Current Affairs

A Sudden Shift to Digitalization

23rd April 2020

Digital transformation is one topic that has topped associations’ lists of must-dos over the past few years. Before the pandemic, the conversation swirling around digitalization was how to capitalize on the rapid growth of technology in a way that benefits members—and enhances your goals and overall purpose. Since the future is as uncertain as ever, has a global crisis helped accelerate the digitalization of associations? – that’s what we asked the members of our Advisory Board, as part of our special series.

Words Lane Nieset & Remi Deve

Introducing digital tools

With a global network of nearly 48,000 members, the Association of Corporate Council (ACC) has made digitalization “part of our journey for years,” says Managing Director for Europe, Giuseppe Marletta, adding that the association connects people remotely by offering online education, meetings and virtual networks. We’re now accelerating and supporting our chapters around the world to get adjusted to these new conditions.”

According to Mohamed Mezghani, Secretary General at the International Association of Public Transport (UITP), digitalization is already in progress at his organisation as well: UITP is integrating the latest travel restrictions into its plans, and committees are already holding remote meetings. The association has also started offering webinars, e-training and e-peer reviews, and plans to continue developing more of these types of services. But an efficient and sustainable strategy, shouldn’t be just about introducing digital tools, but about digital transformation of the organization: changing how we manage and organize our work through the introduction of these new digital tools,” Mezghani says. “This is the approach we initiated and have now decided to strengthen.”

Matthew R. D’Uva, CEO of American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD), says the association has also decided to fast-track its current digital goals by ramping up digital resources, increasing digital education offerings and offering online networking opportunities. Since some members, speakers and specialists won’t be able to travel until restrictions are lifted (and perhaps until a vaccine is available and distributed around the world), associations are turning to alternatives such as online participation and streaming. We are exploring ways to incorporate hybrid models since some participants need the flexibility to switch their participation due to current market situations,” D’Uva says. “We are also looking at programs (educational and governance) that need to happen in person versus providing virtual options.” 

Virtual realities

Some association leaders, like Marletta, have been working with collaborative conferencing and messaging tools like Teams for some time, but what’s clear now is that these programs should be used across the board. “There are too many tools out there, so it’s important to find the tool that suits your association’s needs,” recommends Silke Schlinnertz, Head of Growth at Euroheat & Power“What we find at Euroheat is that these tools actually create more proximity with our members; everybody feels better and more connected.” A comment that is echoed by Mezghani: “Since the day we all started working remotely, there are actually more meetings taking place every day, and this has greatly improved the level of engagement from our staff and members alike.”

When considering tools, try to find solutions that offer the same quality of service to everyone connected. Any solution that can organize virtual meetings would be of help, but the available bandwidth and quality of the connection may discriminate participants compared to others,” Mezghani adds.

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The bigger question now is around program design and how—and which—meetings should move from in-person to online. At AASLD, for example, the association is trying to identify a few in-person programs to move online and design them as digital experiences. “We think that this is critical because the content will be stronger if we design programs that are optimized by channel,” D’Uva explains.

Leaders are also finding that video conferencing software like Zoom and GoToMeeting have become more commonplace and members are getting more and more comfortable with virtual meetings. “It is no longer a novelty for sure,” D’Uva says. “Online learning platforms are going to be pushed, and it will be exciting to see if these platforms can meet demand.”

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