The trends are well documented, and if you are a meeting organizer planning a large conference or meeting, these trends are pretty well known to you.
According to the Event Manager Blog’s Good Event Registration Guide (2015 Edition), approximately 1 in 4 meeting planners they sampled routinely pay nothing for their registration technology and for those who do pay for their technology, one of the top three reasons for frustration is high registration fees.
There are many registration tools available to meeting planners – some are limited in their functionality and others are offer a comprehensive, end-to-end solution that supports virtually every aspect of a meeting or event.
Many of the more basic tools offer free registration, and only charge for credit card processing. Compared to managing your registration by Excel spreadsheet, these tools are certainly a great big step in the right direction.
What many meeting planners find out, sooner or later, is that adding functionality and services always comes at a price.
Whether you want to bring in a mobile app, audience polling, exhibitor lead retrieval, onsite registration kiosks or many other types of services, meeting planners know they will typically be charged thousands of dollars for these third-party services. Some services such as Attendee-to-Exhibitor Appointment setting can often run more than $10,000.00 depending on the size of your conference or meeting.
What makes it even more painful is that in many of these circumstances, your data becomes separated from your core registration database – resulting in “content drift,” where different services are connecting to different databases, and often result in missing registrations, late registrations or changes that are made to one database but not the other.
To get a meeting management solution that is all encompassing, using a single database for multiple services and provides a fully integrated approach to meeting management, the cost can be significant in percentage to your event budget. These levels of services are never free, and require a substantial commitment in time and energy to integrate in your meetings business.
Starting in the early 2000s, the industry saw a shift from client-server installed software (think purchase), and move towards web-based, software as a service (SAAS) offerings (think monthly subscriptions). These early forays into the “cloud” resulted in dramatic changes in how meeting planners pay for their technology.
And the change was dramatic to their bottom line operating costs!
Meetings technology companies quickly moved towards the per-person registration fee structure. Based on typical SAAS business models, the reasoning made sense – pay for what you use! Fees ranging from $3.00 to $10.00 per registration were typical, and almost always started high and were reduced with large up-front purchases of many thousands of registrations. Two and three year contract commitments became more prevalent.
What really hurt many meeting planners however, was the use-them or lose-them approach to these pre-paid registration fees. If you didn’t predict accurately, a meeting planning could easily see many thousands of dollars in pre-paid fees simply disappear. Not a pleasant situation, and it happened many times to thousands of meeting planners over the past 10 or 15 years.
Since 2010, we’ve seen a shift in how registration technology is licensed and sold to the community of meeting organizers. Meetings technology consultant Corbin Ball noted in 2010 that he was seeing a transformation in the industry across many sectors.
“We are going through a major technology transformation — we are moving from shrink-wrapped software to the web as a major means of software distribution. With the price of data storage, computer processors and bandwidth plummeting, this is leading to low cost and free tools for meetings and trade shows.” Mr. Ball noted in a 2010 article published on his website, corbinball.com.
But even industry experts weren’t expecting the rapid technology shifts since 2010. Cloud storage, App technology, smart phones/tablets and a rapidly expanding world of mobile technology all contributed to a significant change in how technology is developed and deployed.
So, the tide is turning, and the industry is currently experiencing a dramatic shift in both the cost and deployment of today’s meetings technology.
Meetings technology solutions are no longer focusing narrow feature sets and per-person registration fees. More and more meeting planners are looking for mobile friendly solutions that offer greater feature sets, design flexibility and the ability to easy integrate with third party solutions so data integrity is maintained in a centralized database.
Due to growth of new cloud technologies, meetings planners have more choice than ever, at prices unheard of even a few years ago.
Trevor Gardiner, CEO of Centium Software, has been at the forefront of this technological shift.
“A few years back we embarked on a total rewrite of our flagship event management platform,” Mr. Gardiner said. “We knew then where things were heading. We teamed up with Microsoft and their Azure Cloud platform to build our next generation tool.”
The objectives for the Centium team were specific. They were seeking a platform that offered greater security than the browser based tools prevalent in today’s marketplace. The latest generation of cloud technology rely on apps instead of browsers, and offer dramatic improvements in performance, security and scalability.
Mr. Gardiner noted that when they designed their new flagship platform, EventsAIR, they wanted to write a new playbook for the industry. The new platform dramatically changes how meeting planners license, deploy and pay for a high-end technology platform.
“Our clients experience dedicated SQL servers, automatic scalability and flat monthly license fees that allow for unlimited events and registrations,” Mr. Gardiner said. “Our clients are experiencing more than a 50% decrease in annual technology fees and gaining a far larger library of tools and functionality.”
He noted that a growing number of meeting management programs are offering advanced technology for their clients at no additional cost. For example, more and more platforms are including mobile apps and onsite check-in tools in the core cost of the platform.
So what does the future bring? In terms of meeting management technology, it is both evolutionary and revolutionary.
Things will continue to evolve, become more efficient, more integrated and more cost-effective as move forward. This is clear to all of us as the industry as a whole adapts to these new norms.
What do not know, and cannot know, is what will be the next industry disruption. These are the seismic shifts that cause us to rethink, and retool how we approach the meetings industry. Just like the Internet was a major shift from client-server applications, the Cloud and mobile technology has cause a major change in how meeting managers work and pay for their meetings.
One thing is for certain – keep your eyes open, and stay receptive to new ideas and new technology. You never know what the next really big thing will be.
We’ll know it when we see it!