The American Geophysical Union is an organization that revolves around science and technology. So, it was fascinating to interview Thad Lurie as a guest on my Association 4.0 Podcast. Thad is AGU’s Senior Vice President of Digital and Technology. He brings nearly 25 years of experience in IT and operations within the association industry to that position.

Thad’s extensive background equips him with a strategic vision that aligns perfectly with AGU’s mission of advancing Earth and space sciences. AGU is a global community supporting over half a million advocates and professionals. The organization is dedicated to ethical, unbiased, and community-respectful scientific advancements.

“A lot of what we do well as associations is collaborate. We listen and learn from each other,” Thad says. “This spirit of partnership is crucial as AGU strives to support its members and drive scientific discoveries.”

Strategic IT Focus

The people side of technology is one of Thad’s current priorities. He is focused on building strong interpersonal relationships to enhance collaboration and ideation within the organization. This approach ensures that AGU’s operations align with its mission and strategic goals, delivering the best possible value to its members.

I was fortunate to inherit a solid tech stack and a very, very effective staff,” Thad advised. “I have the luxury of being able to position my attention strategically across the business. That’s what every leader wants, right? We don’t want to spend time worrying about why we have to migrate these legacy servers into the cloud. Thankfully, I inherited a relatively advanced infrastructure and well-planned architecture. I’ve been able to focus more on the human side of my job.”

The Intersection of Culture and Technology

I’ve been writing and thinking a lot about the intersection of culture and technology and how softer skills support a healthy work environment. It was great to hear an IT leader echoing those ideas. I wanted to learn more about AGU’s approach.  

The intersection of technology and culture can support a healthy work environment.

“Technology has ignored culture for a long time,” Thad advised. In the past, IT professionals believed we were the only ones who understood and could implement most technology challenges. Today, we realize that influencing and guiding the culture of the organization has impacts on everything we do from product selection and development to generating revenue. It’s all intertwined with culture.

“Thankfully, at AGU the culture is very strong and very people-centered. I have the ability, even the mandate, to support my team. It’s my job to make them feel psychologically safe. I need to ensure that we have open conversations, and that people are comfortable challenging ideas and concepts.

“There’s a great deal of transparency and communication at AGU. We spend time and effort building and maintaining relationships with all the other business areas. IT operations support many activities across the organization. The more we understand the business, the better we can help be that trusted advisor. We can point others toward opportunities we see on the horizon. Or provide advice on analytics surrounding products and services.”

Leveraging Data for Informed Decision-Making

In keeping with that human-centered approach, Thad advocates for a shift from mere data collection and reporting to generating actionable insights. He stressed the importance of understanding the context behind data to make informed decisions that lead to better business outcomes.

“There is still progress to be made in data analysis,” Thad observes. “We started with statistics and then we moved to reporting.  We need to make that last leap to insight. Looking at a spreadsheet and seeing that you have 10 percent more members than you did last year is helpful. But understanding who those members are, why the numbers are shifting, and observing the entire picture over a longer time provides knowledge that you won’t find in a report or a spreadsheet.”

I’m impressed with how well AGU uses its data to understand member behavior, engagement trends, and the impact of its offerings. That data-driven, customized approach is something that I am passionate about advising our clients to incorporate.

The Role of AI in Transforming Operations

Of course, I had to ask about AI and how it is impacting AGU. “AI has been a bit of a thunderbolt in academia which is where a lot of our members come from,” Thad noted “They’re already putting countermeasures in place for students who are attempting to write papers or submit research that is generated by AI. So, it has created waves and there are a lot of conversations around how AI is impacting our industry.”

Thad sees value for his group and others in potential applications such as automated concierge services for conferences, improving content findability, and generating natural language summaries of scientific abstracts.

However, he cautioned against indiscriminate AI implementation. He advocates for a deliberate approach, focusing on high-value use cases that can significantly benefit AGU’s members. “We don’t have unlimited funds to place our bets and they’re not going to be that big,” Thad remarked.

Preparing for the Future

Looking ahead, Thad envisions a future where traditional taxonomy and meta-tagging give way to more sophisticated AI-driven content interactions. This shift could revolutionize how members access and engage with AGU’s vast repository of scientific content.

Thad believes that staying focused and deliberate in technology adoption will be crucial for associations. By prioritizing initiatives that deliver the most value, AGU can navigate the fast-paced technological landscape and continue to advance its mission effectively.

The Role of Boards in Supporting Technological Advancement

We also discussed the role of boards in helping associations succeed in the digital age. Thad views boards as guiding entities that provide strategic advice, understand member needs and represent their interests. He emphasized the importance of curiosity and engagement from board members, particularly in understanding how technology can further the organization’s mission.

My conversation with Thad underscores the critical role of technology in advancing the mission of associations like AGU. By focusing on strategic initiatives, fostering a collaborative culture, leveraging data, and exploring the potential of AI, AGU is well-positioned to navigate the future and continue its important work in Earth and space sciences.

As associations face an increasingly digital landscape, leaders like Thad exemplify the forward-thinking approach needed to thrive.

If you’re interested in learning more about connecting technology to culture and strategy, schedule time on my calendar for a discovery conversation.