I can't think what to do to choose a good membership management system
We have debates in the offices and passions flare, things are thrown, words are spoken and dust settled, I'm sure it's all part of a healthy and dynamic office and, well, it's quite fun...
One topic was whether or not to use Dynamics as the core platform for our membership management system, we are after all Microsoft Partners and although Word drives me mad, we have Microsoft to thank for almost all of the serious software tools we use in the business.
So, we are 'on side' already and we hear lots of great things from Microsoft and their competitors boasting about how wonderful their system is and being a big Forumula 1 and Lotus fan (although the Lotus team is now Renault), we are grateful for Microsoft Dynamics' sponsorship of the team...
Many choices to look at
As you will imagine, the answer is not simple and lots of clever companies offering membership management systems, much like us, say they have the best system and of course not all of them use Dynamics. If you'll allow me to add a small side note, going back a few years, we were regularly asked if our platform was open source and some Associations stipulated the solution had to be open source because people thought it was nice to have solutions coded by lots of online enthusiasts i.e. the community.
Fortunately that trend seems to have stopped, presumably because people have realised that they should judge the system they are getting on what it can deliver, not on what may or may not be possible should their requirements change and how hard or easy those as yet unknown requirements might be to implement, based on whether an unknown person in the community has already coded a solution which may or may not fit with what you now need and may or may not conflict with what you have and may or may not be bug free and well coded in any event. In other words, the perceived benefits of community created systems and the general ethos of that being a nice approach have now been usurped by the actual needs and the actual system capability. This is specially significant for Membership Management systems for Associations and Societies as there is a realisation of the need to have a robust IT structure to support and build membership for a large number of members such as 500 to 10,000+ Association members. Phew, now you see why we have debates in the office!
Have I found a solution?
So, you may have gleaned from this rant that my view about the appropriateness of a system needs to be based on your members and their requirements and no matter what the system is, it's only as good as the people coding, implementing and supporting it.
That said, you knew the catch was coming, inevitably within this framework, there will be plus points and minus points, and seeing as your still reading, I guess you're interested in what an insider thinks about these points.
For me, it's a trade off between flexibility, reliability and cost.
This is the conundrum, we have tried using big systems in the past, they are lots and lots of features and while they are not as bug free as you'd expect, or hope, they have been tested thoroughly by lots of different people and machines so are certainly a good place to start. However, the more functionality you have, probably, the more difficult it is for us to learn, the less likely we are to understand the likely side effects of changes we make and the more likely you will struggle with the user experience. Less is more and all that...
Conversely, an entirely bespoke system will take a long time to develop and have less user testing and therefore more liable to have bugs with less functionality, albeit any functionality you specify will obviously be delivered. This system will however be exactly what you need and is likely to be cheaper to get and importantly, cheaper to run and tweak for the future.
In my view, a big system is suited better to a big client/budget because of the increased level of testing. Bigger associations have more resources to ensure the system goes smoothly and staff and more pressure to get it right first time and they are likely to need integration with numerous third parties and bigger systems will have such integrations in place already.
The great thing is that as time goes on, the systems built on both sides of this fence get better and better as they are used more and more so the line gets more and more blurred.
So, what is big? I guess for me, a big budget starts at £70k and goes up, the biggest we've dealt with is £350K. The key is to roll up your sleeves and actually use the system, almost no one does this, I don't really understand why, surely it's worth you spending a morning actually doing some of the work and running around the system you are about to buy.
Of course it won't do exactly what you need from the outset, unless you are lucky, but it'll be pretty close and good enough for you to get a feel for the approach. Make sure your proposal covers what you need and you have a cost, and ask your potential suppliers to cost up a few scenarios to get an idea of the cost of changes for the future. So, maybe one day we'll jump to use Mcrosoft Dynamics but for the time being, our clients tend to have sub £50K budgets so we continue to challenge, question and debate our approach on a regular basis as always.
If you'd like to join the debate, let me know...