I am sure that hearing references to information technology as something that resides in an entirely different universe from the one the rest of the organization inhabits, is not new to most of us. Technology is the realm of IT departments, social media community managers, web architects and other specialists; a means for process enhancements and delivery; or a nod to the “younger generation” of members--all this without affecting the organization’s way of doing business, thinking, developing products, learning or designing business models. Surely this must be the main reason for many associations lagging behind their markets.
An article in an August 2010 McKinsey Quarterly recognizes that information technology has dramatically changed the way we interact, do business, consume goods and services and gauge opportunities. This is why in reporting technology trends, it does not focus on technology developments per se, but the 10 business trends technology has enabled. It challenges leaders to go beyond merely understanding trends to figuring out how to deploy them and re-thinking the way an organization creates, delivers and shares value to its customers.
The motivation is in the results one gets. A survey McKinsey conducted among global business executives found that deploying technologies (participatory Web 2.0 technologies, such as social networks, wikis, and microblogs) to change fundamental ways of thinking and doing business is directly linked to gains in market share.
Below are 4 of the 10 business trends that the McKinsey article cites that I thought they were especially relevant for association leadership; and 5 questions for exploring ways to take advantage of these trends to improve your organization's performance and expand its capabilities.
Distributed cocreation moves into the mainstream
From Wikipedia to Amazon and Intuit, the development of online communities has moved into the mainstream of business practice, the article says. For example, they are utilized to provide customers with forums for the exchange of information, advice and support; provide companies with continuous insights into its customers; develop and market new products; test new concepts; offer services; enable collaboration and on-going learning, etc.
How are you linking your online communities to your business objectives and product development processes? Have you considered making use of new or existing online communities, instead of surveys or committees, to develop new programs, pilot an idea or service, monitor the pulse of your members, get feedback and co-create new initiatives?
2. Making the network the organization
The web has forced “open the boundaries of organizations,” the article states. Instead of being limited to what your organization alone can produce, you can tap the assets of a broader network of partners and stakeholders to increase your reach and value. The Veterinary Information Network (VIN) succeeded in being indispensable to its 44,000 veterinarian members not by delivering only its own content and products, but by organizing, curating and making instantly accessible up-to-the-minute content from research data bases all over the world; and enabling access to specialists. Entire business models have been created on the basis of brokering relationships, discounting or providing access to others’ services (e.g. Priceline, Harmony.com) rather than developing and selling their own products or services.
Instead of being the sole expert and producer of all programs and programs, might you be able to create value by enabling targeted collaborations among members? Providing access to specialized, moderated conversations with thought leaders and specialized experts you have cultivated and enlisted? Creating one-stop-shopping platforms for members that aggregate and organize your and others’ assets?
3. Experimentation and big data
We are drowning in information. Technology is increasingly capable of capturing and analyzing data from everywhere, “big data,” but “most companies are far from accessing all the available data,” and even among those that do, even fewer are analyzing it and applying what they learn.
By far the majority of the associations I worked with have a shocking indifference to capturing information about their members’ behavior, choices, employers, outcomes, patterns of engagement across the board—from association to chapter activities and volunteer initiatives that do not fit prescribed “volunteer” roles.
Even those with a better record in information capture, however, do not often draw conclusions and apply what has been learned to actually change something as a result.
Recognizing that big data without innovative application is useless, the article ties big data with experimentation. “Using experimentation and big data as essential components of management decision making requires new capabilities, as well as organizational and cultural change.” It cites examples of companies that used data to engage in constant business experimentation and innovations in products and services that "include web-based companies, such as Amazon.com, eBay, and Google, have been early leaders, testing factors that drive performance—from where to place buttons on a Web page to the sequence of content displayed—to determine what will increase sales and user engagement.”
Are you capturing all possible information about your customers both by employing technology and by observation of social media behavior and informal interactions in online communities and elsewhere? Are you analyzing, sharing and discussing this information across the organization? And are you applying lessons learned by changing practices and organizational culture, developing and testing new products and programs?
4. Imagining anything as a service
Technology has made it possible to create services around what have traditionally been sold as products.
Examples in the IT industry include the growth of “cloud computing” (accessing computer resources provided through networks rather than running software or storing data on a local computer) exemplifies this shift; and “ Software as a service (SaaS), which enables organizations to access services such as customer relationship management, is growing at a 17 percent annual rate.”
Have you considered the value of intellectual assets such as members’ knowledge, best practices among members; conference content; moderated member discussions about things like difficult medical cases, industry challenges, business problems and solutions? Organizing such asset and providing tiered access to them or including them into larger solution packages could give rise to highly innovative and lucrative services and even become the bases for new business models.