Better Budgeting and More

The Three Levels of Strategic Meetings Management

A Strategic Meetings Management (SMM) program can generate savings of 15 percent to 25 percent while enhancing the value of your meetings.

With special software, you can get a total view of your meeting programs, how they are doing for key metrics compared to last year and find ways to increase their economic efficiency.

Despite all the benefits, there is still much inertia, even among the largest companies and associations that have the most money to save.

Let's look at three levels of technology adoption already in use for managing meetings programs.

Level 1: Enterprise Resources Programs (ERP)

ERP systems used by big companies and large government organizations are complex (and expensive) software applications that allow an organization to ensure that all its buyers make their purchases in the same way. SAP is probably the most widely known brand, but Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, Lawson and many others also have a significant claim to the market.

In a recent study done by the Event Marketing Institute, 60 percent of meeting planners said the ability to integrate their meetings management programs with the larger software systems at their organizations was either important or very important to them.

In reality, especially when it comes to the users of ERP systems, this is often easier said than done.

Sarah Moon, Boston University’s (BU) travel manager since 2008, was brought in from the hospitality industry to improve the travel-related processes and achieve greater cost containment.

According to her, most of BU’s meeting expenses are not being run through their ERP system, at least not ahead of time when organization wide-processes and supplier discounts that make up a SMM program can be put to use.

“We have made efforts to at least get the payments done through our system,” she said, “but that’s it.”

Level 2: Speciality software designed just to manage meeting programs

Managing corporate and other large scale meetings programs themselves is being called the next frontier. As of now, just a few companies are leading the way for delivering on that promise.

An early adopter of a Strategic Meetings Management program is Chubb Insurance. They started a SMM program in 2005 and chose StarCite as the technology provider to help implement its solution.

(One of the original pioneers in the field, Kevin Iwamoto ended up joining StarCite in 2008. While the Business Travel Association president (2002-2004), he helped create the GBTA’s Groups and Meetings Committee. His work has been credited by the organization for helping grow the trend of a merger of corporate travel and meetings management programs. In January 2012, StarCite became part of The Active Network, a West Coast company that helps over 50,000 organizations manage their events. Their experience working with many smaller organizations will undoubtedly help StarCite move its technology platform beyond serving Fortune 500 companies, which it has traditionally served.)

Today the software is called ACTIVE StarCite and it will integrate with most existing corporate systems including online travel programs offered by Concur and the newer Rearden Commerce.

There is a lot of growth predicted for all the SMM technology vendors. Other SMM software vendors include Certain Software, Cvent and SignUp4.

Level 3: Software as a Service solution for a particular need combined with home grown systems

While tools to search venues (like this website and send RFPs and RFIs are something that meeting planners have been comfortable with for years, Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings that handle other parts of meetings programs like registration are the entry level for a lot of meeting planners.

“Cloud-based computing and web-based software as a service models generally are cheaper, more efficient, faster to implement, more secure and require far less IT support on a local basis," Ball said.

Usually offering pay-as-you-go pricing, these services provide customizable templates for a variety of needs like group registration, housing, badges/certificates, email invitations and social media integration.

Tools are offered by RegOnline, PassKey, Eventbrite, Eventbee and Acteva, as well as many others including Active Network, Certain Software, Cvent and SignUp4 (mentioned above).

If none of these processes fit with your organization, it may be time to let other companies help you achieve SMM success.

There are dozens of travel management companies and meeting planning firms that would be happy to show you the ropes.

“These companies specialize in contracting space and have a unique set of skills and huge buying clout. They use procurement tools, such as Cvent and StarCite, and they have internal databases as well. In many cases, especially for planners without much procurement experience, they can do the job faster, cheaper and with a greater degree of legal protection,” according to Certified Meeting Professional Corbin Ball, who is a consultant, speaker and thought leader focusing on events and meetings technology,.

Some of the larger meeting procurement companies include Experient, HelmsBriscoe and ConferenceDirect.

In conclusion: If your in-house meetings management programs continues to run on a program like Excel, it's time for an upgrade.

February 29, 2012