This month, we talked about how an increasing number of event planners are taking big steps in integrating their event data with some of their organisation’s critical business systems – from finance, travel and marketing to CRM and membership solutions. In fact, we have seen a 40% increase in the number of customers working on data integration projects over the last year – we expect this trend to grow significantly in the next three years as event planners try to make better use of their delegate data.
One organisation that has successfully embraced this strategy is the Liberal Democrats. The British political party has not only taken the initiative to integrate their event management solution with one of their own business systems (more on that later) but they have also done it with the national accreditation system of the UK’s own Police Force.
Changing Politics, Changing Priorities
Formed in 1988, the Liberal Democrats (also referred to as the Lib Dems) are a liberal political party in the UK with more than 60,000 party members. Unlike other parties in the country, Lib Dem members put forward and vote on all proposed policies at their annual party conferences. The party hosts two conferences each year – with the main four-day conference in Autumn gathering over 5,000 attendees, which include party members, lobbyists, business people and media.
The party came into government in 2010 as part of a coalition group with the British Conservatives, which prompted a major change in the security requirements around its party conferences. Home Office regulations required all attendees to be fully vetted by the National Accreditation Team (NAT) before receiving clearance to attend the event. This meant incorporating a new accreditation system as part of the online registration process and the only way of doing this effectively was to integrate its Eventsforce event management system with the UK Police NAT database.
Data Integration with UK Police Accreditation Database
The planning stage of this large-scale integration project was key. The Lib Dem conference team had to work closely with the UK police accreditation team to agree on new workflows and the kind of delegate data they needed to collect to comply with the new accreditation requirements. This included things like delegate photos (which had to meet strict guidelines), passport details and previous home addresses – all of which would help the NAT team verify the identity of delegates and approve their accreditation.
“The photo is a crucial part of the accreditation system. If our delegates complete their registration without the correct photo, the NAT won’t be able to process their application and we’ll be unable to issue them a photo pass. So it was important for us to design a feature in the system that would allow us to permanently store uploaded photos within delegate profiles. This way, a returning user can save time by choosing the same photo the next time they register for a conference,” said Sian Waddington, Lib Dem’s head of conferences. “From a customer service point of view, we also wanted to give our delegates the option to send us their photos within seven days of submitting their registration forms. In some cases, an attendee may register at a certain date to take advantage of an early bird discount but is unable to provide us with a suitable photo in time to meet the deadline. The system guarantees their discounts even though their accreditation is not yet complete.”
Once a delegate submits their completed registration forms, the data is then automatically pushed to the NAT database where the team reviews and processes the accreditation. The information is passed back to the event management system, which triggers an automatic email to the delegate informing them that their accreditation has been approved or if there is a query regarding their application.
The data flows in both directions across the two systems, allowing the Lib Dem conference team to see the status of each application within Eventsforce. “If delegates ask us why they haven’t received their photo pass, we can see in real-time whether their application is currently being looked at, or if it has been approved or declined. This facility also allows us to collate reports at the end of each day and see how many applications are currently in progress so that we’re better able to manage our own timelines,” continued Waddington.
Data Integration with Membership System
Following the integration of its event data with the NAT database, the Lib Dems decided to take on another important integration project – this time between their event management software and the party’s Salesforce membership database. Party members attending the annual conferences are subject to discounted registration fees and special voting passes – so it was important for the conference team to verify the membership status of each attendee at the start of their online registration journey.
Once delegates select one of eight member categories in the registration form, membership data such as surnames and addresses are automatically checked against the membership system. If they correspond and the membership is valid, delegates can continue with their registration. The system ensures that attendees are going through the right registration channels and non-members are not paying discounted member fees. More importantly, the Lib Dem team can be sure that no voting passes are issued to non-members.
“Without integration, non-members could have registered as members as we had no ability of manually checking the thousands of party members that attend our conferences each year. Having membership validation as part of the registration process has also helped us address queries around memberships a lot more quickly. For example, if a membership has lapsed, a notice shows up on the registration form advising the user to contact the membership services team.”
Overcoming Unexpected Challenges
There were a few noteworthy challenges that the Lib Dems had to overcome when first using the newly integrated systems – some mere oversights and some due to circumstances out of the Lib Dem’s control. For example, the conference team soon realised that any small change to the registration details of a delegate (such as changing a photograph) would prompt another round of the accreditation process with the NAT, even if it had already been approved. Accreditation rules also changed over time, while a new NAT firewall temporarily stopped the integration from working.
“Although we had planned everything in detail and were all ready to go, things kept coming up so you always need to be prepared. Having said that, we had the right technical support from both sides of the integration at all times and this helped us address these issues and resolve them as quickly as possible,” concluded Waddington.
The overall success of both projects has spurred the Lib Dem to do more around their integration efforts. The events team plans to push more of its registration data to the Salesforce system, which will allow regional and local party officers a real-time view on how many of their supporters are attending an upcoming conference. It will help them decide whether or not they need to encourage people to register or enable them to arrange meet-ups before or at the conference. Extending the integration between the two systems will also allow for automatic updates in both systems whenever any changes are made to delegate profiles (eg. address changes).
Moving forwards, the Lib Dems also have plans to integrate their event data with the party’s finance system in an effort to reduce administration work around delegate payments. The integration will provide the events team with real-time updates on all outstanding payments without having the need to chase the finance team directly.