Rosenbluth International, which has made several moves in recent years to up its presence in the meetings management industry, late last month introduced a new online tool designed to diagnose weaknesses and opportunities within corporate meeting structures.
The tool, dubbed Mdiagnostics, is a 53-question online survey that asks meeting or travel managers a series of multiple-choice questions about the structure and current practices of their company's meetings program, the state of budget management, the role of the procurement department and the role of technology, among others. Once the survey, or an applicable portion, is completed, Rosenbluth's consultants study the data and advise the client of methods to make the program more cost-efficient and proficient.
"It's a truly consultative and non-cookie-cutter prospect," said Rosenbluth manager of business consulting Lauren Ewing. "It allows us to be quicker, more comprehensive and inclusive."
Mdiagnostics is part of the Philadelphia-based mega travel management company's Meetings@Rosenbluth suite of meeting products, which includes a meetings consolidation offering based on Internet meeting portal PlanSoft's Meeting Management Services consolidation tool.
The answers to the tool's multiple- choice questions each are assigned a numerical value: The optimal answers have higher numbers attached, Ewing said. However, the questions themselves are weighted based on the services the client seeks and its corporate culture. "Some companies are happy to function in a way that is not the most cost-efficient but works for them," she said.
Both the questions and the multiple-choice responses were a few years in the making, Ewing said. "They're based on market research inside and outside of our client base, as well as with industry experts," she said. "We wanted to try to put a process around the whole approach."
Rosenbluth is beta testing the tool with 10 of its clients, who Ewing would not name, though she said the sizes of their travel programs vary widely. The tool will be offered to Rosenbluth clients and non-clients alike for a fee that will vary "on a case-by-case basis," she said.
Rosenbluth's competitors were less than complimentary, averring the technology would be of little value without the necessary meetings management consultative expertise to support it.
"It's amusing," said Danamichele Brennen, senior vice president of marketing and chief technology officer of the Maritz Travel Co. division McGettigan Partners and herself a former Rosenbluth executive. "There is significant expertise needed to transactionalize components of a complex, process-based initiative like meetings management. The last I checked, Rosenbluth International was exceptional at corporate travel and these transactional models, but meetings are a whole different ballgame." Brennen criticized what she said was an over-reliance on the technological portion of the meetings management process. "It's not about the survey, it's about the ability to execute an effective solution," Brennen said. "It's not about software and analysis. It's all execution. In this economy, big corporations are not falling for simple software solutions without the execution and implementation expertise."
"I haven't seen it, so I can't comment specifically," said Jay Roseman, vice president of American Express Meetings & Incentives. "There is value in preconsulting work and helping clients get their arms around where they should be looking, even before the meetings data. We use similar tools, but the ability to customize is very important. We do it very differently, but the principles are the same." Roseman said Amex M&I often uses online tools to help clients estimate meeting expenditures based on other types of actual travel expenses and to estimate potential savings from the implementation of meetings management and consolidation initiatives.
Corporate meeting buyers cautiously were interested in Rosenbluth's concept but generally noncommittal.
"I would look at it with a great deal of curiosity and interest," said one corporate meeting buyer who requested anonymity. "I'm always leery that they're going to try to pull in my meetings business no matter what." On the other hand, the buyer said, meeting managers who are able to answer the 53 questions with a high level of detail and accuracy likely already have implemented management initiatives or already have the capability of diagnosing problems or opportunities in their meeting structure.
"It depends on the level of detail," the buyer said. "If a meeting manager is doing a real job, I've never known a consulting company that can do a better job. This sounds like a primer for someone stepping into the role, or a CFO."
Other buyers, too, evinced a level of skepticism about Mdiagnostics.
"It depends on the price, but I probably wouldn't be interested due to time constraints," said Debbie Ricciardelli, Morristown, N.J.-based manager of meeting and travel services for Watson Pharmaceuticals. "I'm skeptical. There are things I'd like to do better, but everyone has so many products. I don't see us having problems in that area to any great degree. Plus, circumstances can change so quickly, who's to say they wouldn't change after you go through the process?"