Getting the most from digital investments in 2023

DateJanuary 2023

Now that the hullabaloo of Christmas and New Year is over, most of us are settling into 2023 and planning the year ahead. For many membership organisations this will include plans to improve or replace digital systems, as research from MemberWise indicates that around a quarter of associations and professional bodies are considering improvements to their technology and systems.

Reflecting on this, I've been considering some of the non-technical elements of digital projects that organisations should be thinking about before and during a technology project to maximise their investments in 2023.

Pace it right

Something that has become increasingly clear to me working with technology projects in the membership sector is that getting the pace right is vital, and organisations often aim to deliver things faster than is realistically possible. I completely understand this. Ambitious teams want new technology delivered as soon as possible so they can capitalise on improved capabilities. However, this can quickly become a false positive when aiming to rush things through on an unrealistic timescale leading to unplanned delays and on-costs.

I think this can be avoided through realistic project management that actively plans for the right amount of time to deliver because the consequence of not doing this can adversely impact every stage of a project:

  • During discovery - if you can’t get the timeline right for discovery it can be detrimental to project confidence and set the wrong expectation for stakeholders. Truly understanding your business processes and taking the time to allow technology capabilities to shape them is critical to mission success, so it’s worth doing this right rather than just doing it fast.
  • During implementation - ask project managers to consider the best- and worst-case scenarios and don't forget to take into account the inputs required from your team and your partners. Also, factor in contingency whenever possible. Unplanned delays can lead to higher run-on costs than planning for slightly longer timescales, and most association staff will be fitting project work around their day jobs, which means things can take longer than you might expect as a dedicated project staffer.
  • During testing and go live - user acceptance and end-to-end testing is probably the most critical phase of a large-scale technology project and it's the opportunity to ensure the system is fit for purpose, does everything your team needs, and can stand up to the rigours of business-as-usual use. Trying to rush this phase, or squeezing the time allowed to accommodate earlier delays (which seems to be an oft-reached-for idea!) can significantly increase the risk of a missed or painful go-live.

Realise the benefits

I’m sure this feels like an “old chestnut” (even though it’s only January!) but I can’t stress how important measuring and communicating benefit realisation is for technology projects. Your team may have been moaning for years about how clunky processes are to run in old systems, but if you don’t put a number on the tangible improvements new technology delivers (e.g. time-saving, cost-saving, faster adoption, improved quality of services) then it’s very difficult to measure and articulate ROI. Sophisticated benefit realisation approaches are available (the Association for Project Management has a nice overview of this), but one of our most successful clients, EWI, simply measured time-savings in a practical way and was able to trumpet impressive results - read about it here.

Unlocking potential

Something I keep returning to in my thinking is how large associations can best channel the benefits of a large technology investment, particularly an investment in a platform-based system like Silverbear 365. For me, it's all about the people, so here’s my tuppence worth on this today.

Over the last five years, Silverbear has been on a journey to migrate our customers from legacy, on-premises versions of Dynamics CRM to Microsoft Dynamics 365 (D365), the latest, cloud-based version of the platform. I think the benefits of upgrading to D365 are sizeable. Firstly, it enables organisations to store and manage all their data in the cloud and unlocks automatic interoperability with several complimentary Microsoft applications (e.g. Teams, SharePoint, Office 365 Online - to spot just the tip of the iceberg).

However, secondly, the main reason for investing in D365 as a data platform is that it provides access to a user-friendly toolset to support customisation and enables you to design and deploy digital apps that support business-specific processes quickly and efficiently. Microsoft makes a lot about the potential of low- and no-code development, and there is definitely a zeitgeist bandwagon to be jumped on around this.

To truly unlock this potential you need skilled people who can tap into it, and for most large associations it's a bit of a stretch to imagine that their staff could switch up from managing member service delivery to app development.  I'm convinced that building an internal capability to support this - even if it's as little as one person to start with – is one of the most valuable investments an organisation can make. Therefore, I would think about this sooner rather than later because a platform manager or team would be a fantastic asset to support a platform implementation as well as turbo-charging platform value post-go-live.

If you're interested in finding out a little more about how Silverbear can support you, don't hesitate to drop me a line:

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