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The Death of the AMS

Updated: Sep 6, 2022

For decades, Association Executives have used specialized off the shelf software written just for them to perform their duties more effectively. For many, we have referred to this as an Association Management Software, The AMS. Is it still relevant? In this article, I am addressing a specific thesis laid out initially way back in 2014 from a veteran Association Executive, Mr. John Mancini, who believes that the AMS software falls short in living up to the expectations. In 2022, many are still wondering the same thing!

The AMS Software Myth

Mr. Mancini’s Core Thesis:

Below you will find an excerpt summarized to prime you for my thoughts to follow:

One Executive Director believes that the AMS Database is dead. We discuss here.

Our SmartThoughts On the Topic

1. One-Size does not fit all:

Mr. Mancini uses a German term, Eirelegende WollMilchSau, in order to paint a problematic view among his colleagues about Association Management Software (AMS) software. In essence, he believes it’s time for a change in the prevailing thoughts that an AMS is still capable as an “all in one”. And, the thought that an AMS can solve the majority of problems today is flawed thinking.

I agree that there is not one software which can solve the problems of every size association today. We keep track of over 100 systems which purport to have a solution for membership based organizations in the market today. The “marketing noise” is thick and the cloud of uncertainty weighs heavy on many Association Executives seeking a solution. There is not “One-Size” fits all which is a legitimate choice for every size (small, medium, large) association today.

2. Expectations:

Per Mr. Mancini, the prevailing thought has been that the AMS has been viewed as the “Sun” in the Association technology “solar system” far too long and as Association Executives it is time for the community to reset their thoughts and expectations about its capabilities and merits of worth.

Yes, I agree that expectations are out of whack for larger associations who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a platform. It’s a fallacy to believe that one software system is capable enough to handle the load requirements of large organizations today. Government Relations software, Social Networking Software, Learning Management Software, Email Marketing, Marketing Automation Software, Financial General Ledger software and even advanced business reporting are often software options which sometimes need to be considered in place of the traditional “All in One” membership database software program.

Having said that, I work with many small and midsize associations who are reviewing options today. And, the number one reason why we are called into to help is to assist with finding a solution to improve inefficiency caused by disparate systems.

They want a prescription to eradicate a virus which I refer to as Disparate Data Syndrome. In short, they desire the following:

  1. They seek one data version of the truth.

  2. They desperately need to get out of “Excel Hell”.

  3. “Bring all their data together into one unified platform”.

Therefore, I disagree primarily with Mr. Mancini in the sense that every size organization cannot work with one Association Management solution to handle the membership needs of the organization. Even in 2022, there are many associations that can find a solution with one AMS.

3. Guess what Ladies and Gentlemen? Size does matter!

In other words, size does matter in terms of the capability to solve problems with an “Eirelegende WollMilchSau” or single Association Management Software solution today. In fact, I believe there are quite a few awesome software solutions built and designed for small and mid size associations today which can accomplish what they need.

Association Management system are capable of bringing together many disparate systems. In fact, most AMS systems can bring together as many as 6 or more common systems used today into one platform. And, that’s what most are asking for, wanting , and quite frankly need to accomplish in the small to midsize arena.

More often than not, small and midsize associations can get what they need in one Association Management Software platform.

4. If All you Have is a Hammer….

Now, back to the larger size associations and the problem with perceptions. I believe it’s applicable to think about the law of the instrument proposed by Abraham Maslow’s in “The Psychology of Science”.

In essence, it’s the concept that many have heard “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. Because many large associations have “bought” into the idea of an all in one AMS system, it’s a common belief that “everything” should be solved by it because that’s all you have.

To the point, it may be that an Association Management software system can’t handle the workload required by very large associations. I believe the error falls in the belief that just because you have an AMS software in your association, that it has to be able to solve all problems. Having ” A hammer” doesn’t mean that it should be used for everything.

5. To Thine Own Self Be True

Each trade and professional organization is different. Regardless of being an association, your people, processes, and existing technology are different from your peers. And, certainly, larger Associations have dynamics which are quite diverse and unique.

It’s important to be realistic about who you are before you settle on “one” system or going the route of the “best of breed” in order to solve your business challenges. You have to determine your uniqueness and open your mind to the realization that the myth of “one system” may or may not transpire.

6. Integration, Integration, and Openness Required

Moving forward, platform plays and systems with an open architecture in this space will be paramount to find success in the large association arena. I believe that integration software tools and allowing an easy to use open Application Program Interfaces (API) to allow systems to connect will rule the AMS world moving forward.

Today, the great thing for Association Executives is that many of the leading Association Management Software systems today provide and foster partner relationships with “best of breed” providers such as email marketing, marketing automation, abstract management, reporting etc. And, today open API’s and Cloud based solutions open the door for all this to transpire easier, faster, & cheaper than ever before.

In the commercial software world, iPaaS tools such as Cazoomi, Zapier, Dell Boomi, & Tibco, DataSangria & ShuffleExchange etc. do this now for many enterprise software applications.

When data is connected, It’s a beautiful thing!

The Final SmartThought:

  1. Do I believe that Association Management Software (EMS or whatever you call it) is dead for every association? Nope, Not at all!

  2. Do I believe that there should be a realignment of expectations and stop seeking the sacred Eirelegende WollMilchSau myth? Absolutely, right on brother!

  3. Do I believe in having a system which provides easy integration, connectivity, and strong best of breed relationships with strategic partners? You betcha!

Any software should be viewed as an enabler. We need to “CTRL/ALT/Delete” the expectation that there is one silver bullet for every problem faced in an organization.

People, Processes, and Technology are the players involved in this so-called “mythical story”.

And, the two P’s which tend to make us the most “pissed off” are tough to swallow. Why? Because it’s easy to blame software.

Regardless of size, Associations need to find an open platform and software partner which understand where “they fit” respectively. It is critical to clearly define early on what can and can’t be accomplished with a respective solution. You will always need a master database system and the membership database software (AMS) today does that quite well.

I enjoyed Mr. Mancini’s thoughts, but I believe we need to reset the expectations a bit, tone down the marketing noise and focus on getting “what you need”.

Until then, I hope you keep SmartThoughts in mind.

We can help you get the membership software you need!


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