Digital transformation helps AAFP find new relevance with its members

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) was losing touch with its members until a three-year digital transformation project helped it better engage them.

When the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) hired Michael Smith as vice president and CIO in 2015, it did so with the aim of modernization. At the time, the organization, which counts nearly eight out of 10 family physicians in the U.S. as members, had not performed any technology upgrades or refreshes for more than a decade.

"I was pretty surprised how far behind the AAFP was on technology," Smith says. "Their entire network environment was managed by Novell. Their email system was GroupWise. In 2015, they had just recently moved to Office 2003. All of the employees were still running either Windows 2000 or Windows XP. I didn't know that coming into the organization."

The trade association world tends to be insular — when an association seeks to fill a role like CIO, it tends to look for candidates with association experience. Smith, however, was an outsider, a divisional CIO and global IT director at Thermo Fisher Scientific, which had roughly 70,000 employees. The AAFP, on the other hand, has a staff of 415.

The AAFP is a source of information and policy guidance, both to government and to medical professionals. It publishes award-winning medical journals, provides continuing medical education, and sets standards for the education produced by other organizations. It also provides research on medical topics to organizations such as the National Institutes of Health, World Health Organization, and various pharmaceuticals and research laboratories.

But in 2015 the organization was falling behind and losing market share. Constituents were feeling disenfranchised and many were considering cancelling their annual membership. Smith was brought on to develop and execute a strategic plan that would help the association become relevant to its 130,000-plus members again. The undertaking, dubbed a "Journey of Innovation," touched every aspect of the enterprise, earning AAFP a CIO 100 Award in IT Excellence.

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