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Mice Asia Net : October 2009
miceAsia.net 41 technology In case you don't know I started dabbling in technology in 1979 as a way to increase the efficiency, and reduce the human cost, of managing meetings. I wrote the original EVENTS conference software and computerised my business at least a decade before most other PCO businesses bought their first PC. I am extremely passionate about using technology to streamline meetings industry processes but I worry at what cost. Technology has a dark side that can and will impact on us all in various ways. A new staff member commented that she never realised that she would spend 90 per cent of her time in front of a computer screen -- she imagined that she would be "out there" interacting with suppliers and clients and being hands-on in managing meetings and events. Sorry, but the reality is that 90 per cent of our work is tedious and depersonalised -- preparing briefs, doing budgets, writing meeting reports, processing registrations and answering emails, etcetera. The 10 per cent glamour side has a very down side that some younger workers are simply not prepared for. In that respect I am all for technology to remove tedious and repetitive tasks to free up human workers for more strategic and creative roles -- if those roles continue to exist. The rush to adopt technology by meetings industry suppliers has changed the industry in ways we never expected. In particular it has dramatically reduced staff numbers and this has lead to reduced expertise, "plain vanilla" levels of service and creativity. For example, hotels have forcibly moved their clients to on-line bookings. It was a matter of survival as automation resulted in major increases in efficiency as fewer sales, accounting and front desk staff are needed per room. Add this to computerised room management (cleaning and restocking, etc), computerised responses to requests for proposals and near automated check-in and this industry has become more a sausage factory than a luxury service provider. The side effect was that commissions, once the cream on the meeting manager's cake, have been steadily eroded because delegates find it more convenient to book on-line. Considerable benefits that used to accrue to clients like room upgrades, FOC rooms or even commission sharing, etcetera, have been decimated. I suspect that the average PCO now books less then 30 per cent of the accommodation making the future for bed banks/venue finders very grim. Similarly, airlines have moved on-line to cut out the middle man and commissions have been all but eliminated. It has allowed airlines (and hotels) to practice yield management, allowing them to fill what were formerly empty seats (or rooms) at various prices. In the meetings industry it has forced prices up as hundreds of delegates want to arrive and depart at similar times, creating maximum yield opportunities for the supplier. Yes the booking process is much more efficient but it takes control away from the delegate, forcing them to take what is on offer. There is little benefit any more in appointing an official airline as on-line bookings are nearly impossible to match back to the client. So online, be it in offering registration, accommodation, travel or any other service that has embraced the model, has taken away the human factor and that is not necessarily a good thing. When was the last time you spent 45 minutes listening to an automated message when you were simply trying to talk to a real person? How many technology users really understand what the software does - most just simply rely on it to spit out answers. When the software goes down most staff pack up and go home. It is an anathema that most Gen Ys can't spell or punctuate, can't add up a column of numbers without using Excel or a calculator (let alone do it in their head), don't understand the principles of double entry book keeping (yet use tools to manage million dollar budgets), and assume that the answers they get are right -- but are they the best? The long-term impacts are simple -- the meetings industry will require fewer, less qualified staff, and service levels will decrease in line with the automated offerings. I think it is important to offer personal service, don't you? Ray Shaw is an accredited meeting manager (AMM), IT journalist and chairman of Event Planners Australia. To contact him email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.eventplanners.com.au. STORY BY RAY SHAW PASSIONATE ABOUT TECHNOLOGY and its ability to enhance the meetings process, Ray Shaw wonders at what cost? A DARK SIDETOO technology has