Technology is being used to streamline or automate business process and increase productivity in the meetings sector.

Over the last decade the hotel and airline industry aggressively harnessed technology, dramatically reducing its staff cost per bed/seat. Online booking engines and automated quote systems have resulted in widespread dismantling of sales forces and call centres (or outsourced to lower cost countries). The internet is now the first point of customer contact and it can be expensive to speak to a real person.

Twenty years ago 33 per cent of US jobs were secretarial or clerical – there are scant few left. Computerisation in the meetings and events industry to date has largely been about replacing labour-intensive tasks like registration, accommodation and more recently abstract processing and production of papers. The GFC has driven an imperative to automate entry level assistant tasks or simply expect higher level staff to be more productive.

50-60 per cent of an event budget is labour related. It’s the only area left to cut costs.
The next reformation is to apply tech to management as these labour costs have now overtaken the cost of implementing technology. There is a plethora of emerging software providing quality outcomes and labour reductions. Listing site shows nearly 300 programs in 60+ categories in common use in the meetings industry with hot new categories including:
Assignment management (staff tasks, time management) – more productivity from less staff.
Attendee networking (GPS, tracking, speed dating, business matching, table allocation) – automated highly labour intensive tasks.
Marketing (CRM, social media, list management, campaign management and tracking) – systematising to reduce labour.
Mobile Access (Replacing printed material and people). “Look it up in your funk&wagnel” because there will be no people to answer your funken question.
Program management (program assessment, plagiarism checking, grammar checking and automatic AI driven content production, publishing and distribution)
Computerised procurement should have an initial savings target of 30 per cent.
In order to facilitate savings the meetings industry supports APEX (Accepted Practices Exchange) standards – an initiative of the Convention Industry Council that promotes “the implementation of industry-wide accepted practices to create and enhance efficiency throughout the meetings, conventions and exhibitions industry”.

What that means is that buyers can get an apples for apples quote using a Request for Proposal System (RFP) for goods and services. Not only does it save substantial time it returns a large degree of price control to the buyer – more competitive choices.
Critics of the system say that it takes all the creativity, innovation and relationship out of the sales process. Fabulous, creative, old school suppliers that thought “Pitch, not price, was 80 per cent of winning” are now not even getting to an interview – it is damned hard to add value to an online form. They have to learn that RFPs are largely won on price, not the colour of their bow tie or raggedness of their designer jeans. APEX is good – the perhaps unintended consequence is stripping any vestige of innovation or difference but good operators will always find ways to add value.

Future directions – move past process

As Henry Ford said “Any colour you like as long as it is black” – the days of bespoke meetings and events at bespoke costs are numbered. I see the M&E industry polarising. In one corner will be large in-house and external “agencies” with the economies of scale, resources and expertise to add value, not cost to events they are engaged in. They will run the mega meetings and events but also scale well down to national level events.
In the other corner will be the small in-house organisers or external event managers. They must capitalise on their main strength – having solid relationships with their clients. They will ultimately help clients to design the event and then assist in outsourcing probably 90 per cent of logistics to specialist, low cost providers who have the economy of scale.
I don’t see a bright future for the many, many extremely competent medium sized organisers as labour costs continue to rise – those may have to merge with larger companies to create better economies of scale.
Summary: Fewer entry level jobs and cost shakeouts are just the beginning but the future of meetings and events looks rosy.