How to Onboard to a New Association Management Software Platform

By Association Adviser staff • December 12, 2019

There are a lot of (intimidating) steps to implementing or switching to a new AMS. But if you have a plan and the people power, adding a new AMS platform to your association’s tech stack is not only possible, but fruitful. At ASAE’s Technology Exploration Conference earlier this month, Chris Sanyer, director of membership for the Association of University Programs in Health Administration and Jane Nassiri, director of customer success for MemberSuite, explained one process associations should follow to ensure a smooth transition to this new technology.

Tech icons in circles on a futuristic screen connected by lines with a man pointing to Bucky ball in the middle

1.     Communicate with all stakeholders

Start with plenty of communication. You should be communicating externally with your vendor about your association’s data needs and goals, and how their product can satisfy those goals. Don’t be afraid to ask for something – a report type, a data manipulation capability – during the build process. The worst your vendor will say is ‘no.’ It’s much better to ask for platform-related capabilities up front or during the build process than at the end of the build when most, if not all, pieces are already in place.

Internally, you should speak with your staff about your goals as well as how the AMS will improve internal processes. Be clear about the improved outcomes your association expects to enjoy as a result of using the AMS, and the training and usage it will take to achieve those outcomes. Change can be difficult, but if your staff knows the motivation for the change, the process can be easier to internalize. Share the onboarding timeline with your staff so they know when to expect changeovers in their daily workflows.

Finally, remember to communicate these upcoming changes with your members! Make sure they know why your organization is adopting this new platform and how it will benefit members. Will they be able to use a single sign-in for all your resources? Will renewing memberships become easier? Communicate the benefits of using your new AMS and they too will be more receptive to this change in daily business processes.

2.     Establish solid partnerships

The partnership between your association and the AMS vendor should be built during the implementation phase and then maintained for the duration of your association’s use of the AMS. If you don’t have an implementation team yet, it’s time to form one that will drive the execution, stick to your timeline and manage expectations on both the vendor and association sides. Here are the roles to include:

Project Manager

Assign a project manager to the implementation process. This is someone who will live and breathe the day-to-day work of implementation. They will attend all calls or meetings, collect and convey association needs to the vendor, and work with your IT team to ensure compatibility with other programs your association uses. They are the liaison between executive sponsor and the vendor, and field questions about project scope, goals, hiccups and progress.

They should also validate all data, or conduct quality checks on the data your association plans to import into the new AMS. Does your association still use that field? What does a certain data point tell us? The project manager should understand the answers to all these types of questions, discard or remediate data flows that aren’t working for your association anymore, and test every data flow in the new system to ensure everything shows up as it should on the new platform.

Your project manager should be part of a customer success team that meets regularly after implementation. These meetings will likely need to be frequent – weekly – when you first go live with the new AMS. As time goes on and your staff becomes more comfortable navigating the platform, you should be able to hold meetings less often – biweekly, then monthly or quarterly. Nassiri recommends holding customer success team meetings no less frequently than quarterly for the duration of your AMS’s life because it’s important for your association to learn about new features and upgrades to the platform as long as you’re using it. It’s also important for your association to communicate developing pain points and suggestions for how to improve the platform further. Software is a somewhat fluid product meant to continually respond to evolving needs.

Executive Sponsor

This person is a member of the C-suite who will champion the new AMS to the rest of the executive team and possibly your board of directors. The executive sponsor relays information about your new AMS’s capabilities to the C-suite and board.

A diverse representation of your staff

To understand all the ways your association will need to use the new AMS, it’s necessary to convene a small group of advisers who represent all major departments of your association. It’s important to have most, if not all, areas of your association represented so everyone knows why this change is important and how to navigate the association once it’s in place. Plus, people from different areas will have different perspectives and questions about what the platform will do for your association (this seems inferred above). You want to try and anticipate as many use cases and potential pitfalls as possible during the build process so that business can continue as usual  (this doesn’t seem necessary) when the new AMS is in place. This group of people can skew a certain area of association operations if your association works heavily in one area (say, events) over another.

Information Technology

Your IT point person can advise about the compatibility of the new AMS with other software systems in play, can test the new AMS as it is implemented, and will be helping you handle day-to-day issues once you launch.

3.     Embrace change

Start with why: What are you trying to solve? Why? What do you want to achieve with a new AMS?

Encourage your staff and members to get away from “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” because if you allow that attitude to linger, you won’t  (doesn’t seem necessary to have both progress and advance, seems redundant) advance as an association. One way to overcome resistance to change is to have a plan. People can handle change better if they know there’s a plan, and a timeline for implementing that plan.

Define the upcoming software changes, and then explain how they will benefit everyone affected. Change won’t be as intimidating once you explain its intention.

4.     Identify key influences

Identify the key internal influences on your onboarding process, and then set performance objectives. These objectives should stem from the platform’s capabilities combined with your goals. Ask yourself: Where can you realize cost savings? Time savings?

One key influence should be home-grown: Designate one or more internal system administrators. These are the daily “super users” of your AMS. They will be the individuals in charge of:

  • Registering users in your AMS;
  • Setting privilege levels;
  • Managing member interactions;
  • Updating reports ;
  • Training your staff;
  • Identify defects; and
  • Communicating system updates.

Your super users should be:

  1. Communicators who relay updates to your staff about the AMS and other changes.
  2. Teachers who train colleagues on your new AMS. Your staff will look to them for everything from how to send an email from the platform, to how to analyze reports.
  3. Leaders: In terms of using the AMS, the rest of your staff will look to them when deciding whether and how to adopt the system.
  4. Technically skilled: They will need to know how to map data fields to outputs, identify defects, and connect data integrations so your staff can use the AMS more efficiently across programs.

5. Training:

The last component to a successful AMS onboarding process is ongoing training. Training is important because it improves your existing data management skills. Your super users and others who regularly use your AMS should continue their software education to stay on top of upcoming upgrades, new regulations, developing problems and the solutions your association will need to meet them head on.

You will want to hear about new features and ideas for the AMS, learn how to achieve increased process effectiveness, and help others master the software so they can enjoy increased efficiencies and job satisfaction. Training is an investment in yourself and your staff. It can be group or individual, in-person or remote, in blocks of time or an hour at a time.

Onboarding to a new association management software system can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be impossibly stressful. Have a strategy, a team of champions to assist in executing it , and timeline for implementation and your association will be enjoying the efficiencies of an AMS in no time.