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Powering a brighter future for electrical contractors

The National Electrical and Communications Association’s mission is to build the future of the electrical contracting industry. But at more than 100 years old, its legacy was increasingly both an asset and a liability.

With close to 5,000 members employing about 100,000 people, the peak industry association has a lot on its plate. These members range from one-man operations to multinationals working on large-scale commercial projects. NECA offers a broad spectrum of support to each of them, from technical help, training and development to industrial relations, legal advice and counselling.

Via chapters across Australia, it also trains and employs 700 electrical contractors and hires them out to member organisations. Completion rates for its training courses stand at 90 per cent, compared to an industry average of about 50 per cent.

We help build the industry and we maintain it. We have mentors who make sure that if our members are having problems – be it work, family or anything else – they’ve got support. – Oliver Judd, Executive Director of NECA’s New South Wales and ACT chapters.

Overdue for an overhaul

NECA had become a victim of its own success over the years. As demand for services has grown, its systems and processes increasingly struggled to support internal and membership needs. In 2017, NECA’s national executive realised an overhaul would be needed to efficiently fulfil its mission, maintain financial stability and find new ways to add value in changing times.

“As a 100-year-old business we’d become a bit of a patchwork quilt with bits and pieces plugged in over the years. We needed to reorganise the whole business, replace our outdated and poorly integrated systems, and standardise our processes,” Judd says.

Time spent chasing unpaid membership dues and other debts owed to the organisation was a primary challenge.

“It’s hard to imagine but we were sending out hundreds of invoices in the old system and then just waiting for people to pay. Some of them pay, others intend to pay but don’t get around to it, so we have to spend a significant amount of time and energy calling them,” Judd says.

This impacted cash flow and the time NECA employees could spend engaging with members to improve retention rates.

The organisation’s dispersed geography and IT footprint, with NECA chapters throughout Australia each operating different CRM, marketing and accounting software systems, also meant that it lacked cross-organisational visibility.

“In order for the National Executive to understand the size of the membership they were reliant upon individual reports and the consolidation of accounts was a very arduous task,” Judd says.

Smaller chapters relied heavily on spreadsheets for data gathering and reporting, adding to the challenge.

The user experience was also a problematic for members. NECA’s various services were spread across myriad platforms, meaning that an electrical contractor would have to remember up to six different passwords in order to access information and benefits.

“We want to bring it all within one environment, making it easier for members to access information. This includes offering single sign-on. Right now, it’s crazy,” Judd says.

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Relevance and retention

Global pedigree and competitive pricing helped NECA decide that Microsoft Dynamics 365 was the way forward. Working with Microsoft partner, Sognos, they have successfully implemented an integrated Dynamics 365 CRM, ClickDimensions Marketing Automation and Dynamics NAV finance system, and have onboarded half of their members to date. These systems also integrate with existing member management and eCommerce portal websites, as well as a direct debit payment gateway, making it a complete solution.

“Sognos has been really responsive. They put one of their staff members in the NECA office from the start, which was particularly helpful right after we went live,” Judd says.

With the system now implemented, NECA is already seeing significant improvements in membership management and cash flow.

“Once members are in the direct debit system, we don’t have to chase them for debts because it just rolls over continuously. We’re going to save a huge amount of man hours not having to chase up our debtors. We also have a number of other product subscriptions that sit on the portal, which they can now more easily purchase, so our cashflow’s getting a lot better,” Judd says.

NECA sees a major opportunity to improve member services with data-driven insights that will drive new revenue streams. The organisation anticipates that improved visibility of its membership will enable it and other sponsors to offer relevant services based on a better understanding of profiles and needs.

“By building rich data and understanding their behaviour, I can make sure we’re going to serve those individual contractors with really relevant offers,” Judd says.

NECA anticipates a major improvement in member retention and growth.

“When members resigned in the past the reason they often gave was that they hadn’t heard from us. Now we can totally change our approach to how we engage, rediverting our staff’s energies. We’ll be giving members a call and making sure that if they have issues, we can handle them. It’s hard to quantify but I’m expecting it to improve member retention and net growth.”

“There’s already a lot of opportunity but there’s much more to be discovered. That’s part of the fun,” Judd says.

Sognos credits NECA’s high level of engagement as key to the success of the transformation.

“I think Oliver (Judd’s) embracing of the solution, including working so closely with Sognos, has played a huge part in how well it has gone. It goes beyond the technology; the partnership was key,” Rick Vosila, Managing Director at Sognos, says.