Interview: The Surprising Benefits of In-House Technology Development

Written by Ellen MacAskill on April 12, 2018

A decade ago, NCARB (National Council of Architectural Registration Boards) set out on a mission to modernize their whole organization through technology. The goal was to have a single source of truth that would support every internal process and provide the right information to the right person at the right time.

This involved going deep into every aspect of their work and identifying pain points - and one that stood out was their difficulty in coordinating the proper makeup of volunteer teams.

Chief Information and Innovation Officer, Guillermo Ortiz de Zarate, explained “Our hundreds of volunteers were having a huge impact on our mission, but the process of creating volunteer teams was painful, bureaucratic, and inefficient.”

“We decided to focus on getting the best combination of individuals into a specific volunteer group to improve the outcome of that group’s work. We needed people with different skill levels, experiences, cultural backgrounds and ethnicities within each team. This required the design of the culture of these teams to be strategic.”

Finding nothing on the market that solved their pervasive problem, NCARB took matters into their own hands, by building their very own tool. How does it work?

“It starts with understanding the strategic role of the team and the direct business need that the team is set to accomplish. It could be a committee doing blue sky research about the future of a profession, or writing exam questions, or a group of volunteers designing national standards. What follows is the strategic design of the topology of the intended team. What combination of people needs to make up this team? The tool then allows team captains to compete for the talent that best matches its role, and obtain the best curated team the talent pool can provide.

The tool also facilitates logistics in terms of managing the application, appointment, acceptance, and evaluation of each individual volunteer.

As Guillermo explained, “The volunteer facilitation process for our staff liaisons got easier and more painless with the tool, and the effectiveness of the teams grew. It was a better experience all around.”

Initially, this was intended entirely for internal use, but NCARB discovered potential for a larger impact: “Every time someone from another organization got a glimpse of what we built, they would jump up and want to learn more to understand how we did it. We became convinced that this was an opportunity to help people beyond NCARB.”

It became clear that developing and marketing the software to other associations struggling to solve the same problem would not only recoup their initial investment, but could potentially serve as an additional source of revenue to be put toward further improving their members’ experience.

Lean principles were an integral part of the development of the commercial product. NCARB identified assumptions they had made about the tool and its features, making sure they were validated before investing time and resources into Lineup.

Fast forward to today, and NCARB has just proudly launched their tool for external use. Lineup is designed to make the process of building teams with the right expertise.

Is your association sitting on a piece of technology that others could benefit from? Harnessing a business mindset can generate revenue, create returns for your members, and help others in the association space all at once.

And of course, if the problem of coordinating volunteer teams sounds painfully familiar to you, you can demo Lineup and see how NCARB solved the problem!

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