Thursday, January 20, 2005

Saving Money on Events & Meetings With Online Registration

Today I had an interview with Ruth Hill, one of the editors for MeetingsMedia (Meetings West, Meetings East, Meetings South, Meetings Mid-America, Meetings Focus). She is writing an article, "Saving Money on Events & Meetings With Online Registration", that will appear in 3 of their 4 printed publications in March, June, and September. Here are my thoughts on this subject:

How online registration saves you money

Save time:

  • Attendees do your data entry by registering online and completing payment for you,
  • Web site answers common questions instead of you answering phone calls,
  • Real-time, integrated reporting eliminates data manipulation

Save labor costs:

  • Online registration reduces staffing needs for call centers to handle phone, fax, paper registrations

Save fees:

  • Integrate online credit card processing with Address Verification can result in savings on your bank's processing fees
  • 0.2% or more savings on transcation fees can add up to thousands of dollars

Save physical costs:

  • E-mail replaces paper, printing, postage, mailing

Generate Revenue:

  • For some types of events, online registration forms, email confirmations, and event web sites can be a revenue-generating opportunity by selling banner ads or sponsorships

Resistance to online registration:

  • Data Security concerns with outside vendor - Register123 overcomes this by voluntarily submitting to an annual Visa CISP (Cardholder Information Security Policy) independent audit of Register123's security and privacy practices and publishing the results
  • Past Practices: change is slow and painful for some attendees, and planners too.

But online registration is only growing - so select a tool that gives you the best value, then review your existing practices and modify them (if needed) to take advantage of current technology.

Next week, I'll be at the MPI-PEC in San Diego.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Technology, Do I Really Need It?

Today I gave an interview with Ben Chapman of Successful Meetings magazine. He is beginning to write an article for meeting planners on the subject of "Technology, Do I Really Need It?". Here are my thoughts on the subject.

There are two types of technology applications that Planners are pushed to use by the media, their peers, their companies, and the Association conferences that they attend:

1. Technology that faces attendees (web sites for event information, online registration, wireless internet access on site, onsite kiosks, fast/simple onsite registration)

2. Technology that helps planners in the back office functions (budgeting, reports, data consolidation, procurement processes, e-mail)

Attendee-facing technology

Meeting Planners absolutely need attendee-facing technology because their customers (the attendees and event owners) demand it. Because planner-facing technology is typically boring, many of the technology advances that will continue to make the news will be in this arena, such as RFID tracking of attendee movement and intelligent name badges (nTag).

Planner-facing (Back-office) technology

Meeting Planners do not absolutely *need* back-office technology. They need efficient back-office practices, and it's important to understand the difference if they don't want to overspend on technology.

If planners can do their job on sticky notes posted in their basement, and the end result (the event) is the same, then their customers would be happy. But low-tech or no-tech processes in the back-office could only work for events that are the same over and over, where you have a fixed routine, fixed contracts with vendors, fixed relationships, and nothing changes. If only everyone could find high-paying jobs like that.

Planners living in a world of constantly changing events, who want to be efficient, must produce more (events, attendees, quality) for less (time, money, staff, effort). Proper application of available technology is a good way to accomplish this. But remember that technology is not the requirement; efficient process is the requirement.

"Ok, I understand that I need technology, but *what* technology do I need?"

To select technology, first start with your process and look for where you can apply technology to improve it, and where you could change your process to take advantage of existing or less expensive technology. Then look at the different technology tools that could work together to form a working process for all people involved - attendees, planners, registration specialists, accounting, management, procurement, legal, suppliers, etc.

An internal or external process consultant can help you select technology and design a process that works with it. They often bring an outside, high-level perspective that is missed by people involved in daily operations. For example, Tech3 Partners does an excellent job with this, as I recently saw first-hand through my observation of Rod Marymor and Jeff Rasco handling their National FFA Online Conventation Registration project.

Incidentally, the practice of putting tools together into a working process is called Systems Integration, which is a subject I'll be speaking about with Paul Rantilla of Passkey and Kathryn Glessing of IFEBP (International Foundation Education Benefits Compensation) at the MPI-PEC conference at Session TP421 in San Diego on Jan 25th at 3pm.

Technology selection and process design.

Everyone in the meetings world these days wants a good Return On Investment (ROI). ROI is calculated as the amount of additional revenue that you generate (or expenses that you save) divided by the money you invest to achieve that revenue or cost savings. If you pick a very expensive technology or a custom development solution, then you are going to have to produce a lot of revenue or cost savings in order to get a good ROI. Conversely, you might be able to get a superior financial return with less expensive outlay by using established, low-risk technology.

Be flexible with your system design. If you have what you believe to be a "perfect" process, and you want the technology to exactly fit that process, then you may be stuck with custom development and its associated high cost and high risk. This is often not going to give you the best ROI in the long run. Work with your consultants, vendors, and technology suppliers to see if a slight modification in your process, which should work for you as well or almost as well as your original design, will allow you to use low-cost, low-risk technology that is currently available.

With technology you always want it Cheap, Fast, and Custom - but often you can only get two of those three.

For example, Weyerhaeuser manages their meetings list in Excel (although they might have moved to Access by now). For each new event, one of the planners generates a Meeting ID number, which then is used to track all expenses for that event throughout the organization (procurement, travel, budgetting). For events that need online registration (a small percentage of their 1000+ meetings per year), they use Register123 by Certain Software, and enter the Meeting ID number as the Register123 event code in order to connect the two systems. In this way, Weyerhaeuser combined two inexpensive, proven technologies (Excel and Register123) to deliver significant cost savings compared to their previous processes - just the formula for a very high ROI.

The basics of technology selection

Some parting thoughts:
  1. First, you must have a good foundation for your technology: High-speed internet access, phone/fax service (VOIP can give huge cost savings and flexibility with voice mail, digital messaging), e-mail, web site hosting
  2. Then add fundamental systems that your attendees require: Online registration, event web sites, on-site services, maybe housing and travel management.
  3. Then add in the systems that help you the most back-office: Excel, Outlook, Access, Budgeting tools, procurement tools, site selection databases (MPBid, Plansoft, Starcite), supplier search tools (, meetings data consolidation.

Sometimes, a single system will fulfill multiple technology requirements out of the box. Other times, you'll have to work with your vendors to integrate separate systems into a single process. Don't automatically pay substantially more for a single system that does everything, when two or more inexpensive systems may give you equal return at much lower cost.