1. In order to possibly promote increased attendance, would you be supportive of a more affordable Annual Meeting registration fee scheme for the members?
Generally, no. I am in favor of developing a system where underrepresented groups, such as students and governmental employees, receive discounts or subsidies in order to attend the Annual Meeting. However, for the general attendee, the current pricing structure is a great deal. Compared to other conferences, such as CMAA, ABA, ASCE or PMI, the AACE Annual Meeting fee is similar or lower for the quantity and quality of the content. In fact there are several similar conferences which have significantly higher fees. For instant, I saw one for $1,900 recently which is approximately double AACE’s fee. At the same time, many professionals in the industry consider the AACE Annual Meeting the best technical conference in the U.S. today. With more than 100 detailed technical courses, it provides a unique opportunity for education and learning that is appealing to various levels of expertise. Further, revenue from the Annual Meeting helps support the AACE’s projects throughout the year. If revenue dropped from the Annual Meeting, the AACE might be forced to raise fees for other services. I note that the annual membership fee of $143 is among the lowest of all professional organizations of this type. Yet, it is important from a professional perspective to expand the attendance at the Annual Meeting. I think this can be accomplished in three ways: a) continued high quality profession papers; b) continued superior operations; and c) the right choice of venues that provide both an exciting destination and moderate cost.
2. How would you propose membership be increased in North America and internationally?
The AACE has two great “products” neither of which is adequately publicized. Our superior technical content and our certification are the best in the industry or related industry. We need to perfect our presentation through our website and improve our outreach to non-member professionals. This means we need to have a coherent package explaining what we can do for these professionals. In an age of free or modest cost web-based content, this is a real challenge. The current programs, including the recently instituted webinar program developed by our excellent Morgantown staff, are just a beginning. We need to expand these efforts. Further, the planned November 2012 International Meeting in Dubai is the start of a larger international push to penetrate and service international markets. Our recent training for Section Presidents will eventually yield results in larger Sections. Certainly there is much room for expansion in most of our major employment centers.
3. What do you see as the two most significant challenges facing your position and how would you address these two challenges
The first challenge for the VP Finance is to assure the AACE balances its income sufficient to fund the programs and initiatives identified by the Board of Directors. Not surprisingly, most of the AACE’s annual budget is expended on relatively “fixed” costs associated with the ongoing operations including staff salaries, publication needs, Annual Meeting costs and exam related costs. At the same time, the most significant revenue generators are dues, exam fees and the Annual Meeting fees. This leads to the second challenge for the VP Finance which is to counsel the Board of Directors on the financial implications of potential new activities such as the upcoming international meeting in Dubai and the increased expenditures associated with new marketing efforts. The current VP Finance, John Ciccarelli has, with the BOD, developed a system that requires every proposed activity to have cost estimates included in the support material prior to review and approval. This policy applies to both minor expenses such as the Governance Task Force which is looking at how the AACE conducts itself, to more significant costs such as the expanded marketing effort. The success of the AACE to survive and prosper in the recent economic downturn, even as many other associations suffer, is a testament to the great programs as well as the careful financial stewardship that has been exercised in the recent past.
4. What are your thoughts on the AACE International membership category of “Emeritus”?
Over the past few years the Board of Directors has moved to reduce the number of different membership categories through the elimination of some minor or redundant categories. However, this process is not complete. There are serious overlap problems between the “Retired” classification and “Emeritus.” I believe that it would be better to consolidate the two categories and provide free membership for those members who have both retired from employment and active AACE participation, but require them to pay for services, such as attendance at the Annual Meeting.
5. What do you see is working right with the association today; in general or specifically?
The AACE has many things working right. My incomplete list includes: a) our dedicated staff in Morgantown is the engine that assures the AACE operates well; b) our volunteers who prepare and grade the certification exams work tirelessly to assure our candidates are treated fairly and examined with state-of-the-art technical information; c) our technical volunteers that write, proof and edit papers on all topics related to cost control; and d) our volunteer and professional staff that makes the Annual Meeting one of the premier association meeting in our field. There are many other things that are right with our organization, and just because they are not mentioned above, does not mean they do not merit mention.
6. What do you see as needing improvement with the association today; in general or specifically?
While much of the AACE is working right, there are areas of potential improvement among both the successful programs and the less successful ones. My incomplete list includes: a) the AACE has not yet been able to successfully implement a recruitment plan that increases younger professional membership. We have several programs that hold great promise for mentoring and increasing the diversity of younger members, but our membership remains stubbornly male and middle class. Further, our diversity is very thin in North America; b) the AACE’s generally slow response to modern technology. Yes, we have an adequate (though not great) website, but we have not yet identified how we can make greater use of it so as to capture the extraordinary growth of social/business websites. There are almost half-a-million I-Phones and Droid “apps” but very few (or none) aimed at facilitating AACE members’ access to our services; c) the AACE’s inability to tap into some of mainstream project management membership. Two of our competitors, CMAA and PMI, while having slightly different focuses, have been able to “sell” their products to a broader spectrum of potential members; and d) the AACE’s inability to deeply penetrate one of the most obvious groups of professionals doing our work – government cost control experts. Under several current programs lead by President Mike Nosbisch and past VP Administration Alexia Nalewaik, we are making concerted efforts to remedy this situation, but these efforts have not yielded significant results. There are many other things that merit improvement within our organization, and just because they are not mentioned above, does not mean they are in great shape.
7. For the areas where you see the association needs improvement, how should they be addressed?
As indicated in question #6, there are numerous areas that merit improvement. Three areas that partially overlap with the above issues are: a) the AACE needs to reinforce its marketing and outreach efforts to both represented and under-represented groups within the cost engineering/cost control field. Certainly the hiring of a dedicated marketing staff member is a great first step, but only a first step. This action was taken within the parameters of the AACE Strategic Plan that was last updated in early 2011. That plan, which is available on the AACE Website and is reported on frequently by our President, identifies how the AACE should develop in both breadth and depth. That plan needs regular updating to reflect both implementation successes and failures; b) the AACE implemented a new Canon of Ethics on 1-Jan-12. Under the leadership of Donald McDonald, FAACE, the AACE is updating its procedures to assure our ethical policies remain the highest in the industry while providing our members with the information so they can identify proper ethical behavior as well as procedures to adjudicate alleged ethical violations; c) the growth of the AACE outside North America is one of the greatest successes of the past few years. While the success has created some problems, the major issue now is how can the AACE institutionally accommodate and promote its continued growth internationally. Three recent developments point to how this growth can be encouraged and successfully integrated into the AACE. First, a new Region was created to reflect the international growth. This should continue whenever the increased membership warrants it. Secondly, our first international AACE conference is planned for Dubai in November 2012. This is a deserved reflection of the incredible role the mid-east has played in recent AACE activities. Third and finally, the Board of Directors has appointed a Governance Task Force under past President Steve Revay to examine all aspects of AACE operations and recommend structural and procedural changes that will make us better suited to adapting changes in our industry and association. The first recommendation by the Governance Task Force is on the ballot this year, basically, a change to our Constitution to eliminate inconsistencies inside our governance documents. There are many other potential areas for improvement, some major but most the continually tweaking to improve successful programs.
8. What value to the association does the Approved Education Provider (AEP) program provide?
AEPs provide a valuable service to our membership and potential membership. They potentially provide educational services that complement those offered by AACE volunteers. By providing this for-pay service, they can serve candidates for our certifications in locations which have limited access to AACE educational offerings with a broad and integrated range of educational options. The biggest difference is that the AEPs can integrate and modernize more readily that the all volunteer group within the AACE. However, care must be taken to assure that the AEPs in fact teach the necessary materials without “teaching the exam.” Further, while innovation is encouraged, it is imperative that such providers not stray too far from knowledge necessary for the certification. Finally, the AEPs must provide value for fee. Thus AACE has an inherent interest in the course curriculum and the fees charged. The AACE should continue to monitor how particular AEP students fare on the exams.
9. How would you propose the value of the AEP program to AACE members be increased?
As discussed in Question #8, I would initiate/maintain a seven step AEP Oversight Program that would assure the AEP program is responsive. Many of these steps are already part of the AEP approval program: a) content would have to be approved. This would be a combination of review of the written materials and a review of the detailed notes; b) teachers would have to be approved to assure they not only have the right knowledge base, but also that they are appropriate as teachers (continuing the current requirement that they be certified by the AACE); c) certification exams would have to be conducted by individuals unrelated to the AEP; d) student performance on the exam would have to be tracked over the long term; e) the AACE would issue a survey to all students after the exam, but before grades are posted, to ascertain the quality of the education; f) random telephone interview would be conducted by AACE staff to confirm survey results; and g) a member of the Education Associate Board would audit a class session upon occasion. Many of these ideas are already being enforced now, and some, particularly for overseas providers, would be hard to implement.
10. What are your thoughts relative to the association expanding internationally, including into China?
As indicated in previous answers, our international growth is a great opportunity. The mid-east growth has permitted us to have our first international conference, hopefully a model for future conferences in other member-dense locations. Since the AACE provides a valuable “product” in both its certifications and technical resources, it is important to make those offerings available to as wide a market as possible so as to spread education on cost-control throughout the world. Developed and developing markets such as China and India each pose their own individual problems, but growth in these areas is essential. At the same time, the AACE must assure itself that core ethical and knowledge goals remain in place. This will often require detailed implementation plans for each location. Our efforts in China seem to be on track in matching our goals with local conditions. So far in India this has not been particularly successful. Since most of the world is relatively underserved by the AACE, it seems we have a huge potential for the Association’s expansion.