Planner's Workshop: Pre-Event: Meetings Technology: A Strategy Guide - 2007-08-17

Utilizing online meeting planning tools requires a diligent approach. Successful planners make smart decisions at every step of the meeting management process. The process is not as difficult as you might think, but it does require a good action plan and some hard work. Last month, we explored how to research and purchase an online planning tool. This month, we'll take a look at how to integrate the tool into your daily workflow.

1. Implementation
Once you make the purchase, identify a team to implement the product. Consider involving people from your travel agency, corporate travel, corporate meeting planning, and IT departments. These parties will likely be users of the meetings tool.

As you navigate your way through this process, allow your company enough time to implement the tool. One of the most common mistakes made during implementation is setting unrealistic timelines. Software implementation can take time to properly configure. It also is a good idea, to help manage expectations and timelines, to ask the vendor for contact information of other companies that have implemented the same tool.

2. Create a Rollout Plan
While the implementation process is winding down, it is a good idea to begin crafting your rollout plan. The first step is to identify a target audience within your company. For the program to be successful, you need widespread adoption among employees. Think about those people in your company who plan 80 percent of the meetings, such as internal meeting planners, administrative assistants, and sales and marketing teams.

Once you identify the target audience, supply them with product training and support. In most cases, your product vendor will supply training either through webcasts or in-person classes. One common oversight when driving adoption is not considering recurring training to address employee turnover and product enhancements. It's best to establish a recurring training class every few months, directed by a product expert at your company.

Adoption starts with building awareness, so a solid communication plan will play an important role in the success of your program. Plan a series of e-mails to your target audience starting pre-launch and continuing throughout the program. Communicate the value that this product creates for your company, how to access the product, and how to get more information and training. If possible, get executives to endorse the program and inform the company.

3. Measuring Results
Once the program has been in place for six to 12 months, begin measuring results. Apply the established metrics for success. Were you able to accomplish your initial goals? How can the company improve? What should be accomplished next? The company's needs might have changed over the last few months, so what adjustments are required to accommodate these needs?

These questions bring us back to understanding your technological needs, and the process cycles back to the beginning. As you probably figured out, successful meetings management is an ongoing process, but it gets easier over time as you start to understand your company's evolving needs and as newer technology becomes available.

4. Going Forward
Remember that you are not the first company in need of online meeting planning solutions. Some of the best resources will be industry peers. Utilize them to understand challenges and successes. Peer experiences may prove invaluable and may help you avoid common pitfalls.

Jeremy Stubbs is the director of GetThere meetings management, a provider of online corporate travel reservation technology. He is responsible for strategy, customer relationships, pricing, and product marketing for GetThere's portfolio of online meeting planning products. He can be reached (800) 850-3906 or via www.getthere.com.