Big things are happening in the meeting industry’s robust world of technology. Developers are getting app-happy, optimism is at an all-time high and tech nirvana seems more in reach than ever.
Yet no matter what greatness is achieved in IT departments worldwide, attendees and exhibitors everywhere are still having the same experience as 10 years ago. The stagnant state of the industry has little to do with lack of passion or talent, but with forgetting about the user—in this case, the meeting planner.
That’s why developers must come together on the back end to deliver on the most basic promise of a useful, holistic and integrated experience. And it all begins with usability.
Breaking Down “Usability”
Wikipedia defines usability as “The ease with which people can employ a particular tool or other human-made object in order to achieve a particular goal.” There’s a laundry list of items planners must address when putting together an event, such as research on the destination, registration, hotel bookings, car and flight rentals, breakout sessions and networking opportunities. With all this going on, there is no single tool that can easily be employed. The cluster of experiences looks something like this: You register via an amateur-looking website, book a room in a different system, book a flight somewhere else, post plans on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and then field thousands of confirmations from different vendors. You’ve essentially gone through a buffet line of options, piecing the event together à la carte. There’s very little cohesion to the process, so the usability is subpar.
Integration Is Coming Along
This is not to say vendor-generated integration efforts haven’t been made. Of course they have, for years. Data in some form is commonly tossed around between systems to avoid re-entry of personal information, for example. But what’s out there is barely scratching the surface of what is possible. At our event-housing company, onPeak, we’ve committed a lot of effort to integration with other vendors.
For instance, we’ve partnered with CompuSystems, a registration provider, to create an integrated experience in which information is synched and identically implemented. Let’s say one of your attendees books their housing with onPeak a year before the show, but does not register yet. When they get around to signing up with CSI, their record will already be in the system, because we will have shared the information we received. Similarly, CSI can display your hotel reservation even though it was booked with us at onPeak.
We’re also working with the registration companies Ari, Inc. and Convention Data Services to provide this holistic experience. The result? More of the No. 1 thing planners and attendees are typically looking for—convenience.
Things to Look for in Your Vendors
These days, the tech behind integration is a no-brainer. Developers are constantly looking to synthesize with all manner of systems. But getting that integration going with another meeting vendor means IT teams must cooperate, work together, compromise and come to a consensus. And planners must insist on this.
Ultimately, making the leap to integration comes down to two core qualities. As a planner, it’s important that you value these traits in your developers:
Is the vendor thinking outside of the box? It’s easy to get trapped by the status quo; a willingness to get creative is the first step toward new and useful experiences. The fact that there are so many aspects to a planning process means there are myriad options to work together in interesting ways. Can booking a group-rate room get integrated with registration? What about social media? These are the questions that need to be asked.
Vendors should be willing to drop the veil and bare their tech souls, in order to provide a better experience for their users. Look for developers that are willing to work together, something that has not always happened in this industry. At onPeak, we’re excited to be working with companies that not only want to work with us, but value the ongoing fight for integration.
Integration with a Capital “I”
Bottom line: Vendors need integration with a capital “I.” It’s important to try to reach for higher ground, and get technical people onboard with simple steps to improve the tech corner of the meetings universe. There will always be multiple partners in the meetings marketplace. But now we finally have the technological foundation and standards available to make deep integration across those partners a reality. This is the first step in repairing the usability crisis in our industry, and will lead to a whole new experience for planners. We, as developers, should continue to do our part to move the industry forward; you have a lot to gain if we do.
For more information on onPeak and its integrated vendors, check out onpeak.com.
Scott Tallarida is the executive vice president and chief technical officer for onPeak, an event housing company based in Chicago.