TYSONS CORNER, Va.—Travel and event planning is, for the most part, woefully inefficient. In most companies it’s a totally manual process, often performed by staff that has little if any training and where the most automated part of the process might be a static Excel spreadsheet.
Mistakes are frequent, costs are higher than they need to be and because of the laborious nature of the work, there are few opportunities to leverage the planning into something that benefits the company.
During my journalism career I had two assignments in which I was the editor in charge of content for events, and that inevitably brought me into close contact with the people who did much of the real work.
Since that time as I’ve been engaged to be a presenter at such events, I witnessed event planning from yet another perspective. Even when I was working with people who were smart, motivated and creative, efficiency was not the top priority.
Back in the late 1990s, Reggie Aggarwal, then an executive at a nonprofit located in the Washington, D.C., area, noticed this problem, too. The difference was, Aggarwal was in a position to do something about the problem. Working with some friends in the D.C. suburbs of Northern Virginia, Aggarwal decided that he would try to solve the problem.
The result of his effort is Cvent, a company that transforms what was once a manual, error-prone process into an integrated, cloud-based set of applications that anyone can use to plan events, including all of the myriad moving parts that are always part of such an effort.
But creating this integrated system meant welding together some seemingly dissimilar systems, including the creation of RFPs (requests for proposal), hotel booking systems, venue reservation systems and airline reservations.
But Cvent also required a series of data systems for managing events through the planning and presentation process, right down to creating apps for attendees so they could find the right conference session or shuttle bus, even if it changed during the event.
While this may sound like a niche market, it turns out that it’s not. Events and meetings of one sort or another are a huge part of business, and it appears that they’re getting bigger. According to Cvent CTO David Quattrone, business meetings and conferences usually consume 1 percent of the gross revenue at most large companies.
Until recently, most companies looked at meetings for employees or customers as cost centers that needed to be contained. But that’s changing as well. “The focus is on making meetings more efficient,” Quattrone said. “Meetings are here to stay,” he noted, saying that companies have found that tools such as video conferencing may work for some things, but for many purposes, face-to-face meetings still work best.
Cvent Transforms Meeting Planning With SaaS, Cloud, Mobile Apps
This means that the focus on meeting planning needs to be on how to make them work best for the company. “The focus used to be cost control. Now it’s about driving business,” he said. “We’re appealing to CMOs. The big focus is now the ROI for the event, to increase on the top line for the company and create intelligent engagement.” Technology enhances face-to-face meetings, but does not replace them, Quattrone noted.
In its effort to transform the events industry, Cvent created a vast database of the various factors critical to planning successful events and then put a SaaS front end on it. The front end includes a Web interface that lets whoever is planning an event assemble the necessary information ranging from the type of content to the location of the hotels and restaurants.
The SaaS front end is then focused on Web and mobile apps for registration and for alerting the events staff to every detail of the event as it proceeds, including a means for handling glitches—whether it’s a late arriving flight carrying the principal speaker or a flat tire on a shuttle bus.
Attendees get mobile apps that can include personalized schedules for breakout sessions, information on social events, directions to meeting rooms, and locations for meals or transportation.
But the Cvent software includes more than just those nuts and bolts items. The software will set up a social wall, where attendees can see Twitter feeds of comments that include the event hashtag and that can be used to publicize the event or build interest in the broader community.
Some of the features on Cvent’s Website are useful even if the event is in the earliest planning stages. You can, for example, visit Cvent’s Destination Guide to browse through potential locations for events. There you can find hotels, restaurants, convention centers and other event venues to get an idea of what’s available.
In the process of adding all of this functionality, Cvent focused on making its software easy for anyone to use and it made it secure. Quattrone said that the company designed security into the code as it was written, and the code goes through frequent security audits to make sure it meets compliance rules.
What I found remarkable is that this database and the applications that surround it are deceptively simple. When you go to the Website, you’d never guess the power that lurks just beneath the surface. But that is really the idea behind a well-designed cloud service. The heavy lifting is out of sight, but it’s there when you need it.