Q What is the role of technology at associations in the year ahead?

A Making the meeting process easier, better, and cheaper for the attendee or the association. We're past “Gee, I'm panicking because everyone else it doing it.” We're past “Let's have something glitzy for our younger people.” Now people are asking “How is technology going to help our brand? How is it going to help us leverage our content and communities?” And guess what, understanding these questions takes time, good planning, and resources.

Q So where is the most critical need for tech development?

A The heart of the next technology boom for associations will be to improve their ability to leverage their brand and content, and then personalize and customize brand and content to the different member segments. On the tactical side, you'll see greater integration of technology and of individual data and knowledge bases throughout organizations.

Once they get there, there's going to be much better use of data-mining because there will be much better data to mine. Then they will look at how to use technology to deliver better information to people when and how they want it.

Relative to meetings, you're going to hear a lot about master online databases, various ASP models and software packages for registering online, online surveys, webcasting. All of those are just tactical point solutions. Do I see a growth in PDAs? Absolutely. Do I see a growth in measurement surveys online? Absolutely. But all of these independently are tactical issues. What I'm saying is they'll be all integrated together.

Q Can you give an example?

A Associations will be able use the Internet to do better preplanning and lower their costs by using private and secured sites that track their stakeholder objectives, track their timelines and budgets, allow them to survey and track their survey measurements, and actually produce reports that demonstrate their ROI.

They'll be able to do surveys upfront to get input on what they should be talking about and what they should be measuring during and after the meeting. And they'll be able to integrate their communities after the event. If you continue to look at point solutions, you're always going to get stuck asking “Is value really being added? How much can I spend?”

Q Describe the benefits of integration.

A On a strategic level, once you begin to integrate, you begin to collect data on attendees, let's say, that help you develop better products, that help you understand what members care about and why. Loyalty and content issues.

The structural level is where the changing role of the association meeting professional is going to be. If we understand that our meetings are about leveraging our brand, content, and community, and using technology to do that, meeting professionals have to break through their traditional silos. They have to interact with the education people more and with all levels of their organization. Right now, most associations are very siloed.

On a tactical level, integration means that we have to understand the options available. For example, we need to understand that e-learning a year and a half ago meant big expensive customized systems. E-learning today is cheaper and easier to implement.

Q What about technology on-site at the meeting?

A On-site you're going to see more use of PDAs, and not just for downloading agendas. More sophisticated, easier to use, and cheaper applications will allow you to plan who you'll visit at the trade show and to get just the information that you need at the booth. And exhibitors will be able to better track the results of their show contacts.

Let's take the digitalNow conference. [See sidebar below.] A year ago we set it up so that within an hour of the keynote presentations, we had archived Web video of those keynotes, the slides, the handouts, and key questions. Two years ago, all that was new stuff, but now you're going to see more of that and in a much more sophisticated manner.

Q Are associations finding real value in virtual meetings?

A Virtual meetings have their place, but we're going to do a better job setting them up, facilitating them, and training attendees on how to get on and not get lost. They'll be better user interfaces, and I think we're going to provide better content and agendas. And today's webcasting software is so much better and cheaper. Before, to have live webcasting or even archived webcasting it cost $20,000 to $30,000. Now you're talking about $12,000 and less.

Q So the new, new thing will be…

A Probably not a new killer app. The new, new thing is that people are going to understand that they have to look at the entire value chain of their meeting, figure out where best to use technologies, and figure out how best to integrate them.”

Deepening Relationships

Geared to senior-level executives and focused on associations in the digital age, the fourth annual digitalNow conference will convene February 27 to March 1 at the Disney Institute in Orlando.

Hugh Lee, president of Fusion Productions, which sponsors the conference along with the Disney Institute and the American Society of Association Executives, explains the 2003 conference mission: “What we're asking at the next conference is how do you increase member loyalty and deepen relationships? We'll look into how to integrate your technology and your physical world to gather that data, how to use data-mining, and how to create customized experiences for members.” The event is expected to draw 200 to 300 senior-level association executives to hear, among others:

  • Fred Reichheld, author of Loyalty Rules! How Leaders Build Lasting Relationships in the Digital Age
  • Thomas Stewart, author of The Wealth of Knowledge: Intellectual Capital and the Twenty-First Century Organization
  • Patricia Seybold, author of Customers.com