As published in The Meeting Professional Magazine, December 2006 Issue.
A killer application (commonly shortened to killer app) refers to technology that is so useful or desirable that it proves the value of some underlying technology.
The VisiCalc spreadsheet was the first killer app – a program that, in the early 1980’s, proved so successful for finance workers that it mushroomed early IBM PC sales. Electric lighting could be considered the “killer app” of electricity as the automobile was the “killer app” of the internal combustion engine.
There are many “killer apps” for the meetings industry – programs that are so useful, so cost-saving, so efficiency-increasing, or so service-improving that they have and continue to revolutionize the way that meeting professionals do business.
This article will cover some of the major meeting industry killer apps so far, and then highlight what I believe to be some of ones to come.
Current Killer Apps:
Online Registration and Attendee Management
The first online registration forms appeared in 1995 and have evolved to become robust attendee management and meeting promotion tools. Compared to the old paper-based methods of the last century (where meeting promotion was largely done by bulk mail; where registration forms were submitted on paper and entered by hand; where payments and confirmations were processed manually, and everything was laboriously reentered into a database if it existed), today’s fully automated systems provide digital methods of doing this at a fraction of the cost. 90% savings or more can be yielded going from paper-based to automated web-based methods of attendee management.
In the evolution, a variety of related tools have emerged including housing/travel management, member management, communications management and more.
In the “olden days” (meaning just a few years ago) planners kept large file cabinets full of paper brochures and directories about meeting facilities. Substantial effort was spent to create/print/mail these materials and substantial time was spent to manage and date the information as it came in.
Nearly all of these brochures can be tossed into the recycle bin as far more complete (by a factor of 40) and more up-to-date online resources than any paper directory that has ever been printed are available for free — another killer app for the industry.
Procurement, Sourcing and RFPs
Procurement is working it way into the meetings industry. The ability to establish preferred vendors (especially hotels) in turn for discounts and the ability to streamline the request for proposal (RFP) process can reap very substantial saving – with estimates of 30-40% cost reductions.
Although online RFPs have been rejected by some planners as being cumbersome and too great a departure from their current methods, an argument can be made to reconsider. For example, when Carlson Hotels Worldwide recently rolled out its RFP automation system (MeetingBroker.com) to 933 properties around the world, it resulted in a reduction in their average response time to leads from 56 hours to 4 hours – a savings of 90% in time! Digitizing the business process leads to greatly increased efficiency. Fast response time alone may be a driver to change processes for many planners.
Usually large, scientific associations deal with hundreds or even thousands of speaking proposals using abstracts (a synopsis of the author scientific research) as the method of selecting and scheduling speakers. For these groups, abstract management programs are definitely killer apps.
This task used to be extremely paper-intensive requiring teams of people collecting and distributing paper abstracts to dozens of committees who traveled to a central location to review, approve and schedule scientific sessions.
Now all of this (from the collection and distribution of abstracts, to the reviewing, approval and scheduling of the submission by scheduling committee) can be done online from remote locations. The schedule can then be nearly instantly placed online as a program schedule or be printed as an advance program.
Until recently, large exhibitions were sold using a large, paper floor plan, and loads of White-Out to make corrections and changes. Exhibit companies were penciled in as the space was sold with the data collected on note cards. Now exhibit space can be sold online and as the space is booked it is immediately posted to the exhibit space sales site to confirm the purchase. All details are tracked in a database for automated confirmation, billing, future promotion, and follow-up.
Other Established Killer Apps
There are also many other applications that reap either huge increases in efficiency or much better ways of providing customer service over the old paper-based way things were done. These include online survey tools, audience polling, banquet seating, contact management, destination marketing, fundraising, event management, catering management, housing, marketing, room diagramming, and scheduling just to name a few. Although space prevents me from going into detail for many of them, all can significantly improve the meeting planning process.
Killer Apps to Come
Innovation is alive and well in the meetings industry and there are lots of new ideas bubbling up. Here are just a few:
Mobile phones are ubiquitous. Soon attendees will be using them to provide a range of trade show and event applications including: the conference agenda, exhibit product directories, event feedback and surveys, SMS audience polling, group announcements, networking capabilities, travel information and more. See the LOG ON Mobile Event Assistant (www.log-on.nl) as an example of how this will work out.
Soon travellers will be able to log on to a hotel web site not only to request a room, but be able to pre-determine light level, TV station, and air conditioning level before arrival. They will be able to check into the hotel upon landing at the airport using their mobile phone; use their cell phone as the key to the room and to the safe; and check out using the phone as well, completely bypassing the hassle of lines at the registration desk. See www.fonekey.net as an example of how this may play out.
One good contact at a meeting can make the whole event worthwhile. However, the way we have networked at meetings (staring at each others chests for paper name badges) has been relatively unchanged for forty years.
Although this has worked, if technology can be used to improve the process, great value can be gained for the attendees. There are now more than twenty of these products available, but they have not been widely adopted yet. I believe that planners, who are looking for a way to substantially increase the value of their event and a relatively low cost per person, should strongly consider using one of the many applications in this area.
I believe that meeting industry standards will prove to be the most significant meeting industry killer app for the foreseeable future. The work done by APEX (accepted practice exchange – www.conventionindustry.org/apex) and related standards initiatives including OTA (Open Travel Alliance – www.opentravel.org/) and HTNG (Hotel Technology Next Generation – www.htng.org/) will eventually put meeting planners and suppliers on the same page electronically. Although currently a North American-based initiative, the importance of standards is global. One can get money out of an ATM machine globally, because the banks agreed on standards.
Communication between planners and suppliers is still largely paper-based. Meeting specifications, for example, are commonly printed out and re-entered into the hotel system to produce banquet event orders (BEOs). In order for our industry to come into this century from a data management perspective, web must adopt standards. Standards will lead to electronic data exchange (EDI) – the ultimate killer app for the meetings industry likely leading to efficiency increases and labor savings in the planning process of 40% or more.