In a crisis, like the current pandemic, an integrated digital strategy can make the difference between business as usual and a meltdown. Travis Cheatham, Director of Technology Operations and Digital Solutions at the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, has firsthand understanding of how the right approach to technology can impact an organization’s ability to navigate tough times. If COVID-19 has brought your association’s technology deficit out of hiding, Travis’s perspective on AACE’s digital transformation will be both helpful and hopeful.
When a hurricane hit Jacksonville, AACE didn’t worry about the accessibility or safety of their data because it was already in the cloud. With the arrival of COVID-19, a phased plan to move to a 100 percent virtual office was immediately accelerated. “We started working from home one day a week,” Travis says. “We were scheduled to go to four days by midsummer and be fully virtual at year end. Just over a week ago, we announced the full rollout of our work from home initiative, and today our 40 person staff is fully remote.”
Preparation and Support Make Flying Solo Easier
Because employees were already working from home more than they worked from the office, glitches in the process were resolved months ago, and business is proceeding smoothly. “To prepare, we had a two-day staff retreat centered around virtual work,” Travis recalls. “When we split out into discussion groups, issues that no one had thought of before were discovered and addressed.
“Working without face-to-face interactions with colleagues is still a little strange,” Travis says. “But our staff is prepared. The human resources department is giving great direction on how to create daily work routines. They’re also advising us on best practices for team communication. We’re fortunate that the leadership understands and acknowledges the personal dimension to this change in culture.”
Although in person events and continuing education are canceled, AACE can still offer members a portfolio of online trainings available through their learning management system. A well-designed AMS platform allows all staff to stay current with member needs and activities and the AACE website provides an effective and engaging vehicle for communication during these challenging days.
AACE was not always such a nimble, tech-savvy association. I met Travis three years ago when newly hired CEO Paul Markowski and CFO Tom Conway called on .orgSource to help bring an organization that was making minimal use of technology into the digital era.
Committed Leaders Create Buy-in
Paul and Tom knew there was no shortage of talent and that they could create a strong future for the organization. But teams were struggling with systems that weren’t up to the task. Membership data and other critical information was stored in dozens of spreadsheets, making an efficient process for analysis and reporting difficult. AACE didn’t have the digital or the cultural resources to navigate an increasingly competitive environment.
To grow, the association needed an innovative approach to business strategy and a stronger infrastructure anchored in technology. The goal was to create the systems and culture that would give AACE staff the ability to do their best work and to build an organization agile enough to give members what they want before they even realize they need it.
“We had a 10 to 15-year technology deficit,” says Travis. “Preparing the staff for all the changes that a digital transformation would bring was challenging because they didn’t know what to expect. To motivate people, I had to paint a picture of what we would gain. It was a heavy lift because plates were full, and we were asking the staff to pile on another helping. Fortunately, our leaders, Tom and Paul, were behind me one hundred percent. As our tools and work began to change, people became more enthusiastic and engaged.
“In some ways, our lack of technology made the conversion easier. We didn’t have to redesign an existing digital infrastructure to upgrade,” Travis notes. “But I was surprised by how many options there are for using these platforms. We chose Microsoft Teams and SharePoint for our file structure. Building out Teams involved a lot of trial and error. I can’t tell you how many times I started over because I was trying to make the site as user-friendly as possible.
“People naturally tend to complicate things. Creating something simple is hard work. There was more effort involved in streamlining the system than I imagined. I designed a poster with the message Fight for Simplicity to help us stay on track. Once we decided on a structure, the next surprise was that the setup is not that hard. It’s a project that’s 90 percent mental and 10 percent work.”
Technology Builds a Foundation for Culture
This planning began just three short years ago. The AACE team’s work to get new systems up and running coupled with guidance from .orgSource provided a foundation for the following goals that extend far beyond technology:
- Building an environment and culture for innovation
- Implementing strong digital platforms to enable operational efficiencies
- Enhancing member experience and access to content
- Creating a foundation for knowledge-based decision making
- Achieving a sustained customer experience for audience growth, engagement and monetization.
“This transformation has changed our culture in a big way,” Travis notes. “Now we are product focused. Everything centers around what you do and what you accomplish. Our leadership doesn’t care when you start, finish or take a break as long as you get the job done. They’ve created a wonderful work environment and are giving us tools and training so that we can grow professionally.
“There is little that actually ties people to the office anymore,” Travis observes. “As a society we’ve been slowly moving toward this. Coronavirus has just kicked us forward a little bit. Going fully virtual with your office is not as hard as people think it is.”
It was extremely rewarding to support Paul, Tom, Travis and the rest of the team at AACE in building a digital strategy that’s providing structure through turbulent waters. In a time of incredible strain on the health care system and its professionals, it’s great to know that .orgSource played a role in positioning AACE for success.
The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists represents more than 6,500 endocrinologists in the United States and abroad. AACE is the largest association of clinical endocrinologists in the world. A majority of AACE members concentrate on the treatment of patients with endocrine and metabolic disorders including diabetes, thyroid disorders, osteoporosis, growth hormone deficiency, cholesterol disorders, hypertension and obesity.