Despite the rapid development of meetings management technology, many corporations have yet to adopt automated tools to plan and source corporate events, according to an exclusive Meetings Monitor survey of 186 corporate meeting buyers. Buyers said they are taking a wait-and-see approach as technology products on the market continue to mature.
Sixty percent of survey respondents said their companies had not yet adopted meetings technology, while 36 percent said such tools already were in use and another 4 percent said their companies planned to adopt meetings technology this year.
"It's something that I'll look at in the future. Our meetings are mostly of a certain size so it's not necessarily an imperative thing for me at the moment," said Robin Buzzeo, corporate travel manager for Taro Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., an Israeli pharmaceutical company with U.S. headquarters in New York.
Technology is best applied to large events, Buzzeo said, although as the number of smaller events at the company increases, a tool may be considered.
Many hotels and conference center companies have unveiled turnkey online meeting tools over the past year (Meetings Today, Jan. 23),
and Buzzeo said that has been a welcome development. "It's a nice enhancement for those of us that don't have tools," she said.
One of the biggest challenges in adopting meetings management tools is how quickly these tools become outdated. Buzzeo said she wants to see how the market develops before investing into a purchase or contract.
"Technology changes so quickly that you don't want to get something and find it's not applicable or adaptable," she said. "It's just like the self-booking tools. As you waited, they got better and more sophisticated, clearer and easier."
Among respondents who said their companies had adopted meetings technology, 36 percent said they used internally developed tools, 31 percent said they used an external provider and the remaining 33 percent said they used a blend of internal and external tools.
The groups and meetings committee of the National Business Travel Association in February issued a white paper on adopting meetings management technology. Technology is the centerpiece of the puzzle in structuring a meetings management program, the paper said.
According to the committee, when considering whether to build or buy a technology product, buyers should consider five main points: level of customization, resource needs, focus and priority, IT requirements and integration with internal applications. An application built from scratch is almost always significantly more expensive than existing solutions, both in terms of initial cost and ongoing maintenance, according to the committee.
The white paper also detailed eight selection criteria to use in reviewing meetings management technology.
"The marketplace for such technology solutions has matured significantly in the last three to five years, giving organizations more stable and reliable choices for consideration. The number of organizations that have successfully implemented strategic meetings management program applications has grown to the point where each technology vendor under consideration should be able to provide actual, documented customer success stories," the committee said.
Bob Steiner, director of procurement for Fair Isaac Corp., a developer of credit scoring systems based in Minneapolis, said the company is evaluating meeting technology solutions available on the market. Fair Isaac holds more than 320 meetings per year worldwide, and is in the beginning stages of building a consolidated global meetings program.
Before moving to implement a tech tool, the company is focusing on tracking expenditures, registering events and establishing a policy, he said. Even though the technology products are continually developing and maturing, Steiner said it doesn't pay to wait.
"You have to purchase it now," he said, "because as it evolves, you at least have the foundation of utilizing the tools and you can enhance it as you go along."
Building an internal tech system is not cost-effective, he added.
"There are lots of companies out there that are spending millions upon millions of dollars to do it for us, and they know how to do it better," he said.
Initially, the tool Fair Isaac chooses will be applied strategically, Steiner said, to gain early buy-in from end users. "New tools bring change, and change creates consternation. In our initial meetings program, we'll probably catch what we can and train our staff and admins on the value of this to build in support," Fair Isaac's Steiner said.
Among companies using meetings technology, 74 percent of survey respondents said they used attendee registration tools—often the first piece of meeting management technology to be adopted. In addition, 65 percent of tech users said their companies book air tickets or hotel reservations online and 40 percent said their companies have adopted technology to track budgets, send requests for proposals and e-payment. Respondents were allowed to choose more than one answer.
Attendee registration tools are the most beneficial in streamlining meetings management, said Jennie McNeill Campbell, who serves a dual role as chief administrative officer of marketing and business development at New Orleans-based Stewart Capital LLC, a privately held investment company, and as CEO of her own meeting and marketing management support company, Meet Your Market LLC.
Campbell said she uses a combination of internally developed tools and external suppliers, including McLean, Va.-based Cvent. Meet Your Market has developed a customer relationship management tool of its own.
"Of the software out there, there's not one that answers all of my needs. What's important to me is compatibility and to be able to interface with other products if I need to," she said. "It's great to have a turnkey product, but our industry is constantly changing and we are definitely more accountable in having to show quantitative measurement during the whole planning process versus the end of the project."
Even with a great product, Campbell said such tools are useless without end-user support. Employees must be trained not only on how to use the technology, but also on the goals of using the product.
"The hardest thing about technology is training your people how to use it correctly," she said. "Technology is only as good as the end user."
Many products on the market have a variety of pricing options. "The market is leaning toward licensing fees," Campbell said. "You buy a set number of licenses and you know what your costs are. It helps set your budget."
Though upgrades are needed regularly, licensing technology can be more cost-effective than buying a tool, she said, because "once a technology is released on the market, it's basically obsolete."