asae_technology_conference_2014Last month, I attended ASAE’s Technology Conference and Expo 2014, held outside of Washington. This was my first time attending this annual event, and I was curious to see if the organizers would be able to focus on technology that pertained to associations, or whether it would be ‘just another technology conference.’ I was pleased to find a great balance of meat-and-potatoes tech talk coupled with highly association-specific details.

The sessions were divided into five “Educational Pathways”:

  • Content
  • C-Suite
  • Leadership + Management
  • Next Generation Learning
  • Platforms + Applications

Since it was my first time at the event, I decided to sample all of the pathways to get a taste for each. The sessions varied widely: some had single speakers while others had as many as five, and they ranged from formal to highly informal. There was even a scheduled “Provocative Discussion.” The organizers did a great job of creating a scope that would be attractive to any association executive, and to hold everyone’s attention for two days.

Reggie Henry, ASAE’s CIO, opened the general session by talking about the relationship between associations and Information Technology. In the past, IT was merely a necessary expense that helped organizations with the mechanics of membership and book-keeping. Now, it has become a vital tool in capturing and maintaining members through what Reggie described as “Member Engagement,” a term that I would hear over and over in most of the sessions I attended. If the association can touch a member through technology, they are more likely to retain them as a member. Educational opportunities and certification testing are key examples of this kind of engagement,

Reggie also introduced a fascinating technology that was being tested out by ASAE at this conference. TurnoutNow has created a system in which Bluetooth “Beacons” are deployed across an area to track the movement of participants with the TurnoutNow app installed. Reggie asked everyone to enable Bluetooth on their phones so that the beacons could collect anonymized data to demonstrate the feasibility of the technology. I stopped by their booth on the expo floor, but more about that later.

Reggie then introduced Peter High, President of Metis Strategy, LLC, to deliver the keynote address. Peter was an engaging speaker who talked about how critical IT has become to the success of organizations. He pointed out that a paradigm shift in the late 90s brought IT out of the shadows and into the forefront of corporate strategies, often driving growth strategy and business models.


Peter then covered several examples of IT savvy companies completely disrupting stable industries, such as Netflix and Amazon, and then spoke about the opportunity for advancement of CIOs. In the past, CIO was a career’s last stop, but many non-technology companies are now being led by their former CIOs, such as Quantas, Olin, A&P, and even Red Robin. Peter concluded by talking about his book, Implementing World Class IT Strategy, in which he explains his 5-point pyramid strategy. It was all quite inspirational.

The first day ended with a spirited “Provocative Discussion” about the future of AMSs (Association Management Systems, the ERPs of the association world). Generally there was a lot more agreement than dissention amongst the knowledgeable panel, which was comprised of Mark Dorsey, David Gammel, Teri Carden, Loretta DeLuca, Sig VanDamme and Mark Patterson. There was agreement that CRM vendors are becoming effective at building association features on top of core CRM products, and that this is leading to a disruption in the sector. Middleware systems are becoming vital to integrating disparate systems in associations’ portfolios, and automatic updates are key to minimizing TCO.

There was a discussion about the importance of ‘big data,’ and the general agreement that the data sets that most associations generate are not particularly large, by industry standards. There was more agreement that when developing IT strategies in 2015, mobile technology should be the first consideration, and certainly not an afterthought. Lastly, everyone agreed that there are two factors that lead to a successful system implementation: an effective vendor, and an effective customer.

Each panel member was asked to close with a prediction about what is next for AMSs. There was quite a span of ideas presented:

  • Chatter / Yammer
  • Enterprise workflow tools
  • Gamification
  • Adaptive User Interfaces (machine learning)
  • Middleware support

Many of the other sessions were quite specialized and engaging. Jeff Cobb of Tagoras did a fascinating presentation on Massive, Micro, and Flipped training. Massive LMSs are generating some stunning statistics. Coursera, for instance, has had over 10 million course-takers. He then gave examples of vendors that provide micro learning solutions, both in terms of content delivery and quiz tools. He wrapped up with an explanation of “flipped” learning—using technology to teach a student through content presentation before the live training, to maximize the value of the instructor’s time. Jeff’s presentation was thought-provoking.

Another favorite session was delivered by Dean Comber and Tim Rutler from the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists. Their topic was the creation and evolution of a project management office (PMO) within an organization, and they were a couple of guys from Chicago who know how to keep it real. They used their PMO as a case study, talking about their challenges and successes as they stood up their successful PMO. They managed to sneak in plenty of beer and Bears references, so they came off as very down-to-earth but effective in their approach to project management.

I want to circle back to the TurnoutNow vendor that I spoke of earlier. They were present strictly to be evaluated by ASAE—none of the attendees had to install anything on their phones. They had deployed 267 “beacons” that were scattered throughout the conference hall and session rooms. The beacons collected data from passing phones and then the information got to a central collection system. I stopped by their booth, and they showed me the traffic at my Web Courseworks booth, and the graph correlated well to when I expected traffic in my area, so the hardware technology seems solid. I will be very interested to see what they can do when participants install a conference app on their phones. I imagine that the days of barcodes and even radio-frequency identification (RFID) are short-lived on expo floors.

In closing, I want to recommend ASAE’s technology conference to association executives that are responsible for IT, or even general strategy. ASAE’s leadership has done a great job of collecting speakers with topical subject matter, and I look forward to attending next year.