Here’s a newsflash for your IT department:
Technology that is built for purpose (registration, expo sales, speaker management, etc.) does not need to integrate with your legacy association management system (AMS) in order to be implemented.
Read that again! It’s true and something you need to understand before your AMS kills your conference.
Your Customer Versus The AMS
Your association has invested a ton of capital in your AMS, the enterprise application for managing your business. When it was implemented, you customized the heck out of it. Making changes to that system and getting data into or out of it is cumbersome and expensive. And it takes time.
Your IT department thinks everything in the world needs to be tightly integrated. As a result, you’ve lost the ability to be nimble and adapt. Your IT department is prioritizing efficiency and data capture ahead of serving the needs of your conference attendees.
That’s not good! It’s your customers who suffer.
The Alternative: Humans First, Data Second
I’m not recommending that you scratch what you have and invest six figures in a new enterprise system. Just don’t allow past technology decisions to affect your future attendee- and exhibitor-facing solutions. The inability to integrate is usually due to limitations of your AMS, not the built-for-purpose applications available today.
If real-time data and system integration is not easily done via web services (that’s geek speak for what most legacy systems can’t do), explore a one-time import and export.
The IT department of the future will consider your customers’ and potential customers’ needs first. They’ll be able to quickly deploy customer-facing software and connect the dots on the backend to help drive the business. They’ll embrace SaaS (Software as a Service) applications that continuously improve and evolve.
Go Mobile or Go Home!
Every customer-facing technology must be able to be consumed and fulfilled via mobile browser in 2012. At least 25 percent of your traffic is (or should be) via mobile (tablet, phone, etc). That number will grow exponentially over the next 24 months. If you think your members aren’t tech savvy enough, think of your future members. They are.
Fast 2012 Conference Technology Fixes
In addition to mobile accessibility, here are the four technology solutions that every major conference should have:
1. Sales CRM
Your sales database is gold! Most AMS programs are built for membership management. Exposition, advertising and sponsorship sales rarely fit that model. Savvy associations will implement a cloud-based customer-relationship management (CRM) software program that is shared among the sales team. Salesforce.com — the leading application — is affordable, easy to implement, and has tremendous capability to import and export data.
If your system doesn’t pre-populate member data, you’re making it difficult to buy. Look into one of the SaaS-based registration software providers or outsource this function. Nearly every solution has the ability to verify membership and provide a good data export after the conference.
3. Itinerary Planner
Today’s attendee wants to be able to pre-plan their conference and expo experience. They should be able to select each session and exhibitor that they wish to see. Ideally, you should have this capability for both web and mobile. You should assume that attendees will want to access these preferences from their work computer and from their mobile devices. Preferences should sync across devices/platforms.
4. Real-Time Floor Plan
For exhibit sales, every major conference should have an online floor plan that is dynamically updated with every booth sold or placed on hold. These solutions are now a commodity and can be implemented at a very low cost. Provide this and key the data into your AMS on the backend, if necessary.
I Don’t Hate IT
This column may come across as a rant. It is!
The truth is I love a good IT department. Not too long ago, several very large IT departments reported to me.
My recent experience with several associations, however, has made me realize how hamstrung they are by their own silos. We’re at the mercy of our IT co-workers.
When hardware or software doesn’t function the way it’s supposed to, the IT department pulls a rabbit out of a hat and saves the day. Many have a break/fix mentality and are great at putting out fires.
Few are strategic enough to drive improvement that is noticed and benefits those outside of your four walls. It’s a turf war that needs to be fought and won in favor of your customers.
Adapted from Dave’s People & Processes column in PCMA’s January edition of Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. © 2012.
Why have associations allowed data management priority over customer needs? What are some technologies that you wish more conferences used?