A+ API Approaches to Amplifying Your AMS

why-API?Part I: The API Adjustments Affecting AMS Advances

You get straight A’s if you know how much APIs have changed. We can all ace the exam on how AMSs have changed, having come a long way in just the last few years alone. This isn’t even addressing their profound evolution from fundraising and membership desktop software in the 1980s through the invention of Advanced Solutions International (ASI)’s venerable iMIS in 1991 through web-based software in the 2000s to today’s SaaS offerings in the cloud.

But cloud storage changed everything. While it’s easy to make the grade observing that the cloud has made data more accessible, people often draw a blank in realizing that, while data is accessed from almost anywhere, it’s accessible in more limited ways than when you just could walk into the server room and grab it. This is because, despite the accessibility the cloud is famous for, often the interfaces to cloud storage are more basic and, therefore, limited.

Cloud providers make their money by improving storage, not by improving interface access. This latter function is often a check-the-box feature explored only after the storage agreement is signed. It’s looked at like windshield wipers are by a car manufacturer. They’re necessary to drive, but rarely test-driven, so there’s no real incentive to innovate on the same ol’ same ol’ way of windshield wiping.

But, if you did, the driver would see more, more clearly.

So while cloud access reduces your data-storage cost by reducing maintenance and on-prem infrastructure, it also imposes some new, more hidden costs by removing the data from easy reach. According to Owens Gollamandala, Senior Projects Manager at data-integrator Empowered Margins of Colorado Springs, CO, “associations often own the data, but can’t access it well.”

In any data integration, the application typically requires any number of fields within potentially hundreds from the now cloud-based database. Out-of-the-box cloud interfaces typically offer just a standard subset, almost inevitably omitting some fields your application will need, while including other fields it doesn’t.

But all clouds have a silver lining. As a result of this more limited access, a lot of effort has been spent in just the last few years upgrading APIs or Application Programmer Interfaces which offer new and unique ways to reach the data, and that helps fulfill the vision of cloud computing in a way many don’t realize.

API advancement represents, in fact, one of the single greatest changes in how we derive utility out of an AMS. The fact that these are not your grandfather’s APIs has made a generational leap forward that wasn’t even possible just a few years ago. This is the foundation behind the more visible changes we see in AMSs in the last 36 months: a rise in analytics, more powerful AI, more sophisticated content management and a more customized UX — much of this could not have happened without advances to the APIs “under the hood.”

APIs are now much more flexible in their ability to fetch data, circumventing these predefined interface limitations while allowing more advanced filtering that provides exactly the data needed when the application needs it in the precise format, including the highlighting, required. Data where, when and how you need it makes all the difference.

Optimizing the cloud data model means exploring the full utility of APIs, which:

  • Increases data availability and ease of access
  • Automates processes
  • Seamlessly transitions between different systems
  • Increases revenue by providing valuable data where, when and how it’s easily monetized
  • Extends customer reach and value
  • Integrates backend data and applications.

For more information, check Part II (coming soon): Getting from Here to There.

his material was covered in an informative webinar Wednesday, April 21st, 2021 by Teri Carden, Founder of ReviewMyAMS, Owens Gollamandala along with Empowered Margins Co-CEO Rudy Pandya and Senior Client Services Manager Tom McClintock that compared different APIs across the AMS landscape, unique ways to leverage their data access and pitfalls to avoid in a deep dive to learn “Why APIwatch now.

Digital Automation in Associations: Why It’s Hard to See the Lowest Hanging Fruit

digital-automationScience fiction has been preparing us for robots for years, and robots, no longer bolted to the factory floor, are now truly among us. However, science fiction didn’t clearly imagine the online world that shadows today’s physical world. We had vague notions of HAL-9000 supercomputers, but nothing like IoT wearables performing thousands of simple actions, all strung together in a great global database called the “world-wide-web.”

As a result, ready or not, we all have a conception of physical automation, because the “Robbie the Robot” meme has been patrolling our collective subconscious for decades. But we’re less prepared for the digital automation that is streamlining our virtual workflows. That makes visualizing how digital automation is improving our jobs, our homes and our lives a little bit more abstract. We can’t as easily grasp it like the outstretched claws of the virtual agents’ more tangible robotic cousins.

This abstraction is unfortunate because digital automation is easier and cheaper than physical automation. For a fraction of the cost of a robot, online scripts can streamline all kinds of processes, freeing up time, resources and payroll for the harder stuff that only humans can do. Think about how many manual processes are completed at your association. Any time a message must be repeated or a form must be completed is an opportunity for automation. From a productivity standpoint, the lowest hanging fruit is more easily reached, but, somehow, it’s harder to see.

Fortunately, that’s not stopping some forward-thinking associations from reaching out anyway. Scott Douglas, senior director of membership and business development at the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) recently automated their membership feedback using PropFuel so that their members no longer have to answer (or ignore) long, cumbersome surveys, and NSCA no longer has to “pull teeth” to get them completed.

Instead, NSCA just sends an occasional check-in email with a single, easily answered question. Sure, the answers to one question don’t mean a lot by themselves, any more than a single tweet, but—just like with a social platform—the PropFuel database on the backend organizes all the disparate answers into actionable information, much faster than humans ever could perform what used to be a largely thankless task.

Meanwhile, the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE)’s CMO Robb Lee has seen his newsletter engagement skyrocket since implementing Rasa.io, which uses artificial intelligence to create individualized newsletters — not just segmented, put personalized to each subscriber with no more interest checkboxes to complete.

Next, ASAE has started to personalize its website content with the Sitecore® Experience Platform and improve online member service with Relationship Martech’s chat engine that will provide new resources through a new channel.

Digital automation never forgets a thing and never misses a beat. It’s freeing up valuable resources across associations and across the Internet by tying disparate bits of information together and streamlining processes, all without menacing robot arms.

The world suddenly changed, but should your AMS?

need more non dues AMS

Sure the events industry is upside-down, and, once again, associations are scrambling for new ways to monetize that profound — but sometimes ineffable — quality they bring to their industries. (Yep, some things never change.)

It’s tempting to wonder if your good ol’ Association Management System, warts ‘n all, isn’t holding you back a little in the new normal. After all, you never got all the functionality out of it you were promised, so maybe a fresh start is just what you need.

But not getting all the functionality out of something is just a glass-is-half-empty way of saying there’s a lot more there under the hood.

Take, for example, the story of one prominent standards body that tired of their AMS and decided to swap it out for a newer, shinier one. Until after four months of trying (it can be a big project with a lot of hidden surprises) they realized that the replacement system had its own warts.

They would have to spend a lot more time and money to duplicate the functionality of the devil they knew. So they wrote off the sunk cost and invested their remaining budget in making their unique standards content more widely available to their members and beyond, bolstering ecommerce sales in the process. The ecommerce sales ended up paying for the sunk cost, and the organization and their legacy AMS are now on a second honeymoon.

Ecommerce sales are just one of the forms of non-dues revenue associations are gleaning from their AMSs. Other revenue includes:

  • Virtual event fees when the AMS ties directly into GotoWebinar, Social27, BigMarker, Zoom, etc.
  • Certification exam charges after the AMS auto-reminds of upcoming credential expirations
  • E-Learning proceeds generated by an exchange of information between the AMS and the LMS
  • Sponsorships of unique data that’s finally no longer locked away inside your AMS

What AMS does all that?

Most of them now, because they have increasingly robust APIs (Application Programmer Interfaces) which means they can be customized to integrate directly with your other systems, like your accounting software. This unlocks the potential of the data inside each of your systems and enables you to automate delivery.
Owens Gollamandala, Senior Projects Manager at data-integrator Empowered Margins of Colorado Springs, CO explains that these capabilities have actually been developing rapidly in just the last few years.
“Four changes have occurred that now are all building on each other leading to a leap forward across dozens of associations:

  1. Data analytics have matured,
  2. Artificial intelligence anticipates needed data,
  3. Systems are more configurable, and
  4. Data is stored within a Business Intelligence framework.”

Of course, getting magic and mystery out of your AMS through an API takes some practice, and more work needs to be done to continue making these technologies more and more accessible, but we’ve come a long way.

“The API essentially multiplies your feature set, and that opens up worlds of possibilities for non-dues revenue,” says Owens.

And in a world of sudden change, new possibilities for non-dues revenue couldn’t come at a better time.