When Difficult Decisions Lead to Successful Outcomes


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Case study of NCFR's Association Management System (database) decision and implementation process. Presented at Digital Now conference - April 9, 2010.

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  • ..and we also produce an annual conference.I started at NCFR as a temp in September 2005, because somebody had to answer the phones back in Minneapolis while the staff was in Phoenix for the November conference. In December of that year I was hired on as the full time admin assistant.
  • At that time, NCFR was in the midst of a database implementation that was not going well.In the interim the association’s data was managed using the old SQL server – Access database client system, but was in a bad state the Access database was in disrepair and no two copies installed on any workstation were exactly the same.
  • The system was a disaster.When we hosted an employee from the vendor on-site for a week, she showed me how to setup an ODBC connection from Access into the source tables on the SQL server. I initially used this to validate data between the old and new systems, but when no usable reporting solution materialized I stuck with it.When membership periods were imported, all of the membership periods were brought in starting on their paid date, rather than at the end of their last service period. Fixing this en masse was my applied lesson after a three day course in T-SQL. We could create unlimited attribute types in the system, but they were all of the same type – fixed-length character strings. This was also the field format for name and address, and those were stored in all CAPS. The Right Trim and Proper Case functions in Access eventually became two of my best friends.A few months after launch, communication the e-commerce module and the bank failed. Long story short, customers put in their info, got an authorization message, but their cards were not charged and we never received the money. We went back to the old way of collecting online payments via an ASP form and manually re-keying every transaction.
  • We did truly make an effort to resolve the issues.For a couple of months we held weekly conference calls with the vendor. (8am our time, 9pm their time) Progress was minimal though, even something as simple as fixing a broken link on the member portal took weeks.It was a tough situation. This was software that the vendor had acquired rather than built from the ground up, and (as far as I know) we were the only customer using the membership module. Add to that the language barrier and distance between us – we had to make the decision to move on.
  • Yet despite the pain of working with a badly broken system, we decided not to rush into purchasing our next AMS. In order to do it right we needed expert advice and a comprehensive process.My new position as IT Manager became official in August 2007, and in October I was tasked with leading this project.In June, while reviewing AMS vendor proposals, the results of the business process analysis were refined into a criteria guide for the demonstrations. Each vendor was given the same script to follow – 50 questions and 10 pages detailing exactly what NCFR needed to see in an AMS. This was important because it ensured that the vendors showed us the capabilities of their product that was relevant to our processes, we had a consistent set of criteria to judge each system by, and also because it was the applied product of everyone’s input.It came down to two products. One was a cost-effective option that had scores on par with higher-cost options we looked at and an astonishingly quick implementation time, but with some downsides – no customization, call center based customer support, really just more of a standardized, do-it-yourself model. The other product was Association Anywhere, which had the highest scores of the products we looked at. It was significantly more expensive but had key advantages in the strength of its accounting module, ability to be customized, and stronger customer support model.Through August we conducted a 5-year total cost of ownership analysis of the two products and had follow up discussions. Our final analysis was the significant cost difference was accompanied by a significant value proposition, and that ACGI was better positioned to not just solve our AMS woes but enable future growth. We chose them and moved forward to a contract negotiation.
  • Converting data in house is where the years of pain with the old system paid off. Working with the source tables for so long gave me a thorough knowledge of what data we had and how it was structured. It also taught me where the gaps and inconsistencies were that needed to be cleaned up.Importance of ASSET to tracking and managing tasksConsensus doesn’t always mean everyone agrees, but it does mean talking through a question until everyone can live with the answer.Group sessions were to decide on configuration and walk through how to do it. Much of the setup was then completed by individual staff members.
  • 8 months later here are some of the results.1,000 unique visitors each month to SSA – they visit an average of over 9 pages and spend more than 5.5 minutes on the site.iPad giveaway – 10% of active members have updated their profile – this is made possible by having a functional front end portal.
  • When Difficult Decisions Lead to Successful Outcomes

    1. 1.
    2. 2. When Difficult Decisions Lead to Successful Outcomes<br />
    3. 3. National Council on Family Relations<br />Founded in 1938<br />3,300 members<br />~ $1.5M budget<br />11 full-time staff<br />Mission: “Strengthening Families”<br />
    4. 4. The National Council onFamily Relations is . . .<br />The premier professional association for the multidisciplinary understanding of families<br />Publisher of<br /> ~ Journal of Marriage and Family<br /> ~ Family Relations<br /> ~ Journal of Family Theory & Review<br /> Provider of the Certified Family Life Educator (CFLE) designation<br />
    5. 5. Old database situation<br />AMS purchased in 2004<br />Implementation delayed<br />Software company went out of business<br />Product sold twice<br />2nd time to a company in the Philippines<br />Went live in December 2006<br />
    6. 6. There were problems<br />No reporting software<br />Membership periods imported incorrectly<br />Membership orders generated errors<br />All attributes were fixed length CVAR<br />E-commerce module failed in March 2007 – went back to re-keying online orders<br />
    7. 7. Quickly became apparent, this wasn’t going to work out<br />Inefficiencies and errors frustrated staff<br />Resolving basic issues was a challenge<br />Customer support: 13 hour time difference and a language barrier<br />Conference calls scheduled at inconvenient times<br />E-mail replies came in the middle of the night<br />Decision made in mid-2007 to move on<br />
    8. 8. Choosing the right AMS takes time<br />Nov ‘07: RFP for consultant to guide selection<br />Feb ‘08: Internal technology audit<br />Apr ‘08: Business process analysis<br />May ‘08: RFP to AMS vendors<br />July ‘08: Scripted product demonstrations<br />Aug ’08: Finalist follow-up discussions<br />Sep ‘08: ACGI selected as preferred vendor<br />
    9. 9. And then things changed<br />NCFR’s AMS purchase was placed on hold<br />
    10. 10. Six months later…<br />NCFR financial reserves had not recovered<br />Notified ACGI of pursuing other option<br />ACGI proposed an alternate approach<br />Association Anywhere Standard Edition<br />Up front cost reduced by half<br />Ongoing cost reduced by a third<br />Key advantages retained<br />
    11. 11. Implementation process<br />14 week timeline<br />Data conversion handled mostly in-house<br />Three on-site “boot camp” weeks<br />Configure and train simultaneously<br />Consensus decision making process<br />Team approach to setup tasks<br />
    12. 12. AMS implemented on schedule<br />August 10, 2008<br />and 30% under budget<br />
    13. 13. Keys to success<br />Talented staff committed to success<br />Strong grasp of business processes & needs<br />Thorough understanding of existing data<br />Flexible processes met system configuration<br />Structured issue tracking system<br />Vendor who empowered us to take on more<br />
    14. 14. Outcomes<br />Membership up more than 10%<br />Over $300K in credit card payments processed<br />20% of members have updated their profile<br />Membership gap revenue recouped<br />Efficiency & capacity let staff focus on growth<br />