StarCite Gains in Fighting Against Meetings Slump

Gregory Dukat, CEO of meetings technology company StarCite, spoke recently to MeetingNews editor Michael B. Baker about strategy and demand.

MeetingNews: Are we past the worst of the AIG effect?

Gregory Dukat: Yes, our perception of that would be that people can meet again, and they are beginning to meet again. However, there's a much greater level of comfort doing that where there's an understanding of control, visibility and savings. Companies know they have to have meetings. Whether it's a training event for their sales team or an event for prospective customers, they have to have those to be a successful company. They definitely want to put controls in place so they can get back to business and stop worrying about this. Even if it's questioned, they know they'll have their ducks in a row.

MN: How has meetings management changed in this economy?

Dukat: Controlling meetings sounds like an easy thing, but organizations have been exposed partially through the media trying to hype people having meetings. Relative to the economy, our customers are coming to us and saying they want someone to take the leadership role and be the expert in this category. The expertise is centered on the technology, but also best practices, compliance, visibility, reporting and analytics.

A year ago, when I first came on board, it was more of a situation where it was push oriented, by which I mean that travel managers or someone heading procurement was pushing the organization to think about these things. Now, we're seeing the executives going back to those people and saying they need to cover these bases. It's moved from someone lower in the organization trying to push up to what I'd call pull, where executives are calling for greater compliance, visibility and control.

It's led to us to have, in the last three quarters, two record quarters for our company and most recently a record quarter relative to customers expanding the use of our application throughout their environment. It's really beginning to crystallize to where it's no longer a nice thing to have, but a necessary thing to control.

MN: You're benefiting even though meetings are down?

Dukat: Executives in a lot of cases already have tackled some of the other spend categories, whether it's direct or indirect spend, and meetings are one of the last areas that haven't been controlled in any way, shape or form. It's a positive for us, because there's greater visibility.

MN: Will this shift endure when the economy rebounds?

Dukat: We've crossed the chasm on that. Now, it's on the radar screen of these executives, whether they're in finance or procurement. There are some other issues that are hitting from a compliance standpoint. If you look at the financial marketplace, or the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry, you'll see that there are new laws coming into place, like the sunshine laws that require visibility into spend and marketing to doctors. These have helped us tremendously. Culturally, we've changed. Now we're seeing the same types of things beginning to happen in Asia and Europe, the Middle East and Africa, maybe a little behind the United States, but not that far.

MN: How will the increasing emphasis on remote conferencing affect business?

Dukat: We see videoconferencing as just another alternative to a live meeting, and we're working on technologies and are in discussions with several partners that would enable that. We want to allow our customers to better analyze attendees—who should be there in person and who should attend via another medium—and help them plan and source that meeting and really enable the savings with better planning and a better process.

MN: How are StarCite's acquisition and partnership integrations progressing?

Dukat: We have worked very diligently over the last year in bringing the technology platforms together. Completing the transaction process was the goal for this past year. We're in the 98th or 99th percentile of completion on this. There were some growing pains in bringing multiple applications and platforms together, but we're very proud to say we've done a great job with our development team and customers to bring everyone together on a consistent platform. Our work there is nearly complete, and we've done a lot of work to improve the performance of the platform and make enhancements. Now the focus is on the innovation and the product, things like telepresence and integration to other key systems in a customer's enterprise. The technology enables some of the partnerships we have. We have long-standing partnerships with American Express, Carlson, Maritz and many others, but we're looking at some new partnerships.

MN: Will you look at more acquisitions?

Dukat: Absolutely. We're not out to continue to acquire just for the sake of acquiring, but we do think there are some things in our future that will be very appealing for us to broaden our platform, make it a robust offering and open new market segment doors.

MN: What does 2010 hold for meetings?

Dukat: On the customer meetings side, it will be slower to rebound on the quantity of meetings and attendees. It'll be slightly up from where it is today, which is clearly lower than it was a year ago. People will be careful about adding meetings back to where they were before all the challenges really hit. We'll continue to be quite successful, even though those numbers will be down a bit. People are looking for someone to be the expert and answer the questions, and through what we offer and the partnerships we have, we couldn't be in a better place right now to be that company.

Originally published Sept. 21, 2009