A Three Part Guide to Selecting an AMS: Part III: Future – Proofing Your Investment

By now you should have a good idea of what type of AMS system your association needs and what unique requirements it will need to accommodate. The final step is to evaluate the expected lifespan of the system in technology terms or how “future-proofed” it is, from both a scalability and longevity perspective.

What is a “future-proofed” system? When it comes to software, this is nuanced.

The first component – which considers the path for changes, upgrades and updates over time – is fairly easy to assess.  The second component – which relates to the quality of the underlying code base, how easy that code will be to further develop and the overall expected longevity of the system – is of critical importance, yet can be difficult to assess.

The central question to consider it this: How will the AMS system evolve and scale as the world of technology and your association change over time?

Your Association, Today and Tomorrow

The system your association needs today may look very different than what you will require tomorrow. These questions will help you evaluate how the future path of your association and the AMS can evolve together.

  • Updates: How do you manage updates and the addition of new features to the AMS system? Is this something we will get automatically or that we can subscribe to? Can the AMS system be updated or if we want to get new features and fixes will we need to upgrade to a new version?
  • Upgrades: If we want to move to a newer version of your AMS, how does that work and what costing / effort is involved?
  • Configurations: What configurations are available for us to change in the future? For example, if we want to add a new membership type with a different membership period, is that possible and how can that be accomplished?
  • Customizations: If we need to have something added to or changed in the core AMS system to match our requirements, can that be done and if so, how? How do you charge for this work? If we make a customization to the system, can we still get ongoing updates for other parts of the AMS? Or do any code updates or changes need to be patched in manually?
  • 3rd party integrations: If we want to work with a third party application, for example an advocacy or learning management system, can we do that and how would we do that? What costs are involved? If we will have extensive third party integrations, what type of customizations and configurations can be made, if needed in those systems? Also, what are the costs, impacts and processes we should expect – if – and when any of the 3rd party systems change?


Your AMS Vendor, Today and Tomorrow

We are seeing technology change at an incredible pace. The last thing you want is to invest in a new system only to learn later that it is built on an outdated code base or that the vendor’s underlying programming structures and business models cannot easily evolve to meet changing market needs.

These questions will help you gain insights into the technical underpinnings of the vendor that will be involved in the development, maintenance and ongoing upgrades of your AMS.

  • Technology stack: What are the underlying technologies that your AMS is built on and what programming frameworks have you used? When is the last time you refactored your AMS code base and how do you approach code refactoring to keep your technology stack current with modern languages and frameworks?
  • Development practices: What software development best practices and methodologies does your company follow? For example, how do you approach things like version management?
  • Hosting: How will our AMS system be hosted? Are you using modern cloud, traditional hosting or will you install your software on our in-house servers? If it is hosted in the cloud, is the hosting in Canada or elsewhere? If we will host the system in-house, how is ongoing maintenance handled and will the system be able to receive live updates from online sources?
  • The team: Tell us about your programming team and its structure. If we select your AMS will we be dealing with just your company or an eco-system of vendors when the actual work is done? Do you have a product roadmap? Who makes decisions about current and future product developments?
  • Data residency: Is your development team based in Canada or are you using an off-shore team? If you are using any off-shore developers, what role they will play in our implementation and what member data will they have access to? Will there be any times when you send our data outside Canada?
  • Analytics and Reporting: What reporting tools do you offer? Will we own and have access to all our own data? Can we easily export our data so we can do additional reporting, analytics or even apply machine learning algorithms to better gain insights from our data?
  • Application Programming Interface (API): An APIis a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other. In other words, an API allows you to integrate a third party software into your database (examples would include allowing exporting of data directly into QuickBooks, or into the email marketing platform of your choice). Questions to ask your AMS vendor include – Do you have an API? If yes what is the extent of the API and how do you make it available?
  • 3rd party integrations: What third party integrations do you already have in place and how can additional integrations be added? Is there an additional cost for your existing third party integrations?
  • Security, privacy & data integrity: What security features have you built into your AMS system and what security best practices are in place in your company? How is your AMS set-up to protect the privacy of member data, both in terms of the software architecture and data management practices? What protections do you have in place for back-ups and disaster recovery? What continuity plan exists if the vendor ceases operation?

In Conclusion…

Selecting an AMS is perhaps the most important technology decisions an association makes. You can set your organization up for success by first deciding what type of system you need, then fully identifying the unique requirements of your association to ensure they can be met and finally validating whether your short-listed AMS systems will be future-proofed so that your association can maximize the return on investment (ROI) from this investment.