Meetings technology today is big business. No longer a horde
of little suppliers fighting for a small number of interested corporate
customers, the sector has evolved into a prominent, reasonably stable pillar of
the corporate meetings industry. It features long-running suppliers, some of
which have grown quite large by providing maturing technology to a growing pool
of corporate clients. Be they simple tools for attendee registration, more
complex offerings for enterprisewide strategic meetings management or newer
options enabling clients to deploy mobile meetings apps, meetings technology
has pervaded the upper reaches of the Fortune
500 and left its imprint on the processes of smaller and midsize companies as
But with that evolution has come more formal corporate
processes for evaluating, selecting and purchasing. That includes a sometimes
lengthy request-for-proposals process and rounds of presentations preceding
multiyear deals consisting of service-level agreements, incentives and
penalties. Key to that selection process is increasing corporate interest in
meetings technology as an integrator, not only with existing online travel
booking tools but also the client's entire technological ecosystem, which can
include enterprise resource planning systems, customer relationship management
systems and expense management systems, among others. Sometimes those tools are
internally developed or custom-made. And clients often want that integration to
Increased interest in integration widens the circle of
executives involved in the decisions to purchase and select meetings technology
beyond meetings, travel and even marketing and procurement to include CIOs and
other IT personnel. After lengthy discussions with their counterparts at the
tech vendors, IT managers will be the ones who determine whether and how the meetings
technology would integrate with existing corporate tools, and so their words at
many companies are carrying more weight in the selection process than ever
"One of the key things I see people miss sometimes is
not having the IT person at the table," said meetings management
consultant Betsy Bondurant, president of Bondurant Consulting. "They don't
realize how important it is. Many corporations have strict requirements and
firewall issues, but they also want it to talk to other technologies like CRM.
That's a best practice we see more and more: including the IT person in those
Respondents to a new BTN
survey of corporate travel and meeting buyers, however, generally didn't find a
great deal of influence by IT departments. When asked to assess on an ascending
scale of one to six the influence of individual departments on the selection of
meetings technology, 112 respondents rated IT an average of three, ranking it
on average below the travel department, senior management, and the finance,
procurement and meetings departments, respectively. Only the human resources
department on average had less influence in the selection of meetings tech,
according to the survey, which was conducted in February and March.
The presence of IT in that selection process typically
occurs at larger companies, Bondurant said. "For some of the smaller companies,
that process can be driven pretty exclusively by the owner of the meetings
department," she said. "They may reach out to other people in the
organization, but they are typically the ones making that decision. Sometimes
they reach out to their travel manager, because there could be some opportunity
there as well."
Of course, "meetings technology" is an extremely
broad descriptor, and some smaller and midsize companies in particular aren't
looking for a full rollout of enterprise technology as part of a strategic
meetings management process; they simply may want to gather data and have the
ability to send online RFPs to meeting venues. While that process often starts
in the meetings department—or wherever in the organization the responsibility
for managing meetings resides—it doesn't always end up there, said Lisa
Palmeri, senior director of SMM professional services for meetings technology
"In the small and midmarket, it's definitely the
business owners who are driving the decision," said Palmeri. "They
have a need. Usually it's more a practical and tactical need, and they can look
for a solution that's less all-encompassing that solves their specific needs."
She noted online attendee registration, internal meeting registration and venue
sourcing as typical targets. However, she added that it "usually grows
into something more—procurement gets wind of it, and they're looking at more
than just that one stakeholder group."
For wider or enterprisewide deployments, Palmeri said large
corporations typically bring representatives from several departments into the
meetings tech evaluation and selection process.
"There are three major players at the table," said
Palmeri. "There's procurement to do the administrative part and make sure
they're checking all the boxes; IT to make sure the solution is sound and
integrates with other systems; and the business owners who don't really care
about the other stuff but do care whether the technology solves their business
requirements. All three have an equal voice, but procurement can trump the
business owner and IT can trump the business owner if they find some serious
Patrick Payne, CEO of mobile meetings technology firm
QuickMobile, said, "We usually are introduced through the director or vice
president of events, but we typically go up through and require approval and
buy-in from the CIO and the IT department, and often the marketing departments
as well because they typically are the owners of the event business. CMOs, vice
presidents of marketing, vice presidents of events—those are the ones we
typically talk to."
Once the decision has been made to pursue a meetings tech
solution and the appropriate stakeholders and business objectives have been
identified, Bondurant said that "the more sophisticated programs in larger
companies do more of a traditional procurement process," including a
request for information or RFP.
She pointed to recommended questions included in the
strategic meetings management services buying guide released this year by the Global
Business Travel Association as representative of typical meetings technology
RFIs and RFPs. That guide recommends buyers as part of the procurement process
ask several questions related to the tech's functionality, flexibility,
security, customization ability and implementation timelines, among other
"A lot of the technology has similar offerings, so
often it comes down to service levels," Bondurant said. "Most of the
tools pretty much can provide a lot of the same support the corporations need.
A lot of it comes down to how the service model is with helping to implement
and deploy, and then on the reporting end."
Bondurant said another key factor in selecting meetings tech
is the tool's ability to integrate with other systems. "Ideally, most
technology tools want to integrate as the client wants them to be integrated,"
she said. "They will try to design a customized solution to the extent
that they can with what the corporation wants."
Regarding the ability to integrate as a factor in the tech
selection process, BCD M&I director of technology solutions Arnold Lagos
said, "It plays a huge role, and more so recently. A lot of organizations
already have certain approvals and workflows and systems in place, so they want
to see if a technology can fit into their underlying ecosystem and not force a
change to processes they may have had for years or invested heavily in.
"The technology they select—and we're noticing this
more and more—needs to be a little bit more flexible in order to pass data
along into it and capture the things they need to capture," Lagos
continued. "Integration is becoming a very large component of this, making
sure the technology they land on has the flexibility and that the security is
Booking With Meeting Registration
In the BTN survey,
online air booking and online hotel booking, respectively, were cited as
meetings technologies used by the largest number of respondent organizations.
The ability to integrate meetings technology with online
booking tools to enable such booking at the point of meeting registration has
been around for several years, but Bondurant said development in that space
"More mature programs are looking at integration there
and looking at making it more user-friendly for the end user," she said. "In
the meeting registration process, being able to do hotel and air all in one
site is important. People want to have the consumer experience at their
Integration with online booking tools "has always been
the part that's been plug-and-play to a certain extent, but all integrations
require a lot more research," Lagos said. "It's not as easy as it
used to be. The uniqueness of everyone's own internal solutions is causing it
to be not that easy to do."
Cvent's Palmeri cited online booking tools along with
procurement systems like Oracle's PeopleSoft and SAP's Ariba as frequent
integration targets among clients. "The biggest, most common integration
we see is with CRMs," she said.
Some companies look to integrate technology to better manage
internal meetings-approval processes as well as meetings expense data, Lagos
"We've worked with companies that were looking to
integrate their overall procurement systems as a first step of getting anything
approved, which carries that workflow approval process for them and drops it
into the meetings tech," he explained. "Also, people are putting
[spending] information into expense management systems, so why not have that
data fall back into the meeting technology, where you really want it to be
anyway so you can get actualized costs?"
Such integration, though, can be extremely complex due to
the level of customization present in the client's existing systems and the
level of data security needed, Lagos said, and can take a year to complete.
"It involves a lot of research," he said. "There
are so many levels and aspects of integration. You're seeing bringing together
internal IT teams of the organization and the meetings tech company and sitting
down to understand exactly what the requirements are. Some systems have been
completely custom-built for those organizations. The meetings technology has to
have the flexibility to be open to capture data and receive data."
originally appeared in the June 10, 2013, edition of Business Travel News.