Connected Reality: A Possible Future Business Model for Associations

Could the future business model for associations depend on taking full advantage of “connected reality” to create value for members and customers?

In my scanning, I am on high alert for futures research that might answer the question what will be the future business model of associations.  In Connected Reality 2025: The Next Wave of Digital Transformations, Z-punkt, a Cologne, Germany-based foresight company, offers a potential answer although the report doesn’t explore how these findings apply to associations and nonprofits.  

Z-punkt describes connected reality as the super convergence of five technological trends (Internet of Things, ubiquitous intelligence, new interfaces, digital production and autonomous systems) with five social drivers (digital lifestyle, new spirit of autarchy, real-time economy, resource efficiency and security).  You can read the report to get explanations of these changes and capabilities.

Associations draw their strength from creating and using connections effectively. These two statements point to business models that look promising for associations and nonprofits:

 “It is not size that determines competitive advantage, but the ability to link value-creation processes and operators intelligently to provide the customer with the highest possible added value by offering bundles of personalized and flexible products and services. “

“Opportunities for growth will be found by integrating the expertise of different sectors to provide an all-encompassing service. “

For those smaller associations envying their big and powerful counterparts, here is hope. Palo Alto, US-based Institute for the Future describes a similar phenomenon of change as becoming an amplified organization.  Today small organizations can play big.  

For big associations who still lament how much more their large corporate counterparts can do, stop whining and look closer at all the assets you do have to link value-creating processes and operators intelligently.  Where can you partner to offer personalized and flexible products and services?

Since Z-punkt didn’t have associations in mind in this trends and forecasting study, let’s see how the areas identified as ripe for innovation in the report might apply to associations and nonprofits.

  • Data-based and cooperative value creation.  How might an open exchange of data with other partners or members create value?  Trade associations could develop products and services using proprietary industry information to benefit those who agree to cooperate in creating mutual value.  Professional societies could effectively gather evidence-based best practices with real-world data on what works and why.
  • Anticipatory real-time interaction.  This takes the next step beyond professional development and knowledge management resources on demand 24-7.  In this forecast, associations would anticipate need and arrive with the solution before their members and customers experience the problem.
  • Hybridization. Instead of selling products, associations would sell solutions bundled into the products. This might require integrating the expertise others have—perhaps another association or consultants and vendors.  
  • Smart automation.  Associations could help members automate management functions and decision making processes. They could take best practices and move them into time-saving and mistake-avoiding decision-support tools.

As Z-punkt observes, these kinds of systems innovations “require cooperation, alliances of developers and a mindset that ranks value-creation higher than technological innovation for its own sake.”  Associations and nonprofits could be the conveners and creators of alliances among potential competitors that meshes their latest technological innovations into a mutually-beneficial ecosystem of services and solutions.  This is something with so much more potential than staging a trade show or endorsing a few vetted partner products.   

If you let this idea of convening and creating these value systems settle in even a moment, you will see immediately that a great culture change may be required.  Partnering often invokes fears of favoritism, liability and loss of control. Connected reality would be a collaboration of an even higher order with members, vendors and consultants.  Connected reality can only be a future business model if trust is built into the system along with new technologies, services and solutions.