Smart Data vs. Big Data: A Major Opportunity for Associations

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In The Future of Data Bo Crader suggests we “Forget about Big Data,” and asks “What does your organization actually need and struggle with? What will make a real impact on your fundraising, service, and Mission?” Like Crader, I find “Smart Data” is “a more resonant term for what nonprofits are looking for today: how can we transform and serve data in a more automated, expedient, and actionable fashion than what we’ve done in the past.”

Of course, smart data starts with being smart about the data we already have in house. Heidi Guglielmino and John Kagia suggest in Data Aggregation for Associations: It’s Bigger Than You Think, “When it comes to data, your association knows more than you realize.” Whether we know it or not, we’re surrounded by valuable data about our members and our organizations.

The downside for many associations is that much of that data is stored in incompatible formats (no common taxonomy) and silo’d in mismatched systems (AMS, LMS, Email Browsers like Outlook, etc.). Guglielmino and Kagia offer a number of steps to tap into these data pools, however, developing a true Smart Data environment in the longer term will require that we make compatibility and cross-platform communication an immutable ground rule for our data systems going forward.

As John Mancini noted in The Death of the AMS, “We will never get all of the information about customer and member engagement into a single AMS system and we need to stop kidding ourselves about this” so we need to be thinking “best in class” rather than “master of all”. In that respect, Guillermo Ortiz de Zarate of NCARB noted at ASAE’s Annual Conference last summer, “Our first criterion when evaluating proposed systems (AMS, LMS, etc.) is an API that ensures the proposed system can easily share its data with our existing systems.”

Bottom line, we need cross-compatible systems that allow us to make the most of the incredible wealth of data already in hand. When you put it all together, this pool of smart data is pretty Big Data!

Mariner Management & Marketing provides association management, volunteer coordinator and leadership development information for associations and non-profit organizations.