Too Many Associations


A Pie from "Too Many Cooks" spoofWe are currently dealing with a glut of associations in the information industry. In the past couple of years with the addition of:

When you take into account the long history of AIIM and ARMA in this industry, it is clear that the community at-large feels it has needs not currently being met by the existing associations. CM Pros failed after failing to determine what value they could offer, at what cost, and how they could be distinct from AIIM and ARMA.

What does the entry of these new players mean?

ARMA, The Past Incarnate

No need to dwell upon ARMA much. They have a vital role in the records management industry and a strong chapter program that should be the envy of the other associations. What they don’t have is a command of the future.

ARMA’s leadership knows that they must expand into information governance and the broader space but ARMA seems to be consistently holding back. Outside of the ARMA membership, perception is that they are still heavily records management. To alter that perception is going to take some revolutionary work. Work that is not historically associated with ARMA.

AIIM, Evolved into Disconnection

AIIM was originally an association focused upon microfilm. Their very existence today is a testament to their ability to evolve. If you judge by their conference keynotes, they are still trying to push the cutting edge by discussing digital transformation. It all looks good on paper.

Then in December AIIM killed the CIP. A week later, after a wave of protests across social media, the CIP was revived. There is an updated test outline in draft but it is a more narrow outline than the original. Some of the removals (telecommuting) were solid but others (business intelligence) are a real loss. These changes may reduce the scope of the CIP to an enterprise content management (ECM) certification, which we do not need.Smarf from Too Many Cooks

All of this just shows that AIIM is out-of-touch with its professional membership. Most chapters are weak and none receive a lot of help from the AIIM headquarters.

I went to a DC chapter meeting in the last year and there were maybe 15 people in attendance. In downtown Washington, DC! Just a metro ride from AIIM’s main office in Silver Spring.  DC is loaded with information professionals and yet only 15 people!

Chapters just do not get support from headquarters. The one thing that all associations try and do, build a community, is not actively supported by AIIM HQ. This is in spite of the fact that on the banner of the AIIM home page it declares:

The Global Community of Information Professionals

More like the Global Community of Information Vendors. There are a lot of vendors attending the AIIM conference and most are on the speaking schedule. Very few of them are what I would call “cutting edge” in the industry. The leaders of the move to the cloud are missing. This is also present in the Board of Directors where over 40% of the board are from software vendors.

Vendors are the last people they should be talking to if they want to know what the information professional in the field is trying to get done. I know this because I’ve fought with vendors about product features for decades now in order to get them to understand what people actually need to do their job.

AIIM didn’t solve their problems when the CIP was restored. AIIM is disconnected from the information practitioners and is seemingly unaware about what they can do to help. As an association they should be serving their members. The only members they seem to serve consistently are the vendors.

The IGI, the Think Tank

Not going to go into much detail on the Information Governance Initiative because they seem focused and it is unclear how broadly they plan to expand their scope. They are like a think-tank which is pretty cool. They just don’t seem like they are aiming to be an association for the massive amounts of people out here.

The IC, the New Kids on the Block

When the Information Coalition launched I was very interested. While they didn’t have a lot of content yet compared to the others, they have a group of smart people putting things together. I was intrigued and strongly considered joining. Then I saw their pricing.

Joining the IC is not cheap even if you take advantage of one of their discounts. For that price they are going to have to really deliver. The Peer Groups are promising from a value perspective but time will tell if those work. Lots of promise, lots of risk.

So Now What?

In reality it comes down to AIIM or the IC. AIIM has brand recognition that extends beyond the community. Everyone who has ever dabbled in the space knows who AIIM is. There is a large member population that is hungry for a better association that can offer them value beyond their first few years.

In many ways, AIIM is my home. They have been part of my career for a long time and they have a lot they can do to help the information professional. I very much want them to succeed because it would be better for my career and the career of so many friends and colleagues. AIIM just needs to start listening to the professionals, and not just when everyone is angry enough to rise up to protest. I’ll likely write more about what AIIM can do later.

As for the IC, they have a solid goal and a solid direction. They are also new. Can they continue to deliver after their successes of the past? Will it be worth the price of admission? There is a lot to figure out. Right now I’m playing a wait-and-see game while rooting for them. We need them to disrupt the current information association space.

One thing is clear; there is a need for an effective association in this industry. In today’s tight association world, there is also not enough member support to keep four of them going. There are going to be a few losers here.

The winner will be the one who listens, builds a true sense of community for its members, and delivers on their promises.

We need one of them to lead and represent us because our industry is simply too chaotic.

13 thoughts on “Too Many Associations

  1. Wanna know how how many local user groups across the country in the past twenty years have lamented they get no support from HQ? Could have been their salvation breaking away from the vendor stranglehold that’s now in place, but they ignored it to their own irrelevance.

    I wouldn’t call two a glut, but then again, what’s there now is pretty myopic. Corporate grunts interested in retention and disposition schedules, or pay for players interested in keeping the coffers lined.

    As far as IC goes “we’ll see,” but it’s mostly going to be a case of “you get out of it what you put into it.” We’ll see who shows up. From what I’ve seen so far I’m non-plussed.

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    • Given that most people tend to only put any effort, or money, into 1 association, 4 is a glut. IGI is offering things that the associations offer even if they aren’t quite the same.

      The minute the next economic drawback kicks-in, if not sooner, the count is going to decrease.

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  2. Marko Sillanpää says:

    We’re only counting the 4 associations in ECM. There are other areas as well, like general IT or the vendor specific associations. All of them adds pressure to the Corporate IT budgets for training and conferences. A budget line that is already extremely limited.

    In other professions, law and accounting for example, there are associations as well. They develop standards and require continuing education of their accredited members individuals. But in IT there is none.

    I thought we were getting close with CIP. But when AIIM’s first announced it was going to drop CIP, I was happy I didn’t invest my own time and money in the effort. Now I’m gun shy that AIIM will drop it again as they ignore the need to promote CIP themselves. Even still, I cut my check and renewed my AIIM Professional Membership, to check off the box.

    New associations prove that there is a demand that the current associations are either “a” not meeting or “b” practitioners are unaware exist.

    We will just need to see which association will remain after the next economic drawback.

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  3. Haven’t looked at pricing for the IC folks, but I can say from a marketing perspective (now that I’ve totally gone to the darkside); you gotta pay for the good stuff — that’s not a commentary about IC being good, I have no idea. But, you want cheap membership, it needs to be supported by something/someone else — hello, vendors. C’mon, man, you know that.

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    • Trust me, I know the economics of the situation. Members will pay for value. My largest concern for the IC is that they’re biting off a LOT of potential value at the beginning. This means a LOT of costs without enough other money coming in.

      Vendors are easy to some extent. You get the members who are influencers/decision makers, the vendors will follow.

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      • I can speak to that concern, Information Coalition is invested in value creation for members unlike any other groups. We released our public calendar, and yes, it is a lot: http://infocoalition.com/home/calendar. We cost more than the orgs that you called out in this piece, but there is depleting value to those memberships whereas our membership has incredible value, enough that our pricing, especially our introductory pricing, is an incredible value.

        We have two pieces in our membership offering that provide much more value than cost, and are unmatched: Unlimited Training and Peer Groups.

        Unlimited Training
        AIIM and ARMA don’t offer training as a part of their membership value proposition. Our founding team believes in education and we’ve made that commitment very clear with Information Governance, Information Management Fundamentals, and Communications classes all starting this month. No extra fees, just come and get the education you need, whenever you need it.

        Peer Groups
        These are facilitated small groups that discuss the real world challenges that we face as information professionals. These are unlike anything else available and through our focus groups, we know that our members love this new type of resource.

        Is there risk in what we’re doing? Absolutely. This isn’t a fly by night operation though, we’ve spent the last three years building up The Information Governance Conference to be the premier event on Information Governance and this is how we expand our commitment to the industry (…and if the worry is the business model, no worries, we’re solidly funded).

        In summary: We offer actual value in membership and we’re not going anywhere.

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  4. Whoops, I mean by “marketing perspective” the fact that there are plenty of free resources for marketers, but for deep content and access to other folks, you gotta pay.

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  5. Priscilla Emery says:

    Interesting to see the Peer Groups included in the value proposition of the IC given that I spent a significant amount of time at ARMA talking to Nick about how I was planning to add this capability to my consulting practice and asking if he was interested in working with me on it. He said he was, at that time, working more as part of the vendor sales stream and couldn’t really promise to work with me. I’ve got someone out there selling the concept (which believe me costs more than $450 a year to participate in because of the effort and time it takes to put together) so I’m not sure how much REAL value these Peer Groups will provide in the long run without clear objectives and deliverables.

    Either way, I think your post provides a lot of food for thought. I’ve seen many different associations linked to this space come and go over the years and AIIM itself has gone through many ups and downs over that time. Soul searching is good.

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    • $450 for peer groups is a relative bargain. Our co-founders are in a peer group run by one of the leading HubSpot agencies and it ain’t cheap. Tremendous value for us as we stumble our way through WTH are we doing new business issues though. There’s another group that runs one on a larger, less personal scale and it’s about 500 for access.

      Good luck on the peer group thing, I think you’d be great at it, Priscilla.

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  6. Alison North says:

    Food for thought here and well presented if a little USA centric – there are so many associations to follow that include information type topics in their portfolio that it may be more efficient to join the one associated with your sector than a specific info association – after all everyone is an info professional of one sort of another these days

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  7. Aaron Bryant says:

    Very good article, your insights are spot on and it conveys feelings that I have felt for awhile now regarding these organizations. AIIM is the organization I began with when I entered this field. Their relatively “cheap” training was what attracted me to them in the beginning. I’ve been in and out of AIIM since 2006 and have found their articles, resources and downloads (for members) very helpful. I’m hoping that your article is a shot across the bow of these organizations to pay attention to its members more than the vendors and make accessibility, to the information that they provide, easier for everyone to attain.

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