If you're reading this article, it's safe to say that you've bought into the idea of capturing members' data from their event attendance and other association-related activity, getting to a single comprehensive view of each member, and using that insight to provide services that meet each member's individual needs.
But you might be surprised to learn how often these data-capture programs fail, which is a hard pill to swallow when you consider the amount of money needed for infrastructure, internal personnel hours, and consulting support.
While no single article can answer every conceivable issue, here are some of the most common pitfalls I have run into when trying to build an effective data-capture system, and the solutions I've seen over the course of my career.
Pitfall 1: Project Ownership Conflicts
Often there is a struggle between business and IT on who should run the data-capture program. In most cases, the business lacks the technical knowledge to fully understand how to create an effective system or program. And often executives might have some understanding of how they are running your business, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they know the best way to run it.
What about IT ownership? Although IT people understand the best practices around systems management, they often lack knowledge of the best practices in your industry.
In either case (business ownership or IT ownership), what tends to happen is that the existing inadequate processes are automated, rather than a better and more effective process coming into play.
Come to an agreement on who owns what elements of the project. Enlist or hire a good project manager to govern the process, coordinate between the groups and leaders, and document progress.
Pitfall 2: Focusing on the System, not the Process
Once you’ve hired your project manager and agreed on ownership, the tendency is to go through your legacy systems and automate what you have in place. At the end of a long implementation you have proliferated your poor processes. The result? You get bad data 10 times more quickly than you did before!
Solution: Design Your Processes First
In addition to your project manager, assign or hire a business process architect to help you through the journey of reviewing and revamping your business processes and key performance indicators. As part of the process review, work to simplify what you are doing rather than adding complexity. This sounds obvious, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen leaders add more requirements because the process is now “automated” and they expect things to get better. It never works out that way.
Pitfall 3: Getting Sold on Software that “Does It All”
As an event organizer, you're not just capturing customer contact information. In addition to basic customer data, you may be capturing:
• product inventory (if customers are buying things)
• purchase history
• behavioral history
And of course, you need your technology to handle:
• email and social media automation
• other areas
Solution: Have Realistic Expectations, and Don't Get Frustrated
No single piece of software is capable of performing all these tasks to the standard you and your organization need. The overall framework is a lot to think about, and it can certainly become overwhelming. That's why things need to be thought through one step at a time. That's also why you need an integration team and an integrator—which brings us to the next potential pitfall.
Pitfall 4: Putting an Integrator in Charge
Most of the time, organizations do not have the capabilities (in terms of resources and expertise) to successfully design and deploy a data-capture program. So they hire a third-party integrator to help.
There is no problem with bringing on the expertise needed. I’d usually encourage it, but keep in mind that integrators are there to make money and often have a “land and expand" mentality: They start small but then weave their way into all aspects of the program. Integrators charge you to learn the business, as well as for mid-course corrections, documentation, and last but not least, handover and/or post-implementation support.
Finally, integrators can and do shift experienced resources to higher paying projects. So, beware of being sold on the “A team” but then dealing with the “D team” to deliver.
Solution: Run the Project Yourself, but Use the Integrator for Consultation
You probably cannot simply dispense with an integrator; he or she will have the skills that often aren’t readily available on staff. Use your project manager and business architect to assume a leadership role, and use the integrator as a consultant and implementor. They are the hands, but you are the brain.
Integrators will help you get off to a good start if you’re concerned about how to proceed. They have experience and expertise, and they will help you bring the right people into the project. But be sure to explain that you've hired them as an advisor and technical resource. With any integrator agreement, clarify these things:
• Who exactly is on the project
• Resources cannot be moved to other projects without your approval
• The process for changes (to avoid any surprise invoices
• Specific deliverables
• Specifics on documentation and handover
• Re-evaluation of use of outside resources once this objective is completed
Pitfall 5: Looking at the Program as a One-Time Investment
Nothing ever stands still, and it's a sure thing that your processes and priorities will change over time. All too often I see companies develop a really effective data-capture program but then let it age until it’s not relevant anymore—or worse, it gets them into trouble because it isn’t compliant with current privacy regulations or other laws and rules. Data capture isn’t a set-and-forget type of program; as your business changes, your platforms need to change.
Solution: Budget for System Maintenance
You should budget for yearly maintenance and support. The areas you need to cover are:
• Software licenses
• Vendor support
• Training, both for users and IT
• Continuous Improvement, for both the process and the system
Mike Clapperton is chief technology officer for Informa, a leading business intelligence, academic publishing, knowledge,and events business. The firm is listed on the London Stock Exchange and a member of the FTSE 100. Informa is also MeetingsNet’s parent company.
* For an even more detailed look at data capture and analytics possibilities for meetings and events, check out this recent MeetingsNet article.