Associations Now Feature: Five Tech Issues New CEOs Should Focus on First

Five Tech Issues New CEOs Should Focus on First

When a new association CEO starts the job, the responsibilities and pressures of the role can feel exciting and overwhelming at the same time. Talk to any new CEO, and they’ll tell you that the first day on the job and the weeks that follow involve a lot of listening, learning, and meeting with key staff, volunteers, and board members.

Many times, a new association executive is hired to pursue a change agenda. Between growing membership, attracting and retaining top talent, and setting the long-term vision of the organization, there’s little time to think about whether the association is staffed and resourced from a technology perspective. And it’s not uncommon for a new executive to avoid technology issues because of a lack of subject-matter expertise. After all, it’s easier to let the IT team handle it, right?

Not quite. While it’s certainly not the day-to-day job of an association executive to worry about the details of IT management, there are a few aspects of an organization’s IT strategy that demand executive-level attention. The five areas below should be on any new CEO’s priority list.


According to the Ponemon Institute’s 2018 Cost of Data Breach Study, the average total cost of a breach is more than $3.8 million. The main expenses are related to detection and escalation, notification, post-breach response (including legal fees), and lost revenue due to downtime and reputational damage.

In other words, one breach incident is enough to bring your organization to its knees. As an association executive, it’s your responsibility to make sure the organization is addressing all facets of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy, including

  • technical defenses to withstand cyber threats
  • cyber awareness training of staff and volunteers
  • regular risk assessment and remediation efforts
  • cybersecurity policies that include incident response training
  • cyber liability insurance for when an attack does happen.

If one of these areas needs attention, put it at the top of your list. You don’t have to do the work, but you do have to assemble the troops to ensure a sound cybersecurity strategy.

IT Budget

Too often, associations get caught off guard by the need for a technology upgrade or hardware replacement. You need to complete these projects so that your team can be productive, but rising costs or a lack of board approval can present obstacles.

Now what? Do you reallocate funds from other critical initiatives? Or do you let IT infrastructure stagnate, opening the door to cybersecurity risks and system downtime?

Your technology budget should not cause organizational turmoil. Savvy and prudent CEOs can find reliable IT services and support for a predictable investment. Your staff team should be able to help you put together an accurate budget before it’s too late, but if that’s not the case, consider whether you may need outside help.


Outsourcing IT operations isn’t right for every association, but it may be a viable option that helps the organization save money and resources. These are signs that you might benefit from outsourcing some or all of your IT-support functions:

  • You, as CEO, spend too much time overseeing IT resources.
  • You don’t trust that your current team has your best interests at heart.
  • Your team is putting too much time into rote maintenance and too little into more strategic initiatives.
  • Your team provides fantastic support but doesn’t have the skill set for complex projects and problem-solving.

If you see these signs at your organization, consider whether outsourcing at least some of your IT functions could liberate your team to focus on more important duties.

Mobility and Collaboration

According to Ernst & Young, by the year 2025, millennials will make up 75 percent of the workforce [PDF]—and that means they’ll likely make up a large portion of your membership too. While generational stereotypes should be viewed with a grain of salt, millennials do have certain expectations when it comes to technology, especially that it should be used to enable mobility and collaboration.

Younger staff expect to be able to work from home or on the road just as effectively as when they’re in the office. Younger members expect to be able to interact with your organization over the web, from their smartphones, without any decrease in the quality of their user experience.

Your ability to meet and exceed these expectations will directly affect your ability to attract and retain both top workforce talent and new members. Seek to develop tools and tactics that support mobility and collaboration—they will give you a competitive advantage.

Return on Investment

CEOs should pay attention to whether the organization’s technology is merely a cost center or whether it actively facilitates the mission. Technology can do so much more than “keep the lights on.” The right solutions and support can have a measurable impact and provide return on investment in the form of high organizational morale, productivity, efficiency, and growth.

As a new CEO, work with your IT team early on to establish a set of key performance indicators, and then measure the results you want to achieve. You’ll have to invest a bit of time on the front end to make this happen, but the resulting value is worth it.

As originally published in the ASAE’s September 2019 Associations Now newsletter.

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