Updated: May 30, 2019
J. Weber, BT Business Solutions Manager, and Casey O’Brien, BT Solutions Lead, spent a few days at the American Society of Association Executives™ (ASAE) Technology Conference & Expo this month. We talked with them about their experience. What did you discover from talking with ASAE Expo attendees? J.: Associations are really trying to get their members to engage more deeply and to utilize the association as a reference source. They have competition. For instance, nurses can choose from five or six different nursing associations, so an association has to offer value. They may offer continuing education or certification courses to keep members engaged. They are looking for new ideas, but associations have older legacy members as well as an influx of Millennials. Their needs and desires are different. You don’t want to abandon your long-time members with all new strategies, but you have to adapt and change or you get left behind. The more forward-thinking associations were having deeper conversations with companies like BT who are bringing something unique and different to the table. Casey: Some of these associations have millions of members. They want software and mobile apps that will allow them send a text instead of direct mail. When they send out mailers, they don’t know if people are reading them. They don’t know the response rate. What’s the return on the investment? When they use software or mobile apps they can see who opened it, when, at what time, how long they were looking at it, and did it result in an action? So what solutions are they looking for? J.: There’s lots of associations out there that can fit themselves into a nice little box where they can take an off-the-shelf product or group of products and operate their business. But there’s also large group of associations out there that operate a little differently. Their needs are unique, and they want something tailored to them. That’s BT’s value. We build to suit the client needs. We deliver an asset to them that’s not part of a licensing-fee model where they continue to pay year-over-year. Was building more tailored products by BT unique at the Expo? Casey: Most of the vendors at the Expo were offering products that encompass everything so they can be the “one-stop shop.” They call them Association Management Systems. It’s a really crowded space. Customers are pretty confused, which opens the door for people like us who can do custom or niche things for them vs. buying something where you only use 10% of it. What particular piece interests them? Casey: A lot of the attendees were interested in the fact that we can build assessment engines for their websites. We have built certification systems, or practice tests, or recertification tests that their members go online and take. We built assessment engines from the ground up and we integrate with any other system they have. They don’t have to replace current systems. We can build an engine that pulls data from all their other systems, that talks to all the other software they have. It truly sets us apart from other folks out there. Our work for Education clients really translates well to the Association world. J.: It doesn’t really end with just that education conversation, because how is that going to integrate with their website? Well, you know, they may have a website that is older, and that kind of leads into a separate conversation about updating that website. We have a half-dozen Acquia Certified Grand Masters on staff, so we are an expert shop on Drupal. So all of the sudden we are differentiated with an education proposal but we can also help out with the overall website design or upgrades that are needed. And that potentially leads into a mobile app discussion. So one thing leads into another... Casey: We are best at figuring out complex items, such as integration. Tying two systems together to send data back and forth. Reporting. It’s tough to leave something you know. Nobody wants to dump their legacy systems if they don’t have to. We can tell them to keep what they have or buy something new. Whatever they have, we can build a thoroughfare between systems to import and export data. What was drawing them into your booth at the Expo? J: We put together a video that demonstrates BT’s capabilities of what we can do across the spectrum, including actual product demos that gave us recognition from third party groups. It included a ten minute video clip from WGN television demonstrating a web and mobile app we created for Morton Arboretum. And there was an international ad campaign for Apple. It showed a mobile app we’d done for Body Scientific that recognized how great our graphics looked. Attendees would see those and say: Wow. That’s recognition and publicity you can’t buy. What else was a highlight in your conversations with attendees? Casey: People were really impressed with the Illinois State Board of Education science assessment engine we built because of the volume of it. It demonstrated that we can scale up massive amount of numbers. J: It also showed the value of putting up their own platform instead of continuing pay licensing fees. Now the Illinois Board of Education has something they can call an asset rather than a liability. It’s owning vs. leasing. Casey: Upgrades, support and maintenance are a big deal for many associations. Most of them don’t have a big IT department. They want to focus on their core business. We can do support for them for half the cost of them relicensing the big software packages. We offer a lot of value. It was great meeting them at the Expo, and we look forward to continuing the conversations.