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Association 4.0: 2018’s Transformation Imperative

Posted By Sherry Budziak, CEO and Founder of .orgSource, Friday, December 8, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Anticipating and adapting to change has always been a characteristic of successful association leaders. However, existing business models no longer seem sufficient. We are in a period of major disruption that requires more robust responses to change.

Over the past year, there have been several significant signals indicating that association leaders need to think about disruptors in a new era of interconnectivity. These signals in 2017 have included:

A rise in digital workforces, with more fragmentation and specialization in job functions. This is occurring with more regularity to attract and retain workers and reduce costs. Transitioning to digital operating models is leading to more platform-oriented solutions that increase collaboration and efficiencies. Those with digital offices embrace processes that connect data and people who transform that data into useful information to enable decisions. Upfront, this means more investment in technology and time to determine the right operational adjustments.

Acceleration and expansion of the Internet of Everything (IoE). According to HIS Technology’s “Enabling the Internet of Things” study, 30.7 billion devices are expected to be connected by 2020 (e.g., wearable technology, thermostats, smart speakers, collaborative cloud-based solutions, alternative banking through Bitcoin, 3D printing, virtual reality). The World Economic Forum’s report, “Deep Shift,” puts a timeline on when key technologies will be mainstream: robots and automation (tipping point 2021); Internet of Things, wearable Internet, 3D printing and manufacturing (tipping point 2022); supercomputers in our pockets (tipping point 2023); driverless cars (tipping point 2026).

Machine capabilities are accelerating because of enhanced processing power, artificial intelligence, robotics and automation. This requires determining which aspects of IoE are relevant to associations’ customers and then prioritizing investments to make in people, technology, operations and processes to address these changes.

Different generations of customers that have increasingly different concepts of interactivity, value and relevance. There's a rising tide of younger association members who embrace rapidly evolving media technologies. They question the reason for the classic association model because they believe they can create their own peer groups through social media. They don't see value in committing time and money to things like traditional annual meetings. Yet many members of older generations still see the value in more traditional offerings, such as tradeshows, banquets and conventions for networking, sourcing solutions and receiving peer recognition. This means robustly serving varying expectations across all customer generations. 

These trends are challenging traditional and strongly held beliefs about core value propositions and operations in associations. Instead of being fearful of the “next big things,” associations should get excited about the trends that should improve our ability to add value. Associations that evolve with the times will become what we call “Association 4.0” organizations.

“Association 4.0” organizations share common characteristics. Chief among them are:

  • Continually facilitate a deep knowledge of the industry or profession it serves, constantly probing, “What’s impacting members today,” and, as such, adjust scope of service (audiences, models, products, approaches).

  • Engage new and different audiences by broadening value proposition or further targeting market segments.

  • Cultivate staff talent with for-profit marketing and product development business acumen.

  • Adopt governance systems in which volunteer leaders can rapidly make decisions that focus resources on the biggest opportunities and threats to members, keep customer interests—not individual interests—in mind, and have a clear understanding the delineation in board and management roles about strategy and operations.

  • Create and curate compelling professional development to enhance skills and expertise, and deliver it in a way members want in order to remain a primary educator of the industry’s workforce.

  • Enhance trust in the association by investing in the latest solutions for privacy and security of data.

  • Implement a digital culture that embraces transparency, open communication and accountability with a greater reliance on cloud-based management tools for enhanced collaboration.

  • Produce relevant, useful information in the frequency and vehicles members want.

  • Facilitate connections, identity and a sense of belonging on a daily basis.

These are times of change and uncertainty. But the enduring value and significance of associations will remain constant if associations evolve with the times. Associations should use these advancements as opportunities to magnify their importance to customers in helping them respond to disruption, manage change, and secure their futures.


Let us help you address the cultural and strategic transformation needed to enter into the world of Association 4.0. Call on us for an initial free consultation.

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