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February 5, 2008

Tech Conference takeaways

Anyone who participated ASAE & The Center’s Technology Conference knows that it wasn’t just about technology. Yeah, we talked about AMS systems, storage area networks, routers, and the like, but the real buzz was around the web. Specifically around Web 2.0. Folks, this isn’t just some passing fad. This ain’t dotcom all over again! The very nature of how people “associate” is changing. I looked up the word associate and found:

1. To join in or form a league, union, or association.

2. To spend time socially; keep company.

3. To join as a partner, ally, or friend.

4. To connect or join together; combine.

5. To connect in the mind or imagination

In the opening general session we learned from Anthony Williams, author of Wikinomics, that in 2006, Blooger.com had more traffic than CNN.com and that MySpace.com has 250 million users “associating.” In the preconference town hall meeting we surveyed the attendees (pdf). When asked “What is the most important technology issue facing your organization,” 20 percent of the respondents indicated web 2.0 technologies. This was second only to AMSs. When asked “Which web‐based apps do you use” 17 percent of CEOs and 37 percent of senior staffs indicated they use blogs, and 17 percent of CEOs and 21 percent of senior staffs indicated they use wikis. As Mr. Williams asked, what are we doing to harness the power of mass collaboration? In the ensuing conversation about blogs and wikis from outside the association community, someone in the audience opined that this was a question of whether or not we focus on our tent or their tent. What if there is just one big tent? How do associations operate in this environment?

In the second general session, Erica Driver of Forrester Research spoke about the information worker and how providing context is critical. Increasingly that context is outside of our organizations—in wikis, blogs, newsfeeds, etc. What are we doing to create a work environment that provides the context our employees, and equally important, our members need? If our job is to give our members the tools they need to be productive in their jobs everyday (and I believe it is), when are our websites going to transform from glorified direct mail posters to collaborative work environments?

So here is what I’m thinking about. How can I expand my AMS to become an IMS, an idea management system? One that captures the richness found in nonstructured conversations that happen in nontraditional spaces. Now that would be “business intelligence!” While I am accounting for dues and fees, how do I begin to “account” for blog postings, wiki contributions, and other nontraditional ways members show engagement? And finally, while I need to be sure my organization’s infrastructure is sound, how do I build an “out-frastructure” that ensures that my staff, and my members, have the tools they need to be productive information workers? Your thoughts?

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February 4, 2008

Technology Conference Wrap-up

I have to agree with Caron, I wasn't ready with my key takeaways at the Friday General Session either. Now that I've had some time to digest, here are some of the ideas and quotes that are still bouncing around in my head:

"Relevance is a losing argument…if we're not already relevant, we're toast." Jeff De Cagna, Principled Innovation

"What is the simplest thing that could possibly work?" Jeff De Cagna, Principled Innovation

When deploying a new technology in your organization, create a "buddy system" to lessen the load on your tech support staff. Make each member of your testing team a "buddy" to a couple of other staffers as they get comfortable with the new application so they have a quick place to go for help. - Katherine Mowers, Community IT Innovators

Also, I'm still really intrigued by the Wikinomics ideagora concept. I need to find a way to play with that concept for our members.


And just for fun, here's my vocabulary lesson from the conference:

  • "e-pretending" - using web forms to generate emails which are then hand-entered into your database. Not that any of us actually do that....

  • "adhocracy" (this one's apparently been around for a while but it was new to me) - a structure where you establish temporary working groups with knowledgeable people which then disband when the group's goal is reached.

  • "opening the kimono" - Putting your "secret" stuff out on the internet where anyone can see it. Or at least I think that's what it meant…I kinda lost the thread because I was laughing too hard.

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More from other bloggers on the Tech Conference

While Scott, Becky, and Caron shared some great ideas from their time at the Technology Conference, bloggers outside of Acronym had interesting insights to share as well. Here's what I've found so far:

- Dave Sabol summarizes what he saw and heard during day one of the conference

- Maddie Grant learned about a cool tool during the 60 Emerging Technologies session

- Jamie Notter has some thoughts on generational diversity inspired by conversations at the conference

- Sue Pelletier responds to Peter Hutchins' post from the Technology Conference Town Hall meeting

- At Principled Innovation TV, Jeff De Cagna has some video and other thoughts on Anthony Williams' keynote presentation

- Kristi Donovan responded to a session on Web 2.0 and dealing with potential member criticism, as well as Erica Driver's general session presentation

- Cathy Johnson at the Panopea Consulting blog shares her thoughts on Anthony Williams' general session presentation as well as her favorite quote from day one of the conference

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February 2, 2008

Tags vs. folders

One more thought from Hanley's session...

She compares the move of a folder system to a collaborative space to that of moving from traditional email to gmail (Google's free email app).

There are no folders in gmail. When I first started using my gmail account, I found this annoying. Then I felt kind of sheepish when I was introduced to the idea of tags. One quick illustration from Hanley and it's easy to see how tags are superior.

A friend of hers gets an email from her father that contains a particularly funny political joke. Her friend loves jokes, is a political junkie and, of course, she likes her father. She wants to save the email -- does she file it with her father's other emails, in her "politics" folder, or in her "humor" folder? Or (yuck!) does she make three copies of the message?

In gmail, she tags it with "dad," "politics," and "humor." At any time, she can choose to see the messages tagged a particular way.

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What Was Your Ah-Ha Moment?

At every conference I attend, I walk away with a slew of new ideas. In the opening session on the last day, Reggie Henry, Chief Technology Officer at ASAE and the Center, called those ideas, “Ah-ha” moments and asked for volunteers to come up and share them.

I didn’t respond and neither did a lot of people. I felt bad for Reggie.

Maybe the people in the audience were too shy or maybe it was too early in the morning for people to respond. Personally, I need time to process ideas from a conference and it was too early in the conference (let alone morning) for me to respond.

My ah-has come a day or two later—sometimes a week later. I still don’t know all my ah-has but like so many epiphanies, the first one to rose to the top while I was stuck in 66 traffic on the way home: Do usability testing any chance you get.

There are so many ways to do usability testing and so many types of testing you can do. And some can be done at little to no cost. For example, if you are nearby another association, cooperate with them. Exchange staff and do usability testing on each other’s websites. Or test members when they come to the office or test new staff soon after they are hired (before they get the staff structure and jargon down).

I plan on using a form similar to a website feedback sheet provided in a session called Usability Lab: Simple Tests, Valuable Results for Your Website . It’s a form designed for new staff (and my association doesn’t get new staff all that often), so I plan on using modified version to use with members and other visitors as well.

That was Ah-ha number one.

So I will ask Reggie’s question again, what was your Association Technology Conference Ah-ha?

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February 1, 2008

IT Leadership - It's Your Responsibility

I just attended The CIO/CTO Workshop, where we discussed one methodology for establishing effective teams, the TEAM framework: Train, Expect, Affirm, and Measure. This conversation made me wonder how much time we as IT leaders invest in growing our staffs when we are constantly pushed to do more, to be more productive. Are we the people who barely leave our offices, are preoccupied when we do, and barely talk to our staffs except when something goes wrong? During this session I was really challenged to think bigger about our role as leaders - we have an obligation to our staff to make the time for them, even if it keeps us from finishing that report that is already overdue. It's actually our jobs to make time for our staffs…and I mean more than the cursory "how was your weekend" conversations.

Along with this, the importance of individualized attention for each staff member is becoming increasingly evident to me. Some of our staff members are cut from the same cloth that we are - the "failing to plan is planning to fail" school of thought. But, think about how the advent of gaming has changed things. Gamers constantly "fail forward" - try, fail, try, fail, try, fail, until they eventually succeed. How can we expect these people to come into our organizations with our rigid planning structures and excel? Their natural inclination is to try something, watch to see how it works, make some tweaks, and watch some more. That is definitely not how we are accustomed to working…but is their way wrong? Are we as leaders going to try to shoehorn these people into our formal processes, when it's clearly not how they think? Instead, what if we encourage them to mentor us? Can we step outside our comfort zones enough to learn from them? I think we can, and quite honestly, should….

What do you all think?

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Let's Be Social

During the "60 Emerging Technologies" session at the Technology Conference today, speaker Jim Kelly of ASAE & The Center's Technology Section Council said something I had to write down. An audience member had asked how she could convince her board that social media wasn't all personal--that in fact, it could be used professionally.

Jim told her to ask her board members about their face-to-face conversations with other members at association events. "When you meet, do you just talk about the documents in your briefcase?" he asked. No, you talk about personal things as well--and that's an important element of the professional connections you make.

I do think that some teenagers' pages on MySpace and Facebook have been used to create a stereotype that says that sharing personal information online must degenerate into bad photos from your last kegger. Well, to be honest, I haven't been to a kegger since college, but I do have an interest in my professional colleagues' lives. (Just today I learned that a new coworker here at ASAE & The Center is training to be a pilot--which I think is pretty neat.)

Of course, you have to keep an eye on your online presence and make sure you stay within the bounds of what you feel is appropriate. But I don't think that "appropriate" has to mean only talking about the documents in your briefcase.

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How come nobody plays in my nice new sandbox?

Susan Hanley (author of Essential SharePoint 2007) made a point in her session, and it was the second time I’ve heard the point in just about the exact same way.

IT folks are building these internal networks to enhance efficiency and collaboration among staff (SharePoint, for example), but having a hard time convincing people to use the tools. The fact is, the email/folder style of collaboration and organization works for people—because they’ve found out how to make it work. It’s not like a new accounting software system that people have no choice but to learn and start using it.

Here are a few ideas that companies she has worked with have used to ramp up adoption:

Stall stories – every Wednesday a new story about how the collaborative space is being or could be used is posted. Posted where? Um, they’re “stall stories.”

“Get Sharp on SharePoint”—again, once a week there’s a 30-minute training session, 15 minutes demonstrating a technique or tactic and 15 answering questions about that technique or anything else folks want to ask about. To enhance the sessions, they were recorded, and the IT helpdesk was monitored to help hone the topics to be covered.

Get messages in front of people—maybe it’s a weekly email or a message that comes up when people log on. The idea is to detail a small success and share it.

Get in on every group meeting—it’s a no brainer to try to get on the agenda of all group meetings to share something about the new tools.

Finding the stories to share—bribery, it works. Pay people to share their stories. It doesn’t have to be a huge dollar amount, the second you attach a reward, you’ll get people actively telling you their stories.

Make it fun—one group developed a scavenger hunt throughout the intranet tool based on the board game Clue. If it’s well done, it will be accepted and successful.

Little reminders—one group used “birth announcements”—you know the kind attached to little candy bars with the customized wrappers—to announce the launch to staff. Another made custom sticky note pads. And there’s always the great standby: pizza or other food to entice people to come to meetings about the new solution.

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Legal Eagle at the tech conference

Venable LLP’s Jeffrey Tenenbaum presented on the legal tangle of copyrights, trademarks, and things associations need to be mindful of in an age of digital publication.

For the curious, he distributed an excellent set of handouts for his session.

The highlights of what the attendees were asking about:

Copyright basics—content that is created by volunteers or paid consultants is specifically not owned by the association and is owned by whoever creates it. That means magazines they’ve submitted to a magazine, handouts at a session, or even a recording of the session itself. For the association to own it, the creator must assign his or her copyrights to the association in writing.

Links are ok—as long as you are not implying that the content is in some way owned by your organization, linking to someone else’s work does not violate copyright.

Mashups and making other changes—it’s a gray area. Tenenbaum reports that this is one of the areas where litigation is relatively common. In general, you can take someone else’s work and, if you change it enough so that it is a completely different expression (essentially it becomes a different work). How much change is enough? It’s a risk, and if you engage in this sort of activity, you should be prepared for lawyers and courts to decide.

Contributory infringement—let’s say a member posts someone else’s copyrighted work on your blog as a comment. If the association has no monitoring system and no disclaimer that people must agree to before posting comments, is the association liable? The horrific answer is, yes. The same is true for postings that violate antitrust. The simple solution is a click-through form where authors agree that they will not post anything that infringes the rights of others (or antitrust laws or any of a number of other things).

Fair use guidelines—Using someone else’s copyrighted material without permission is allowed, albeit in a very limited context. The three basic guidelines:

The amount used is a small percent of the total.
It is being used for an educational purpose.
Your used cannot infringe on the copyright owner’s ability to earn a profit on the work.

The big red flag—when developing a new product or service, associations typically use a hodgepodge of staff, volunteers, and paid consultants to develop it. It is critical to get all nonstaff members to sign a copyright release form, or the pieces that they develop belong to them, not to the organization.

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NetGen Isn’t About Age

One thing I keep hearing over and over again at the technology conference (and elsewhere) is this concept of “NetGen.” Usually it’s followed up by references to “young people” and followed up by convincing anecdotal references to commenter’s children, grandchildren, etc. and how plugged in they are.

Perhaps I am wrong on this (and I plan to research this a little more after the conference), but it seems to me that NetGen is a cultural phenomena, not an age-related phenomena. Certainly there is no doubt that recent generations have grown up with technology and have been exposed to it very early on. And, yes, there are generational differences that we can’t ignore; but we don’t do ourselves any favors by assuming technological and social media proficiency based on age.

This kind of ageism can be offensive to older and younger members alike. Don’t risk being called a condescending fool (like Mr. T—a boomer—calls a popular video game company in a commercial aimed towards attracting other boomers to the game).

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Google and you

David Clevinger and David Downey, both from the American Institute of Architects, presented on what went into the development of AIA's America's Favorite Architecture, in particular, the component that is incorporated into Google's Planet Earth product. You really should check out AIA's project, it's amazing in its richness, breadth, and functionality.

But I'd bet one of the questions on a lot of the attendees' minds was voiced when someone asked: "How did you get involved with Google?"

As they pointed out, Google is a company that builds tools to showcase information. They don't have information of their own, and so they are, essentially a beast that devours information with an insatiable hunger. It's not hard to put this idea together--many associations produce tons and tons of content. Google is hungry for it. Go to Google Labs--check out what they've been working on and use your imagination. How in the world could the things your members do relate to the tools Google is developing?

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Q&A from the Friday general session

To me, I think Technology Conference general session speaker Erica Driver, principal analyst with Forrester Research, was speaking about the workplace and what it will look like tomorrow. Not "tomorrow" as in a year or years away, but the tomorrow that has already begun to emerge.

There was a lot to consider in the session about not just what association staffs will be like, but also what the workspace of association members will be like, and what role associations should play in those spaces.

I thought the Q&A at the end of the session was especially useful, so here it is, with apologies for capturing the gist rather than a word-for-word transcript.

What applications does she use for her individual workplace?

She said high bandwidth connections was a must. She also noted her and her group used instant messaging, shared calendars, web conferencing tools, and each had their own conference bridge to conduct conference calls. They have laptops with webcams (though she notes she’s still not comfortable with the webcams). Finally, she said that it’s becoming a kind of service that companies are offering where they’re developing kits and offering packages of products and services based on the needs of the workers who will use them.

An association had started implementing Microsoft’s SharePoint and wanted to know how to go about getting staff adoption of the tool.

Driver said the question was one of the top questions IT managers are facing today. She said she thinks having a governance model—meaning a model of what is supposed to be done on SharePoint and how—and sticking to it. It’s tricky, she said. Your staff is probably used to emailing a Microsoft Office document to several others, asking for feedback, and then compiling the changes. It’s not going to be an easy switch for people to all of sudden abandon that model and use a shared workspace. The keys are the managers and team leaders. For it to happen, these people have to force it, to not accept the old model.

Noting that work flows to the most competent person until it overwhelms them – IT folks are imposed upon, but you are advocating getting outside the line of management. How do you ensure that slackers won’t delegate all the necessary or least savory tasks and spend their time chatting or making new networking connections when other work needs to be done?

What we need is a shift in the way people are valued, answered Driver. She said she thinks the people who participate, the ones who answer other people’s questions and participate in helpful ways on other people’s projects will rise to the top and the deadweight will be noticed.

What are the one or two things that absolutely have to be in place for an individualized information workplace to be possible?

The single most critical success factor is buy-in from the top. IT may be able to see that a helter skelter approach to web 2.0 technologies and collaboration tools and projects is the wrong road, but if there’s no executive at the top to quell the political issues, IT won’t be heard.

She said a second critical success factor, particularly attributable to associations, is that the initiatives tie back to the highest level mission and objectives the organization is focusing on.

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Abandonment

Maybe I've been under a rock for a while, but I had not heard of this no-brainer of an idea.

When you have folks filling in a form, say a registration form on your site, make email one of the early captures. If they don't complete the form, send them an email to solicit feedback or offer other means to turn the potential customer into an actual customer.

As Amy Hissrich pointed out in the session she cohosted on web analytics, this is standard practice at NetFlix. "You start to signup, stop, and the next day you get an email inviting you to continue the process."

Her cohost, Suni Patel of eShow2000/Netronix Corporation, related an experience where she had started to purchase flowers but didn't complete the process. She was sent a coupon to try to entice her to complete the process.

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The fruitless fight for space on the home page

Just so Reggie doesn't feel like I'm bashing him all the time, in a Tech Conference session he said something that resonates very well with me:

"People will be less and less patient with going to the home page to navigate through your site."

I remember I was shocked when I was told the percentage of people who access ASAE & The Center's website but never access the home page. (Sorry, I don't remember the number, maybe I'll update this post later with the number if I can get it.) It makes since though, when you think about it. Assuming you have a decent-sized site open to the public and you update it with some regularity, chances are most of the people accessing your site get there from Google or some other search engine.

The point? Well one of them is that there's a need for staff and volunteer education. Everybody wants a piece of the home page for their pet project, and those in charge of the website have to guard the home page ferociously. Turns out, that real estate is getting less and less important. The thing for these folks to think about is what are the top five or ten entrance pages to the site, and does their project work on any of those pages?

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January 31, 2008

Project Management - An IT Imperative?

A theme I kept hearing in sessions and conversation today was around project management, and the importance of having clearly-defined project owners who shepherd large inter-departmental projects to completion. That's not particularly new - we all pretty much agree on the importance of that role. However, I noticed today that technology staffers often end up playing that all-important project management role. I know that's true where I work, and it was also true in a number of circumstances that I heard about today. So, why is that? Are IT people really better project managers than other staff members? I doubt it. Do we communicate somehow more effectively than other staff members? I doubt that too. Was there some magical project management curriculum embedded in whatever training we underwent to become technology professionals? Nope, at least not where I went to school! So what is it?

Here's one idea: At least where I work, IT sits in the catbird seat because pretty much everything our association does has some kind of technology component. Therefore, IT tends to be more aware of the breadth of activities going on in the organization, and we also have established relationships with many staff stakeholders. Plus, we are uniquely qualified to evaluate which tools and technologies would be appropriate for the task at hand. When you put all these things together, it seems natural that IT will be the ones to run the show when it comes time to get the next big project started. My question: is this really optimal? Is it sustainable to expect your IT people to drive all of these projects? Does that foster an "us vs. them" attitude among staff? More importantly, should we be encouraging organizational awareness and building project management competency in other parts of our staff?

What do you all think?

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Other bloggers on the Technology Conference

Other association bloggers are attending the Technology Conference, too (and welcome, all of you!). Here are some links to commentary on other blogs about today's conference:

- Kristi Donovan at Work/Life Strategy was inspired by the opening general session.

- Rick Johnston of the CAE Weblog also has a comment on the general session.

- Dave Sabol of Associated Knowledge wrote about his trip down to DC for the conference.

- Maddie Grant at Diary of a Reluctant Blogger wrote extensively about what she saw during her day at the conference; her posts cover social network envy, open source solutions, harnessing the data captured in social media sites, and what really goes on at the Technology Conference.

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Web culture is nice culture

Was at a session where ASAE & The Center's chief technology officer, Reggie Henry, was one of the copresenters. When the topic turned to websites that solicited feedback in the form of ratings or reviews, Reggie made the comment that it's human nature for feedback to be more negative than positive.

I don't agree with Reggie. I don't think people are going to jump on an association who enables ratings and reviews and use the function to blister the association's products and services. In fact, I think the predominant culture is the opposite. Most folks will say nothing, but the ones motivated to say something online generally like to be positive and, at the least, provide constructive criticism.

I was going to say that perhaps Reggie was right in face-to-face situations, but I don't think that's true either. We've all likely been victims of the pile-on, where a small group of members gang up to cause a storm of negativity. But I think the more casual "that session was great" or "the article was useful to me" or "so-and-so was wonderfully helpful on the phone" is far more common. Perhaps the negativity is more memorable? And maybe that's true online, too.

But I don't think the online culture, particularly when we're talking about an association and its members, will be negative.

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An Additional Association Technology Conference Resource

My first session at the technology conference was Web Analytics 101. I almost didn’t go. First, there were two other sessions I wanted to attend and second, I already produce the web stats for my organization— so I already know this stuff. But I am glad that I went.

On top of learning some wonderful ideas I can use to get more value from the monthly web stats I compose, I was also made aware of a valuable resource I can use to get more value out of the conference.

If you haven’t had a chance, check out ASAE & the Center’s Associapedia wiki. It’s evolving as the conference unfolds, but there are already a handful of entries containing great information you can use (whether you are at the conference or not).

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Do You Have a Gardener?

Near the end of the opening session of the 2008 Association Technology Conference, the speaker (and co-author of the book Wikinomics—How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything) Anthony Williams, answered a question about how associations can ensure that social media tools such as wikis and blogs will succeed. In short, his answer was to get a gardener—a person to help you champion the cause. Someone to help plant, grow, and cultivate social media. He said, that social media, like plants, need care to grow and flourish otherwise they will wither and die early on.

Of course, the nature of a session like that is that the speaker can’t answer every question every attendee has. So I will run my questions by you.

Do you have a gardener for your social media? What does your gardener do? Should the gardener be staff or a volunteer? And how do you go about getting your gardener the tools needed to produce lush social media landscape?

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Live blogging on Tech Conference general session

Anthony Williams’ general session at ASAE & The Center’s Technology Conference started off with a lot of the stuff that you’ve heard before. We heard the staggering numbers of the growth of blogging and the number of people joining FaceBook. We heard about the reach and importance and accuracy of the Wikipedia. We heard about Proctor & Gamble’s gamble to go outside their organization for more than half of their research and development. We even heard about the net generation and the incredible impact this generation who grew up being on the Internet from the time they could talk is poised to make.

Interesting, good stuff to hear, but most of us have heard it before. Then Williams, author of Wikinomics, got to the points of his talk, and he started to connect the dots of what it all means. I’m focusing on two of his points in this post – maybe others will focus on other points.

First is the idea of “Ideagoras.” Williams dubbed this the “eBay of innovation.” These are collections of people who gather together to solve problems or give expert advice. In fact, ASAE & The Center and many, many other organizations have been engaged in this kind of activity for more than a decade. Ideagora 1.1 has to be listservers (with 1.0 being the message boards that dominated the Internet in the late ’80s.).

Current online collaborative tools can be deeper and richer than listerservers – we just need to figure out how to do them.

The second idea is his notion of “prosumers,” combining the term producer and consumer. Prosumers want to be deeply engaged in the product development process. The idea, particularly among the net generation is becoming expected – Williams cited a study that 70 percent of those asked would willingly participate in product development for a company to produce a product that they’d be interested in if the company would just provide the platform for that inclusion.

Again, associations could be a case study of prosumer 1.0 as much, if not most, of product development involved members creating a product or program for themselves and other members to consume. And once again, what Williams is talking about is a huge step forward because collaborative tools today take product development out of the boardroom and onto a wiki, and instead of the best of ideas from a dozen people, you can capture the best ideas of hundreds or thousands of people. And, once again, this is becoming the expected model.

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Take time to make time

Time and time again we hear that the number one factor working against people taking advantage of learning opportunities is time. But, how much of a factor really is time? Don't we control how we spend our own time? Don't we all spend time each day on things that don't return enough value for the time we spend? I know I do.

When asked in today's Technlogy Conference Town Hall Meeting how many people had been to any form of technology training in the last year, a startling percentage of the room indicated that time had prevented them from taking advantage of any technology learning opportunity.

I'd argue that time isn't the real reason that we don't participate. Instead, I believe we don't say no to the things we know have little value or have difficulty distinguishing things that will have true value.

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Got a Technology Plan?

Hello all! Thanks to ASAE & the Center for inviting me to be a guest blogger here at the 2008 Association Technology Conference & Expo. I've never blogged before, so this will be interesting!!

Yesterday, the conference officially began with a Town Hall session. As we entered the room, everyone received a cool little clicker so that Reggie Henry could "ask the audience" about their perspectives on various technology issues. One question that really struck me was "Does your organization have a formal technology plan?" Almost 70% of the audience responded "No" but even though most folks didn't have a technology plan, the vibe I was getting from the room was "What is wrong with y'all? How can you NOT have one?" So I started wondering - when did technology become so strategic that it now deserves its own plan? When did it stop being a set of tools used to get a job done, a means to an end?

Perhaps one answer to this question is at the point that technology services (e-mail, internet, etc) became a commodity. One audience member likened technology to electricity where you flip a switch and expect your lights to come on; it has become an expectation that these services will be available 24x7. So now that the basic technology infrastructure is in place, we are challenged to think more deliberately about how else we can use technology to further our missions, support our strategic initiatives, and ultimately serve our members.

What do you all think?

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January 29, 2008

Hard conversations that need to be had

I consider myself fortunate in that my job requires me to have hundreds of conversations with different associations, technology vendors and consultants each year. Increasingly, I’m struck by the conversations we are not having. It’s no secret that for most, if not all, associations the real contact with constituents happens on the web. But if you look at most associations technology strategies, they center on association managements systems. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that AMSs aren’t important, clearly they are. But just what is an “association management system” anyway? I’m not sure I have the answer, but I know I do know that how people “associate” has changed drastically in the last few years and the systems that manage our associations have remained pretty much the same for the last, uhh, a long, long time. It’s time to talk about that!

I recently had a conversation with the COO of a relatively large association that went something like this:

COO: We can’t seem to get a technology strategy that works for our organization.
Me: Tell me a little about your organization.
COO: Well, we have a staff of 160, our budget is just over 40 million and we have about 25,000 members.
Me: Who developed your existing strategy?
COO: Our IT manager.
Me: (Silence)
COO: Reggie? Reggie?
Me: Does the IT manager take part in senior staff meetings, attend board meetings, talk much with the CEO?
COO: No, the IT manager reports to the CFO who represents IT views and needs.

The rest of our conversation can’t be printed here. But here is my question. How can any organization of any size not have someone with an understanding of technology involved in the organization’s strategic conversations? We need to talk about that!

I was recently invited to participate in a board meeting of an association who was thinking about decreasing the emphasis of its website and particularly its wiki and blog areas. You see, the wiki and blogs were becoming more and more successful. Members were starting to spend more time there than reading the magazine, or visiting advertiser supported “traditional” web pages. Links were showing up in the blog that took people away from their site, to sites that sometimes didn’t necessarily reflect the association’s point of view. The wiki was fast becoming the place where members went for “relevant” information. Finally, one of the board members said “the problem is that these new technologies don’t fit the association’s business model”. The CEO leaned over and quietly asked me what my take was on the discussion. My answer to him and to all of us: “What’s wrong here, the successful blog and wiki, or the association business model?” We need to talk about that!

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January 28, 2008

Items to Note

This week is the 2008 Association Technology Conference and Expo. As a guest blogger for the conference, I thought it might be nice to share one of my tips for getting the most out of conferences such as this upcoming one. It’s probably not much of a surprising tip, but it’s one I don’t see people doing as much as you’d think.

Take notes.

My goal is to bring back every great idea to my association. But there is often a deluge of wonderful ideas in a very compressed period of time. Taking notes is the key for me to remember all those ideas.

I am also not passive about note taking—I seek out information in all sorts of places: in sessions, on the expo floor, in the hallway, and at a networking event. And trust me, the best ideas seem to zip past you when you are least expecting it. At last year’s tech conference I got a great tip while talking to another attendee as we waited in line to pick up our coats. It’s amazing how much you pick up on by just staying attuned to it.

Record every idea of interest and cast the biggest net possible. Then, when the day is over, go back over those ideas and reorganize and clean them up. If you do, you will have a valuable tool you and your association can use for a long time.

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January 24, 2008

Introducing your Technology Conference bloggers

In one week, ASAE & The Center will be hosting the 2008 Association Technology Conference & Expo here in Washington, DC. For those with an interest in association technology issues--or just an interest in associations--several Acronym bloggers will be writing in about what they see and learn during the conference.

Regular staff bloggers Scott Briscoe and I will both be there, as well as two special guest bloggers who kindly agreed to join us for the Tech Conference:

- Becky Granger, CAE, director of information technology with EDUCAUSE.

- Caron Mason, CAE, web communications specialist with the American Industrial Hygiene Association. Caron has blogged with us before during social media month, and we're glad to have her back.

For those of you who are attending the Tech Conference--we look forward to seeing you there!

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