association, Association Best Practices, Avectra Partners

Confession time… I hate professional basketball.  Too much money, too much showmanship and too long a season.  (I do love college hoops though.)
And yet, my eyes were glued to the TV last week as LeBron James returned to Cleveland. I rooted for the Cavs to open an old-fashioned can-o-whup-ass and show that impertinent spoiled brat that they could do just fine without him #thankyouverymuch.
Alas, the final score?  118-90. Miami showed them who’s the boss…  Bummer.
So much for building a strong organization that could survive the loss of your superstar.
And then I saw this week’s announcement about Ben Martin leaving the Virginia Association of REALTORS to join NFi Studios as Product & Community Manager.  My first reaction was excitement for NFi to have such an innovative power user directing the development of the MemberFuse platform.
Then I thought about the organization he had just left.  Who is going to fill Ben’s shoes? I’ve read Ben’s blog for years and am confident that he built capacity in the organization and while there will be a hiccup, things will go on.
But many organizations don’t think that far ahead.
For example, ASHA’s Maggie McGary experimented with a position at Avectra last year.  While everyone at Avectra loved having her there, Maggie and I noticed the impact on ASHA as their online communities and engagement fell silent – no Facebook content or comments (and ensuing site traffic), no Tweets, nada.  There was no one there to pick up the slack.
(Maggie eventually realized that ASHA was the right place for her and went back to an even better role with best wishes on all sides.)
And while I have continued to blog for Avectra, my departure this past June created a vacuum that is just now starting to be back-filled.  (Check out @patrickfdorsey and @avectraleo on Twitter and the Avectra Facebook page.)
So what do you do?  Do you leave the keys to your social media kingdom in the hands of one person who could leave for greener pastures at a moment’s notice?
And it isn’t just your social media rockstar to worry about.   What about that database administrator who knows the ins, outs and every query of your entire association management system?  What about your webmaster who is the only one with the master login or ability to edit a web page?
The reality is any of us could win the lottery tomorrow and decide to take off on a grand adventure.  So you need to plan ahead and prepare.  Here are a few considerations:

Technology is Everyone’s Job

Next week is the ASAE Technology Conference.  I’m sure your CIO is attending.  What about the rest of your staff?  Your CIO looks at tech tools thinking “servers, ROI, firewalls, security.”  Other staff think about “faster event registration, efficient billing, improved customer service, more sales, etc.”  I wrote last week about sending multiple staff to the show.  I believe it’s a great investment that every organization should consider.

Make the Skill Sets institutional Knowledge

Todd Carpenter at the National Association of REALTORS commented on the SocialFish blog about Who is Doing Your Social Media? that he is institutionalizing the use of social media.  He’s making sure he is sharing the knowledge so anyone can jump in at a moment’s notice.  Do the same in your organization?
Encourage staff from multiple departments to engage and use all the tools you have.  Not just social media. Get them trained on your association management software, event registration system, content management software and more.  If someone leaves, you now have built capacity to fill the void and keep the business running.

Make Training a Priority

Your staff is busy.  We get that.  But if you don’t force a time-out and make training a priority, they’ll never learn the system.
Build a schedule and make sure people get regular training.  You can bring in your vendors to do a deep-dive, hands on session or have brown-bag show-and-tells presented by your staff to demonstrate how they use the system and get results.  Either way, schedule it and make it happen.
The sports world has led the way and shown that we live in a free agent economy where your superstar staff member can leave for more money/respect/responsibility.  Are you prepared to lose them?
Or are you going to roll over like the Cavaliers did when Lebron came back to his old stomping grounds?
For more reading check out these posts:
Speaking of bring all your staff to the ASAE Technology Conference, make sure they all stop by booth  #215 and check out all the new things that Avectra has to offer.
If you’ve followed this space, you know that they have introduced a number of new and innovative products including integrated social communities for associations, vertical specific applications like an AMS for REALTOR associations, and enhanced technologies that help your staff work more efficiently.


Comments for Who is YOUR LeBron?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010 by Fred:
Not hatin’ but I can’t believe Ben is this famous. Funny. I KNEW HIM FIRST.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010 by @bkmcae Ben Martin NFi Studios:
This is quite a flattering comparison, and in the same vein as Fred’s comment, I’m not sure it’s warranted (but I’ll take it, anyway, heheheh). VAR will get along just fine without me. Virtually everything I’ve accomplished there is a result of my willingness to say “Yes” and to allow the smart, creative, hardworking people around me the freedom do their thing as they see best. There’s no question in my mind: Amanda, Andrew and Christine on my team will kick butt after I leave.
Thursday, December 9, 2010 by Ray van Hilst:
And that is EXACTLY my point. Along the way you demonstrated, coaxed, coached and showed the way so that you weren’t the only one. And you left behind a capable team that can keep functioning and doing the same great social media work you initiated. It’s an example I think many other organizations should take note of and emulate.

A Technology Blizzard is Coming

Written by Ray van Hilst on . Posted in Association, Association Best Practices

The 2010 ASAE Technology Conferenceis only two weeks away.  Fortunately, I don’t think you’ll need to pack snowshoes in order to get to the convention center this year.

But make no mistake about it.  There is still a blizzard coming….

A blizzard of new information, strategies, tools and technologies that are going to affect how your association does its business.

The reality is that the pace of technology development and adoption is speeding up.  If there’s one thing we know for sure about change in association technology – it’s constant.

Concepts such as software-as-a-service, virtualized servers, and XML web services that were advanced concepts a few years ago are now commonplace.  But a bigger shift has occurred where what used to be considered “IT’s problem” are now owned by multiple departments through the organization.

  • The publishing team has to care and know about search engine optimization
  • The membership department has to love databases and association management software
  • The learning department is embracing learning management systems and CEU tracking
  • Customer service is actively engaged with social media and social community platforms.

And don’t even get me started on the merits of a mobile apps for your association.

So how should one hunker down and prepare for this blizzard of information? (Sorry, you can’t just run to the store for bread and milk this time.)

Here’s what I’m doing:

  • Scope out the sessions in advance and plan your time.  There are many great sessions covering new and emerging technologies as well as well-established ones that you might be considering.
  • Bring along a friend.  You can’t expect one person to see all perspectives for how something would apply to them.  While this is a “Technology” conference, make sure to include the users of the technology so you can chart a plan on how to implement.  This includes membership, marketing, customer service, and events staff.
  • Visit the vendors.  This one may be obvious since it’s being posted on a vendor blog.  But association technology vendors are constantly developing and introducing new tools.  Ask them what’s new, what’s being adopted by their customers, what’s in development.  This way you can start planning ahead and connect what you are hearing in the sessions with what is on the technology horizon.
  • Network. Network. Network.  Get to know the other attendees.  They might have solutions to the challenges you are facing (or you might be able to solve theirs which always brings good technology karma).

Last but not least, spend some time thinking about your organization and the issues you want to solve.  Prepare some questions and scenarios about how technology could solve them.  If you have a core group of 4 or 5 questions and you ask multiple people you might get varying answers.  But at least you’ll have answers.


While you are at the show, make sure to stop by booth  #215 and check out all the new things that Avectra has to offer.

If you’ve followed this space, you know that they have introduced a number of new and innovative products including integrated social communities for associations, vertical specific applications like an AMS for REALTOR associations, and enhanced technologies that help your staff work more efficiently.