Attending the 2018 DigitalNow conference in Austin was a great experience. I was surrounded by the uber game-changers, innovators, and disrupters in the association industry. Artificial intelligence, eco mapping, and voice interaction played supporting roles, but digital transformation was the star. If you’re not as immersed in all things technical as I am, you might be wondering what that means. Are associations migrating to a digisphere where cyborgs and bots will replace us lowly humans? Well, not yet, at least. Conference thought leaders describe digital transformation like this:

. . .the convergence of digital technologies applied to organizational activities, processes, competencies, data, intelligence, and models yielding significant efficiencies, service, and market opportunities for associations and not-for-profits.

Leveraging this mix of digital technologies, operational execution, and their accelerating impact across society in a strategic and prioritized way will present and ensure a future that supports and advances the organization’s mission and relevance.

In other words, a digital transformation happens when you harness the full potential of technology to maximize performance, production, and service throughout your organization. No department remains untouched. From membership to marketing, technology saturates every business line. In a perfect world, we are working smarter, faster and better as a result. Access to data and analytics is putting our members up-close-and-personal where they should be. Our organization’s relationships are broader and deeper than we ever could have imagined.

Roadblocks to achieving this state of electronic nirvana were also one of the conference themes. Not surprisingly, the human factor looms large. Veteran association professionals have probably already experienced most of the issues that are identified as contributing to failure:

  • A non-supportive culture
  • Lack of alignment of staff and volunteer leadership
  • Not attracting and growing the right talent
  • Fighting the legacy battle
  • Inability to apply the right data and analytics

As I listened to the presentations, I had to consider the irony of the fact that I’ve been dealing with these challenges throughout my career. Even in my early days as a neophyte in the tech space, which at that time occupied only a very tiny place in the overall scope of association activities, one of my biggest challenges was bringing all the important players on board. It occurred to me that there are some important lessons to be learned from my early experiences.

In my next few personal blogs, I’m going to retrace my steps in the hope of bringing you insights into managing the opportunities and hazards of this brave new world that is shredding tradition and reassembling the pieces in unfamiliar configurations. As an entrepreneur, I push my clients to embrace innovation before they are forced to change. But I also believe that the elements of success, in any new venture, are learned over years of experience and remain constant.

My professional journey began at a time when mastering technology meant learning to use an intriguing new machine on my desktop. Because I was curious and driven to understand how things work, I was quickly identified as the most likely person to tackle thorny computer issues. Being among the few who approached these brain-teasers with unbridled enthusiasm also probably made me a likely candidate. It’s been quite an adventure untangling websites that seemed hopelessly twisted and convincing reluctant followers to stick a toe into cyberspace. The excitement and innovation at digitalNow sent me back in time to the thrill of those early experiences. I’m eager to share some of the events from my career that have prepared me to guide others through the maze of digital transformation.