It’s time for associations to think of a digital transformation as a business model transformation, which means business strategy, technology strategy and — most often — a cultural transformation.

A well thought-out, long-term digital pathway can ensure the viability of our organizations, and help us reshape the customer value experience to meet customer needs and preferences that are being shaped by the likes of Amazon, Uber, Apple, Tesla and Nest.

Digital transformation is more of a journey than a destination and requires continuous focus on four areas, which we discovered and discussed in an ACE conversation led by ASAE Chief Information and Engagement Officer Reggie Henry, International Monetary Fund Principal Enterprise Architect Heather Diehl and Duane Capuano, the founder of Success Roads Consulting and a senior consultant at Tecker International.

  1. STRATEGIC FOCUS

Digital transformation must be aligned with an organization’s overall strategic plan. It needs to move us from current conditions to future results, factoring in environmental changes and the competition. At the outset, we must acknowledge digital transformation goes way beyond an IT project, and it needs more than an operational budget allocation. 

“We need a new AMS, let’s shop” is not the right opening to plan the digital transformation journey. When the need for new technology comes up, you can almost always track it back to a business process — not a technology — that isn’t working. If you need a technology refresh, or a new software licensing contract, then start by asking if the current technology advances organizational mission. Staff may struggle long and hard with what they see as a digital transformation process, but if that process does not result in outcomes that members can see and benefit from, it is really not transformational.

A technology strategy cannot be designed without non-techies because it must enable multiple  users to have better experience.

Digital transformation is not a one-and-done endeavor. It’s not about a complete makeover, but about continuous improvement. We need to shift our mindset from “When will this be DONE?” to “What’s the next step in our ongoing journey?”

Business capability and technology systems don’t come cheap. We must budget for technology but remember it’s not an all or nothing deal, nor can we build a strategy, wait a year for a budget, and find ourselves behind, again. We need to think “lean,” and learn to fail fast in small increments by making sure it’s what the customer wants.

  1. CUSTOMER FOCUS

Creating a unified customer experience, despite multiple platforms, is the biggest part of digital transformation. To drive strategic priorities, we need to meet modern customer expectations.

At ASAE, the digital transformation journey started with asking two simple questions:

  1. What do our members want or need from us to help them do their jobs better?
  2. How do we simplify our members’ journeys from need to solution?

Being digital means being closely attuned to how customer decision journeys are evolving. That means understanding how customer behaviors and expectations develop inside and outside our association, and even our sector. We need to get ahead of trends that can deliver value. Today, we have five generations in the workforce for the first time ever, and we know millennials and Gen Zs won’t tolerate a “sucky” (fragmented and complicated digital) experience.

We need to connect our digital assets so members can easily find and use them. A digital strategy must include an enterprise-wide content strategy with a central taxonomy, strategic management, distribution and access.

  1. CULTURE FOCUS

An association needs major cultural adoption for any infusion of technology to demonstrate value. While we emphasize a “digital first” approach to all activities, we must be careful with the messaging so the concept of digital transformation does not become scary or overwhelming.

We need to focus more on changing the mindset before the technology because technology is always changing. We need to develop a digital mindset that institutionalizes cross-functional collaboration, flattens hierarchies and builds environments to encourage the generation of new ideas, with perspectives from the outside world.

We need to improve the overall efficiency of operations and focus on making tech tools usable. Many new tools bring the ability to automate the mundane, allowing staff to focus their time on the unique business capabilities that drive value for customers. But thinking that tools can magically create business value is an obstacle to digital transformation. Some staff may need to be re-skilled—to develop the critical thinking skills and open mindset that innovation requires. 

As associations become less about the mundane and more about the value-add, technology requires a fresh approach. 

  1. DATA FOCUS

Relevance is the currency of the digital age. This requires making decisions — based on intelligence — that deliver personalized and relevant content and experiences.

But do we have the right intelligence, informed by the right data? Often, we’re swimming in too much data and we don’t know how to use it properly.

Sometimes, our data is too insular. We only look at what is coming from us rather than what is coming at us.

We also need to focus on the future, not the past. 

Ultimately, digital transformation must be founded on the answers to a robust set of business-centric questions. It must help us see tech infusion as not just a process but the path to a better customer experience that showcases the unique value of an association.

TOOLS YOU CAN USE

  • The Digital Maturity Assessment asks organizations to evaluate themselves against multiple categories along a continuum (from skeptic to disruptor) and gives you an idea of the capabilities that could be realized via digital maturity.
  • The Workplace Genome® Culture Assessment measures eight culture markersagility, collaboration, growth, inclusion, innovation, technologies, transparency, and solutions and the eight building blocks that comprise each one, along a continuum of traditional to contemporary to futurist, providing actionable insights.
  • The RACI Model helps to define organizational roles and responsibilities during a transformation process. It designates staff as Responsible, Accountable, Consulted or Informed, and helps to manage stakeholder expectations at all levels.
  • Prophet’s Six Stages of Digital Transformation provides a good framework for understanding where an organization might be in the digital transformation process.
  • Digital Transformation Assessment for Associations from Association Trends and DigitalNow includes a comprehensive framework for Association Digital Transformation and includes case studies.

Meena is an advocate of change because it moves missions. She has been on the executive team in trade associations since 2005 and spearheaded strategic planning and partnerships, media and communications, marketing, public education, conferences, and member services. She is solutions-focused and an evangelist of great ideas. At the American Public Power Association, she has helped members across the country raise public awareness of their contributions as community-owned energy providers. She supports strategic planning for the association and is an advocate of data-informed decision making. Meena is intensely creative and enjoys unleashing that gift in others. She has convened Associations Catalyzing Entrepreneurship, an evolving cross-functional group of association leaders and stakeholders who think outside the association box about survival and success. Through ACE, she is collaborating to develop a creative, nimble, bottom-line focused approach to association futures.
All of Meena’s articles are listed on a dedicated page for ACE content.

Meena is an advocate of change because it moves missions. She has been on the executive team in trade associations since 2005 and spearheaded strategic planning and partnerships, media and communications, marketing, public education, conferences, and member services. She is solutions-focused and an evangelist of great ideas. At the American Public Power Association, she has helped members across the country raise public awareness of their contributions as community-owned energy providers. She supports strategic planning for the association and is an advocate of data-informed decision making. Meena is intensely creative and enjoys unleashing that gift in others. She has convened Associations Catalyzing Entrepreneurship, an evolving cross-functional group of association leaders and stakeholders who think outside the association box about survival and success. Through ACE, she is collaborating to develop a creative, nimble, bottom-line focused approach to association futures. All of Meena’s articles are listed on a dedicated page for ACE content.

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