Digital Transformation Research: We Need Your Help!

Written by Don Dea on March 16, 2018

Digital transformation is a key strategic issue that is blasting through the commercial world, resonating among business leaders, academic/business programs, and on the tips of most consultants’ tongues – but it is a different, and difficult, matter to pinpoint the actual digital progress being made in associations. During our Advisory Group meetings for digitalNow 2018 Executive Summit, this topic was emphasized as a critical issue for association leaders, and indeed since digital transformation springs from the convergence of a whole new generation of technologies, capabilities, possibilities and expectations, it has been on our radar for a while. The convergence of these factors (IOT, AI, Big Data, AR/VR) raised the bar of strategic importance and became the theme for the digitalNow this year: but what is digital transformation, and what does it mean for associations?


In the commercial sector, transformation tends to entail changes at the organizational, product/service, and operational level: being built for agility, the structure of commercial companies provides a more nimble foundation for flexibility and adaptation. For associations, the transformation we often witness is at the process automation level of digitizing individual tasks, projects, or roles. While an overhaul of your AMS or a redesign of your website, for example, might be a crucial step in the evolution of your organization, it does not necessarily in itself represent transformation. From the higher-level viewpoint of your business model, real transformation is about reinventing value, product/services, culture, and expanding the boundaries of the industry or profession. Top-line considerations surrounding digital transformation will therefore focus on an advancing association’s mission, on their role in the space, and on their core commitments and values.


Transforming digitally is not a question of if, but when. We are in the midst of rapid change taking place in our wider environment, and technological advances and convergence will continue to impact our organizations, our members, stakeholders, industries, and professions across the board. By realigning our visions and values in the face of this sea change, we can ensure that our associations are not just being reactive to the turning tide. We could be, and should be, leveraging the innovations being sparked around us to our advantage, spearheading the transformation rather than merely keeping up. Most importantly for many associations, one of the core assets has been serving as a “trusted source” or in some cases the “authoritative source “ in support of the mission and domain. To sustain this asset requires diligence in reinventing relevance as a trusted source.


Despite the divergences between commercial, governmental, public, private and non-profit sectors in terms of structure, resources, and responsibilities, the common denominator across these different spheres is leadership. It is through a focus on leadership that we can begin to imagine and implement transformation in a meaningful way in our associations. Leadership starts with a recognition of what is important; of the most significant things driving decision-making across the organization. Having the right talent and culture is core in communicating and creating change organization-wide. This requires leaders and volunteers to establish shared values and organizational alignment, to assess talent and training, to be transparent in their mission, and to inspire buy-in towards a cultural shift.

Where do you come in?

I serve as part of a DTRA Working Group of CEOS and subject matter experts, supported by an advisory group of CEOs, that is focused on developing a Digital Transformation Readiness Assessment Tool/Model and compiling best practices and insights with the aim both of sharing our findings at the upcoming digitalNow summit in Austin, May 7-9, and more broadly of developing a “digital transformation model” for associations which will continue with expanding best practices and data sets for comparative understanding in future releases.

You are therefore invited to participate in our research, by completing this survey, and supporting us with driving associations forward alongside this accelerating environment of technological innovation, disruption, and change. All participants will receive the Survey Results and Report.

Your contributions will be invaluable in creating the framework and context upon which we can provide the right language and compile the information necessary to advance this crucial conversation. With this in place, we can begin the reinvention process necessary for genuine transformation.

DTRA Working Group:

Tom Loughlin, Past Executive Director, ASME

Ellen Moore, Past Chief Education Officer, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, AAOS

Pamela Kaul, President, Association Strategies

Joel Albizo, Chief Executive Officer, CLARB

Mark Dorsey, Executive Director & CEO, CSI

Don Dea, Co-Founder, Fusion Productions

DTRA Advisory Group:

Carla Balakgie, President & CEO, National Automatic Merchandising Association

Anh Phillips, Digital Transformation Research Lead, Deloitte

Chris McEntee, Executive Director/CEO, American Geophysical Union

Matt Loeb, CEO, ISACA

Dawn Sweeney, President, National Restaurant Association

Kathy Trahan, President/CEO Alliance Safety Council

Paul Pomerantz, CEO, American Society of Anesthesiologists