Using Business Intelligence to Become Future-Ready

This post has some tips and best practices for associations that want to get better at business intelligence (B.I.). If you want to see a real-life example of an association who underwent a complete data transformation, stay tuned to Association Chat on June 27th for Rebecca Achurch and Jim Gibson on Naked and Afraid: Organize, Don’t Overexpose, Your Association for Successful BI Initiatives.

It seems like everyone these days is getting caught up in the VR/AR/AI hype (don’t get me wrong, we are too). And, while it’s definitely important to stay ahead of the technology curve, there is one important skillset associations that aspire to become future-ready should cultivate.

Business Intelligence

The association of the future is both mission driven and data informed. Without measurable objectives, it’s easy to think your association is performing well overall. But without insights into all aspects of your business, you could miss out on important, timely developments.

Clarity around organizational objectives is the key to transforming your association’s mission and passion into real, measurable outcomes.

But that’s easier said than done, right?

The challenge for associations is that real-time data requires diligent data management (read: time) and robust technology (read: money). It requires a commitment to ensuring that you’re basing business decisions on reliable, real-time information. After all, you can’t have AI without BI. It won’t happen overnight, but here a few data management tips and technology best practices that can help your association to better anticipate whatever the future may throw at you.

Data Management Tips

Individually, data points don’t say a whole lot. They can tell you what happened once, but say very little about what has happened in the past, what might happen in the future, or why it happened. But data doesn’t say anything if it isn’t maintained. Here are a few tips for taking care of your data, so it will take care of you.

  • Assign a Data Steward
    Someone needs to take ownership of your data, and the health of your database. Assign someone to care for your data, with the power to enforce data standardization.
  • Standardize Your Data
    Make sure everyone in your organization knows how to enter information into your system. From file and folder structure, to date formats and record names. Everyone should know how to enter information, and your data steward should have the authority to track down the offenders.
  • Allow Members to Update Their Own Info
    Your members are the first to know if their address changes or if they get a new credit card. They should have the ability to update that information on their own. Give your members the permissions required to update all of their information online, and save your staff the time.
  • Prevent Duplicates
    Duplicate data is frustrating, and can cause inaccurate reports. Good data hygiene consists of both clean up and prevention. The good news is that there are plenty of tools available for preventing duplicates with rules that verify names and email addresses.
  • Make Cleaning a Priority
    While ad hoc data cleaning is inevitable, it can be beneficial to your database to set aside time once a month, or even quarterly to review your data, remove duplicates, and clean up your assets. Make it everyone’s responsibility, and your staff will be more likely to take ownership of the data in your system.

Technology Best Practices

I won’t pretend we’re not biased about technology solutions for associations, but we also know that, at best, only 10% of associations today are in a place to purchase new technology. The rest of you have to work with what you’ve got. Here are some technology best practices that can help you to stay on top of the changes in business intelligence technology.

Modern B.I. Solutions evolve:

  • From Static to Dynamic
    The association of the future has ditched Excel. By the time your report has been created, data compiled and exported, it’s already out of date. I, personally, love Excel because it gives me a chance to pause my data, and organize my thoughts, but meanwhile orders are coming in behind the scenes, and I am looking at old numbers. You need real-time B.I.
  • From Lists to Visualizations
    Data visualization is a common language. It speaks to both the technical and non-technical person at the same time – and we’re not just talking about a pie chart here and there. Modern business intelligence solutions allow you to spot trends and outliers, to uncover and share information visually. You should be able to create a dashboard for your executive team that clearly displays how the organization is performing. Your membership staff should have a dashboard that displays the status of your members, how engaged they are, and how this data compares to last quarter.
  • From Governance to Self-Service
    Data governance is important, but everyone in your organization needs to know the status of their efforts to support your mission. That type of access is just impossible in a spreadsheet or legacy database. A good BI solution will help you to build a data community and allow your organization to share and collaborate with your data. With the appropriate controls and privilege settings, different groups in your organization can view and edit the reports that apply to their area of business, without having to worry about breaking anything.
  • From Service Provider to Business Partner
    User adoption isn’t just about ensuring that your staff uses the appropriate tool to complete tasks, it’s about empowering them to ask and answer their own business questions. One major benefit of a modern business intelligence solution, is reducing the reliance on IT. This sentiment shouldn’t leave your IT department worried about their job security though, this is an opportunity for them to move from putting out fires, to making decisions for your association.
  • From Data Silo to Communicator
    Many legacy BI tools require that data be stored in its database in order to run a corresponding report. But a modern BI tool can report on data through integrations. There is no single piece of software that will meet everyone’s needs. But that doesn’t mean you have to log into multiple systems and cobble together your own report to create customized reports and dashboards.
  • From the Office to the Field
    Advances in mobile technology have changed the way we do business, as well as where we do business. You should be able to work anywhere, on any device.
  • From Reactive to Proactive
    You shouldn’t have to manually run a batch report, then send an email each month. It should happen on-demand. Your solution should be able to notify you if a member is inactive or upset, and create a task for a staff member to follow up.

Unfortunately, there is no prescription for innovation. But when associations do what they can to make accurate data a priority and understand the best practices for business intelligence tools, they can make sound decisions about their future.


This has been a guest post by one of our partners Fonteva.

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