Public Sector Travel aficionados are aware that the gurus at the Government Procurement Service are big fans of online booking tools for travel. And why not? They provide efficiencies which both save process costs and also give transparent and consistent data – essentially not only for effective management but also to be compliant with contemporary legislation.
The concept of online has yet however to permeate the thinking of most of those charged with buying and organising meetings in the public sector.
But it should.
To fully understand the benefits that online meetings software can deliver, it’s wise to step back in time to the origins of SMMP – strategic meetings management programmes. Just like transient business travel, corporate meetings had long been purchased in a fragmented fashion within companies. However, in the 1990s the trend by many organisations to have travel departments to manage and control the cost of staff travel had moved into the area of meetings and events.
The first companies to do this were those in industries whose business models relied on large sales forces and multiple product lines such as pharmaceuticals which produced hundreds of meetings and events each year. Large numbers of similar meetings not unsurprisingly meant that an SMMP could make savings.
Since those early days of the 90s though when bookers used to telephone or fax their travel consultants, office life has moved on and technology has become an integral part of all processes.
Meeting purchasing and management is no exception.
Kevin Iwamoto is Vice President, Enterprise Strategy for Starcite, a company which provides web-based solutions to help buyers manage their meetings by connecting buyers and sellers online for event planning, procurement and management.
“[Online meeting management is] more than a theory now; it’s proven. More and more [organisations] are recognising that it’s the right thing to do and the efficiency gain more than justifies [implementing],” says Iwamoto.
Businesses such as Starcite maintain that companies gain visibility, control and cost savings in their meetings spend and enable them to have a proper strategic meetings management programme. Consolidated tools also reduce the likelihood of error.
Buyers can source meetings in a competitive environment and compare different supplier rates or responses in a consistent way. An online tool can also store historical data to help buyers manage and leverage suppliers.
Just as with an online travel self-booking tool, the technology can force users to go only to preferred suppliers.
Iwamoto believes that such systems can take the information about the meeting or event and allow suppliers to reply “with a consistency in format, RFPs, responses. Traditional RFPs mean manually gathering the information and scoring the RFP. Technology improves efficiency and reduces the potential for error and costs.”
Online meeting management tools tick every government box – transparent, low cost, open access – but for some reason it is rarely used. Iwamoto thinks that it’s because “a lot of people are intimidated by technology – they know what they know and have done it in a certain way for years.
“Technology is only an enabler – it allows manual processes to become more efficient.”
Of course, there are potential drawbacks with online meeting tools. Some suppliers have complained that it is so easy for buyers to request quotes in this way that the number of tenders goes up so that less effort goes into each one – and the conversion rate down.
Professionals such as Iwamoto say that their business is a partnership and “suppliers are our customers as well so it’s a responsibility to educate them as well. We ask them why do you want so many to quote – is it really to improve the quality of the RFP?”
Online management tools can improve efficiency and take out cost for both buyers and sellers of meetings. They can also be used for both onsite and offsite meetings.
Surely it’s only a matter of time before they are embraced by public sector meeting planners.To receive our free weekly round-up of all news stories from our site, click here
Filed Under: Features