Every day (or at least I strive for every day….) I read the Washington Post. And it seems that every day since October 1, the first page has been dedicated to chronicling the failures of HealthCare.gov. Deirdre Reid wrote a great post several months back detailing what associations can learn from the botched launch of the website, and many of her points resonated with me–controlling IT directors who are threatened by the fact that technology now touches every part of the association and a lack of willingness to collaborate across the org can be disastrous; internal politics can derail tech projects when smart voices aren’t allowed at the tech planning table or are just ignored; lack of the right resources and unrealistic expectations/deadlines can prove deadly to a website launch.
As the months since the launch have rolled by and the Post and everyone else out there have continued to chronicle the failings of HealthCare.gov on a daily–if not hourly–basis, I can’t help but wonder whether all this outrage because a website doesn’t work right is causing any revelations for association execs about their own websites. Namely–an organization’s website REALLY MATTERS to people. The fact that HealthCare.gov doesn’t work correctly 100% of the time is practically grounds for Obama’s impeachment, if you go by the all-out rancor expressed by reporters writing these daily chronicles of the website’s failings and the sentiments expressed by people who have had problems using the system. And Jeff Zients, the guy who salvaged the steaming pile of crap that the site was before he stepped in, (sidebar: I grew up with Jeff Zients–super nice family) is now being hailed as the biggest genius on the planet and even worthy of a Nobel Prize in management. All because he’s a smart business person and a good project manager. Imagine that–a skilled and savvy project manager leading your web project–what a novelty!
Here’s the thing: how many association websites are just as bad–or worse–than HealthCare.gov? Tons. Yet how many of the execs at those associations don’t care and still just spout the “our members don’t use the internet” thing as justification for not investing more resources in the design, implementation and daily management of the website? How many associations still offer a printable pdf as the means for joining or renewing membership–because “our members prefer to join or renew via mail or fax”? How many associations have an online store that doesn’t work on a mobile device or that doesn’t even have Google analytics installed to be able to track conversions because “our members don’t buy stuff online”? And then how many of those same associations are struggling with declining membership and/or poor product sales?
If I could beg association execs to learn one thing from this daily drone of HealthCare.gov fail articles, it would be this: notice how integral this website is to the Affordable Care Act implementation. It is HUGE. People care passionately about this website and absolutely expect it to work flawlessly and are enraged when it doesn’t work. Notice how there is no printable pdf so people can mail or fax in their applications–because the standard today is online registration and payment for things. And above all, notice how many people are working behind the scenes to get it up and running and how much the whole project cost. Short answer for both? A lot. Yet how many staff people and how much of your budget are allocated to your org’s website and the underlying technology? Really? You have how many people on staff and one or maybe three dedicated to managing the website and they also manage your online community, all your social media presences and then also pitch in with annual meeting or membership or whatever else other over-staffed departments need help with throughout the year? Or you don’t even have a web person because other staff people with no website knowledge or tech skills just cobble together whatever needs to be done? How’s that working out for you?
It’s 2014, people, and your org’s website IS your org to a lot of people….so please invest in it accordingly and enlist qualified people to develop and manage it.