The Novice's Guide to Technology Costs

How did Mary Ann Pierce get a top luxury hotel in New England to drop its price for high-speed Internet access for 20 computers for two days down from $10,000 to $4,750? "It's quite simple," says Pierce, "I know I can get that lower rate at any of the other hotels down the street from this one." Pierce, president and CEO of New York City-based MapDigital, understands and respects a venue's need to be compensated and make revenue, but there is a difference between that and gouging a naive meeting planner. According to Pierce, she told the hotel that she would pay $2,000 for each T1 line used in addition to an extra $750 to make sure the hotel's IT department helped her set up everything the day of the conference and maintained the connectivity during the show. The hotel accepted her offer without hesitation and the conference went on without a hitch.

Because Pierce is an expert in technology, she knows the going rates for Internet connectivity at hotels and what is negotiable. Unfortunately, most planners are not as savvy in this field, since they have the responsibility to plan and negotiate not just for technology but also for F&B, lodging, travel and transportation, activities, and entertainment. So Pierce strongly recommends that when deciding on effective technology deployment for their meetings, planners get technical advice from IT experts who specialize in digital events. But, says Pierce, every planner should have a working knowledge of technology costs after those decisions are made. We asked Pierce to create a basic guide for planners to follow. Here's what she recommends:

Know Thy Needs

Figure out how many computers are needed for the event and what their function will be. Outside the meeting rooms, "The most important function for planners is the ability to connect to the Internet with high-speed access in the management office in order to check programs they need to use, like real-time registration or logistics management," says Pierce. It is also critical to have high-speed Internet access (HSIA) in the meeting rooms for presentations to be loaded and displayed.

Pierce also recommends that planners determine if they want to offer wireless Internet access to their attendees; if so, where should the connectivity be—in the foyer, meeting rooms, and/or sleeping rooms? Pierce favors providing wireless access to attendees because it will keep attendance up. "You have to keep attendees connected or else they will feel like a fish out of water and leave the conference to have their virtual communications," says Pierce. Because of this constant need for access, Pierce suggests planners have computer kiosks with high-speed Internet access available to attendees for them to surf the Net outside of the meeting rooms.

Decide How much bandwidth Is necessary

Bandwidth is the data transmission capacity of an electronic line, and is expressed in bits per second (bps). Facilities may be hooked up with Internet capability via T1, DSL, or fiber circuit lines, all of which offer different bps rates. According to Pierce, T1 is the standard on-site HSIA available at most venues. It is a dedicated copper circuit installed by the telephone company to the venue's private branch exchange (PBX). A router connects the T1 to an Internet Service Provider (ISP). A switch then enables the T1 to be fractionalized or shared between meeting rooms via the venue's wiring. Venues are able to secure temporary T1 lines for clients, though Pierce admits that these are expensive and time consuming to install.

DSL is short for digital subscriber line, which allows a modem to transform a plain telephone service line into a digital line and thus beef up bandwidth capability. Pierce states that it's not expensive to install and it's a great backup solution.

Finally, fiber offers the most capacity but is rare to find in most hotels right now. According to Pierce, it's a hair-thin glass strand designed for light transmission. It is capable of transmitting trillions of bits per second. Even though it is costly to install, it will become the standard for on-site HSIA in five years, says Pierce: "Its benefits include enormous capacity, lower cost, and more secure service."

All of this is important in deciphering what types of lines you need to get business accomplished. For instance, if an attendee needs to download presentations, slides, and graphics, the venue's T1 or DSL lines must be sufficiently fast and secure. Planners, of course, are able to order more or less bandwidth depending on the complexity of the meeting.

Pierce identifies a crucial question for the planner to ask when negotiating technology usage at the hotel: "Is this access that I will be renting shared with the administrative offices or with the sleeping rooms?" According to Pierce, if the access is shared, then the bandwidth gets siphoned off and the event can lose significant amounts of fast connectivity. Pierce recalls a time when she shared bandwidth with the hotel's sleeping rooms and got significant "droppage." "It was during the middle of the show and five planners were working on finalizing registration, preparing documents, and printing badges. All of a sudden my bandwidth dropped and I lost connectivity," says Pierce.

If the hotel does not budge on allocating a full T1 line to you, then consider hiring an outside IT company or have the hotel create a DSL line in order to get a dedicated nonsharing circuit.

Do a Strict Technical Site Survey

Before you go to contract, schedule a site inspection with your network engineer or technical director and the venue's telecom manager. Make sure you also involve hotel management in all correspondences concerning HSIA, adds Pierce. During the survey, Pierce suggests testing HSIA connectivity for speed, viability of the jacks, and wireless access points. Examine the telecom closets and record the locations of connectivity jacks, wireless access points, and power drops, which must be incorporated into floor plans and schedules. Itemize the cost of networking equipment: routers, switches, networked computers, et cetera. Then examine the entire HSIA connectivity agreement carefully and put prices, service, deliverables, and timetables in your contract.

Pierce adds that the planner's outsourced technical consultant should probably negotiate the rate card with the venue. The reason: Technology costs printed on rate cards are basically written in another language; the planner will probably not understand the language or contents. Many times, planners will not even attempt to read the rate card because of its complexity, and will communicate their needs and simply say "charge me what is fair." It is best, says Pierce, to hire an outside technical consultant, your company's IT employee, or even a college student majoring in technology to help with negotiating technology costs.


Knowledge is Power

Mary Ann Pierce saved her client a whopping six grand from a five-star New York City hotel that was seeking exorbitant technology rates. Pierce recalls her client calling her up in tears claiming that the hotel was going to charge her $1,500 per room for high-speed Internet access with T1 lines—that would total $12,000 since the client wanted eight rooms and 10 computers. Pierce, shocked by this unethical charge, called the venue and found it to be deceitful. For instance, the venue said it would install eight T1 lines, when in fact Pierce knew that hotels tend to only have two T1 lines and several DSL lines. Pierce questioned the venue as to why it wasn't creating a local area network (LAN) for her client and why it couldn't just give her one T1 line (worth $2,000) and connect the other rooms to that T1. She offered to pay $4,000, $500 per room, for the hotel IT staff to do the switching in addition to an extra $2,000 for the T1 line. Pierce recalls that the contact said they could not do that, but she insisted, "Oh yes, you can." The hotel finally conceded. Pierce states that "this is an example of highway robbery, so planners beware!"