Is Integrated Association Software Dead?

Many of my posts have looked at what is essentially free catching up with software costing many thousands of dollars.  The past is important in the understanding of where I am going with this post.

In years past, the key to selling association management software was that it was fully integrated.    This approach was golden given that various software packages wouldn’t talk to each other.  The only way to accomplish the objective was to integrate everything.  Back in the 80’s when we first released RAMS (Resources Association Management System), we covered all the standard association modules of membership, meetings, subscriptions, order entry, etc. plus GL, AR, AP, and Fixed Assets!

At one point, there was a movement toward “best-of-breed” software packages but the failure of it was that integration was a bear.

The first area that this model broke down was in terms of financial packages.  Twenty years ago, our association management system included a full accounting system.  Fifteen years ago, we realized that there were financial software packages with large user bases that were much more comprehensive than anything we could create for a small user base of associations.  Consequently, the model became integration with outside packages like Lawson and Great Plains.

One area after another is being affected by this approach.   Political action software, social networking software, mass marketing software, and even meeting registration software is nipping at the heels of commercial association software systems because each of these can concentrate on a specific area of expertise.  Association software systems sold by independent software companies simply can’t afford to do this for their smaller customer base across all types of subsystems.

AMS software companies have come to realize that the size and scope of their partner programs are extremely important to their sales pitch.  How long will it take before the partner program actually becomes the product?

So why don’t associations simply contract with Amazon to sell their products?  When you ask the associations, you get the reason that Amazon sells products while associations sell lots of different types of products with incredibly creative combination packages and creative discounts.  Buy a meeting registration and get a free membership and baseball cap.

But the real question will ultimately be, “Does it make financial sense for associations to continue doing business in this way?”  If they can come to understand the real costs of customized systems to handle their creative approaches, they may well push the AMS market into simply being an interface market where a company creates a set of interfaces to best-of-breed smaller systems.

I’ll explore that next…

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