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I need to access my member database from another system. Does the AMS have functionality that can help access necessary data?

It’s not uncommon to want to share (export) data collected in your association management system (AMS) with another system.  For instance, it is a common requirement to flow transactions from membership and renewal fees, registration fees, and products sold online into your accounting system.

Other examples of where you might want to have data move between systems would be your AMS and MLS (multiple listing service) if you are an association for realtors, or being able to move contacts between your email marketing solution and your AMS.

The truth is any kind of integration is do-able; but what typically drives the decision on what to integrate or customize is how much it will cost.  So here are five guidelines to consider as you plan your systems configuration.

1. Determine what integrations the AMS offers out of the box

It is fairly common for the AMS to have built-in integration with a collection of 3rd party solutions such as eCommerce, eMarketing and events management solutions.  When these integrations are built-in, it typically means that there is a relationship between the software publishers and the functionality is due to customer demand and, as a result, is well-tested and reliable.

2. Define the requirements of your organization and prioritize the list (need to have, nice to have, etc.)

Make a list of what you need to have and what would be nice to have.  This will help you choose the AMS which provides the best fit for your association, and it will provide you with different levels of investment.  It could be that you can afford all of your requirements.  But if the pricing suddenly becomes prohibitive, you can look at bringing costs down by removing the nice to have functionality from your list.

3. Investigate what integration and customization will cost prior to implementing the AMS

If you ask, “Can X by integrated with Y?” the answer will always be “yes.”  Today’s platforms and technology make pretty much anything possible. The more important question is “How much will it cost me to integrate X and Y?”  As mentioned before, the best answer is that the integration is built into the system and there is no additional cost.  There might be other situations where the integration is not built-in, requiring some customization, but the additional cost is not prohibitive. Based on the time savings you gain, the cost of integration or customization can be a good investment.  In other cases, the cost may be too high for your organization based on the return on investment.  As long as you know the cost in advance, you can make the right decision for your association.

4. Be clear on what might result as a result of numerous customizations

Having dealt with the cost as noted in point 3, it’s also important to know what impact the integration or customization will have going forward.  Will heavy customization mean that rather than accessing your AMS in the cloud you will need to invest in an on-premise version that will require an investment in servers and network infrastructure?  Will the customization impact future upgrades of the core AMS system?  Sometimes heavily customized systems will work on one version of the software but will not work immediately on new versions of the software.  In these cases it is critical to know in advance how to proceed with upgrades to prevent problems with your system.

5. Select a technology partner who understands both the project (the software) and the context (how associations work)

It’s difficult to completely execute steps 1 through 4 without an experienced technology partner who has a thorough understanding of the software and how associations work.  We cannot stress enough how important both areas of expertise are.  Someone could be very experienced with the technology but if they don’t understand the context of what an association needs to have to operate and accommodate their membership, it can be a disaster.  Likewise, someone could be the foremost authority on association operations but if they don’t have the software expertise, costs can quickly escalate and prolong AMS deployment with frustrating trial and error.

The spectrum of what associations chose to do with their AMS ranges from vanilla (using the solution ‘as is’ with no tweaks) to highly customized software to map with organization-specific processes.  The good news is, with careful planning and a trusted technology partner, you can find the absolute right balance for your association.

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