From Data to Decisions

From Data to Decisions

Written by Jessica Marko Brandt, former Director of Analytics

If the unexamined life is not worth living, is the unexamined data worth collecting?

My colleague Shelley Sanner recently wrote an informative article, featured in the November/December issue of FORUM Magazine. In her commentary, Shelley describes how data can permeate an organization’s culture –and how it can drive growth when applied in the right way. Building on the theme of leveraged technology, I’d like to share some additional insights on what to do with all that data…

Data collection can take a number of forms at association, but the most commonly seen method is through the association management system (AMS). The AMS is a software system that allows associations to collect, organize, and access membership information with the convenience of external storage. But what are associations doing with this information? Are they using the data in a way that drives growth and meets organizational goals? Or are associations just compiling these facts and figures, generating boiler-plate reports that do no more than sort and label?

Somewhat new to information technology, I find the sheer volume of available data to be mind-boggling. I also find it fascinating. To that end, I joined McKinley’s data mining workgroup where we, the detail-oriented and type-A, scour years of work to create more streamlined research procedures, benchmark best practices, and much more.  In addition, one of our clients is adding a business intelligence product to their AMS and I had the opportunity recently to participate in the first phases of implementation.  A business intelligence product is a layering technology solution, akin to giving the AMS opposable thumbs: it takes data collection to the next level by providing forecasting analyses, complex data mining, and business performance management—just to name a few. Sitting through a product demonstration of such a solution, I started thinking about the marketing opportunities that such high-level information could provide.

Realistically speaking, a complex product such as a business intelligence tool may not be a necessary investment or a financially viable option for all associations. But for an association that collects data on member profiles, dues, communications, products and services, events, etc., dedicating staff (internal or external) to provide an analytical perspective should be a priority. Enter the business analyst.  An analyst can be the difference between standardized data summaries and effectively leveraged information—the kind of information that feeds directly into strategic plans and tangible growth opportunities. Business analytics can transform the large-scale outreach tactics into targeted marketing campaigns. In the end, it can bridge the gap between an organization’s goals—and its performance.