Tag: integration

How to Use Technology to Effectively Manage Your Event Data

big-data-1667212_1920Technology is always pushing the boundaries on how we plan and run our events. And as the significance of event tech continues to grow, so does the importance of managing all the data we now get from these events.

george-siriusEvent data is incredibly valuable. The more we make of that data, the more valuable it becomes. And yet, managing all this data is one of the most complex issues that event planners are facing today, according to George Sirius, CEO of Eventsforce. He explains here in an interview with global hotel chain, NH Hotel Group, about the challenges and opportunities of data management in the events industry and the kind of technologies that are helping improve event experiences.

Today, there are a number of databases full of customer information generated through various types of events. How can we use this information to provide them with a more personalised event experience?

Personalisation is seen as one of the hottest trends in our industry with attendees increasingly expecting both the communication about an event and the live experience to be tailored to them in some way. Sophisticated data capture tools – from event registration systems and RFID to online surveys and event apps – are helping organisations collect and analyse valuable customer information to create more powerful and targeted events.

So let’s look at a registration system as an example. You can use the data in the system to collate a report on all the delegates that will be attending a particular session at your event.  You may share this list with all the other delegates attending that session to facilitate networking opportunities that are relevant to them.  But you can also do more. Break it down by company type, interests and goals and share the list with your session speaker.  He or she can then use this information to tweak the content of their presentation or personalise it with content or examples that are more relevant to the audience.

Although the legislation is different in each country, is it ethical to use customer contacts collected at an event for subsequent commercial actions? 

Only if the customer is aware and has given authorisation for such actions. Otherwise it is totally unethical.

How does the management of Big Data help to improve the preparation of an event? 

Organisations have different databases to capture different types of information – whether it’s events, sales, marketing, finance, memberships and so on.  All these systems have data in them that can help improve the preparation of an event – so it makes sense to pool them together.  For example, your CRM may have in-depth information on the customers that you want to invite to an upcoming event.  Having this information on hand can help with the personalisation and marketing efforts around your events.

Regarding to post event, how can we transform Big Data into Small Data, or useful information about our attendees or customers? 

There are many ways a customer can engage with an organisation.  For example, with associations, members may attend their events, watch their seminars, sign up to magazine subscriptions, publish papers, attend award events and so on.  Having all this data in one place can give associations clear insight on the kind of things their members are interested in and personalise their event experiences accordingly.

Thanks to technology, we get a lot more information. What technology is providing event planners with the kind of data that would have been difficult to get in the past?

Event apps have made the whole process of collecting data at events a whole lot easier – from facilitating live polls and Q&As to networking tools that can give insight on who your attendees are meeting with at your event. We also now have new tools like iBeacons which prompt your event app to perform a specific action when attendees come within a certain range of the beacon. It’s exciting because it gives event planners control over what they want their attendees to experience. Suppose you want feedback about the sessions and speakers at your event.  You can set up a beacon outside the room so that when people pass by it on their way out from a session, it will prompt the event app to open that session’s survey.

Data security is one of the concerns of the M&E industry. Is there anything that event planners can do to prevent the theft of personal data from their guests or customers? 

Data theft is a problem for any organisation that has valuable information to protect and the events industry is no exception – the amount of information collected from attendees is a goldmine for hackers. Eventsforce conducted a data security study with event planners earlier this year, and the results exposed a number of important vulnerability areas.

Email is one area of vulnerability. It is difficult to encrypt data in emails from end to end – so you should always think about what kind of information you are sharing on email. If you don’t need to email it, don’t. Regularly change the passwords to your event or registration systems and make sure you know who on your team has access to these systems.  Do not store your event data in any physical form (print or external hard drives, USB drives etc.) as this greatly increases the chance of it getting into the wrong hands. If you are, invest in secure cabinets, fit locking doors and ensure you have the proper mechanisms in place to dispose of this data if you need to.

At your events, don’t leave your registration lists, laptops and smart phones unattended and make sure that data on your screens is not visible to unauthorised users.  Be cautious when discussing details over the phone and avoid discussing sensitive information in public areas where you can be overheard.

What are the next challenges or trends that event management software companies face for the next future? 

One of the most important technology trends in the events industry today is data integration. Over the last few years, event planners have done some great things by integrating (or connecting) their event data with payment gateways, check-in solutions and more recently, event apps. However, what is really starting to gain ground is the integration of event management solutions with other business systems – from CRM and finance to marketing and membership solutions.


Want to save time and money and do more with your event data?  Explore new opportunities with this new FREE eBook from Event Industry News and Eventsforce that provides event planners with everything they need to know about event data integration.


Having the ability to automatically share information between your Event Management Solution (EMS) and other business systems can bring a host of benefits:

  • Reduce the endless hours your organization spends replicating data from one system to another.
  • Eliminate security risks associated with email communications and having printed documents lying around.
  • Improve productivity by spending less time on admin tasks and focusing your team’s efforts on other aspects of the event.
  • Deal with accurate data – less errors and inconsistencies that commonly cause problems in communications.
  • Make critical information around your events readily available to the right people, at the right time.

You can read the full interview with NH Hotel Group here.


Want to be a tech savvy event planner?  Subscribe to our weekly EventTech Talk newsletter for the latest technology trends, discussions ad debates shaping our industry today.


 

 

 

 

6 Technology Trends from Experts at Europe’s Largest Event Tech Show

untitled-design-70The annual Event Tech Live show took place in London last week and it certainly was worth the visit. It is Europe’s only dedicated exhibition and conference for event professionals interested in event technology and attracts more than 1,000 attendees and 65 exhibitors from the event tech industry. The show had a great display of new technology innovations and solutions that address every aspect of the event management process.  But more importantly, the conference brought together a number of high profile speakers – from technology experts to event organisers – to discuss and debate the latest technology trends that are shaping our industry today.

From event data integration and personalised event apps to live streaming and audience engagement tools – have a look at our top takeaways from Europe’s largest event tech show:

shutterstock_223152028Integration, Integration, Integration – If there was one topic that kept coming up again and again across almost all the panel sessions, it was integration. At the event, Event Industry News and Eventsforce published their first research about data integration in the events industry which found that 60% of event planners are already integrating their event data with systems like CRM, marketing and finance solutions to save time and improve data sharing around their events. In fact, the report found that only 25% think integration is NOT a priority for them moving forwards, so we can expect a lot more of this over the coming few years.

Experts also talked about integration in terms of all the different event tech organisations are using around their events – from registration systems and check-in solutions to event apps, networking tools, audience engagement, social media and so on. Keynote speaker, Scott Wilcox, South by Southwest (SXSW) Chief Innovation Officer, was arguing that more often than not, the data from all these different systems sits in silos which makes it very difficult for event planners to convert it into actionable insight.  Having all these technologies as part of one integrated system not only addresses this issue but gives attendees a better event experience too. We’re all used to the Amazon experience, where we get everything in one place and get personalised recommendations based on our past activity and saved preferences. Having an integrated system with our event data can bring attendees this same level of user experience.

So, what should event planners do?  Whatever event technology you’re looking to invest in, make sure that it integrates well with other solutions – whether it’s integrating with back end business systems or some of the other applications you are using around your events. If you’re interested to find more about why integration is so important for your events, have a look at this free eBook which gives event planners a comprehensive easy-to-read guide on everything they need to know about the subject, including case studies from Schroders, Haymarket, The Royal Society of Statisticians and the Liberal Democrats.

Audience Engagement –  This was another topic that was broadly debated – especially with regards to what technology to use and how event planners can measure the quality of audience engagement.  One thing they all agreed on that whatever engagement tool you use around your events, the technology needs to be intuitive. If you have to teach your audience members how to use it, then it’s probably not good enough.  So, simplicity is key for adoption.

There were a few really good applications of engagement tools at the event itself which are worth mentioning. The first was the use of noise-cancelling ‘Silent Noize Events’ headphones by audience members which provided a perfect pick-up from the otherwise buzzing open-plan platform. The other was the use of Glisser as part of the Event Tech Live app, which is a solution that promotes engagement and audience participation at events.  Attendees used the app to put questions across to panel speakers, rate other questions and see any presentation slides in real-time.  It was a really useful tool to get people to engage with both the speakers and the content of the presentations – especially for those people in the audience who would typically shy away from asking questions in a typical setting. In terms of ROI, the tool also allows presenters afterwards to break down the success or shortcomings of their presentations through the software’s extensive data and analytics platform.

What Exhibitor Technology is Working – The two technology trends that seem to be dominating the exhibition sector include networking tools and anything that accurately measures the ROI of participation for exhibitors (leads, content engagement etc.). There is growing focus on the importance of proximity solutions like NFC and RFID, which are great because they aren’t reliable on Wi-Fi connectivity, which is always an issue at big events. It can also help event planners and exhibitors better understand visitor footprints on the show floor – so you can quickly identify hot and cold spots and adjust your marketing and promotional activities accordingly.

There are also the technology solutions that allow visitors to collect show content from exhibitors and share their own contact details at the same time (also known as the ‘digital handshake’). At Event Tech Live, visitors were able to use Konduko’s smart event technology that basically turns visitor badges to virtual show bags.  Instead of carrying around paper brochures and flyers, attendees simply tapped their smart badges on readers installed at exhibitor stands to collect information which was emailed to them at the end of the show. The same technology was also available to download video recordings and presentations from all the panel sessions throughout the day.

shutterstock_180105386The Role of Live Streaming at Event – Live streaming has been one of the most interesting technology trends in our industry this year and its impact is set to grow, based on the investment we’re seeing pouring in – both from vendors and event planners. It is a powerful marketing tool that allows you to instantly reach out to your audiences, as well as build and engage with new ones too.  We’re seeing how attendees are also up for it too. Many of them now are using their phones to share their experiences and stream events live on their social media networks through apps like Periscope, Facebook Live, Instagram Stories and Snapchat Live Stories.

But will live streaming stop some people from attending your events? Many of the panelists agreed that this isn’t really the case and that event planners shouldn’t shy away from it. For each event, you may have 50% of people who can make it and another 50% who are interested but can’t and live streaming does give you the ability to reach out to this other 50%.  The technology shouldn’t really affect overall numbers because people still prefer face-to-face meetings over virtual events. And don’t forget, the broader your offering, the more likely this other 50% will physically interact with your events when they’re ready to.

untitled-design-44The State of Virtual Reality – The technology is certainly making its mark in the industry but it would be fair to say that cost still poses as a barrier. There were some very interesting case studies of brands that have used it successfully around their events – some of which were nominated for best VR application at the Event Tech Live awards dinner that same evening.  The general advice was that VR should always support and engage the visitor experience – not distract from it.

The technology also seems to be creating new opportunities to provide better event experiences to people with disabilities (such as displaying lyrics to songs at music festivals) or to anyone who is unable to physically attend an event.

Personalised Apps – The keynote session from SWSX had a very interesting discussion exploring the emergence of the intelligent event app – a highly evolved platform that is continuously learning through the use of a recommendation engine which provides an advanced layer of personalisation.  This new generation of event app gathers insight from attendee preferences, activities and location to create event experiences that meet the personalised needs of each and every attendee. For example, it will know that an attendee hasn’t booked anything for 10 o’clock on the day of the event, so the app will send a personalised message to the attendee: ‘Michael, free at 10pm?  We recommend this session. Add to schedule’, with a direct link that allows them to sign up for that session.

Pushing personalised content like this that changes user behaviour and has a positive effect on the attendee’s event experience is what will determine the success of event apps in the near future.

 

Event Tech Live 2016 – Do More With Your Event Data

Now in its third year, Event Tech Live is Europe’s first dedicated exhibition and conference for event professionals with an interest in technology. It attracts over 1,000 attendees and more than 65 exhibitors from the event tech industry and Eventsforce was there to kick things off.

The opening session of the event focused on making the business case for data integration. Alongside organisations who have already done this successfully, such as Haymarket Events and AoC Create, it highlighted how the process helps cut costs and improves team productivity. The session also explored how event planners can reduce the endless hours spent replicating data from one system to another and eliminating the errors and inconsistencies commonly associated with data entry. More importantly, it showed how these organisations are making better use of their event data by putting it in the hands of the people who need it the most.

The session started with a brief introduction by Ian Webb of Eventsforce on what is data integration and some key findings from a joint market research study with Event Industry News looking at its current uptake in the events industry.

eBook: Save Time and Do MORE With Your Event DataFor more information on how you can save time and do MORE with your event data, download this FREE eBook. The easy-to-use comprehensive guide to data integration provides you with everything you need to know about integrating your event data with other business systems (CRM, marketing, finance, membership).

Download it now! http://bit.ly/EFdata

 

Thanks to First Sight Media for the video.

Infographic: Save Time and Do MORE with Your Event Data

infographic-do-more-with-your-event-dataTechnology is always pushing the boundaries on how we plan and run our events. From the use of simple registration systems to complex event management tools. From check-in solutions and event apps to new technologies like iBeacons and augmented reality. As the significance of technology continues to grow for the events industry, so does the importance of managing all the data we get from our events.

Event data is incredibly valuable – the more you make of that data and the more you share it across your organisation, the more valuable it becomes. Over the last few years, event planners have done some great things by integrating (or connecting) their event data with applications like payment gateways, scanning tools and more recently, of course, event apps. Today, more and more organisations are starting to apply this same concept of data sharing with big back-end business systems – from CRM and finance to marketing, travel booking and membership solutions.

How does data integration help event planners?

Event planners deal with so many different systems to capture and manage information around their events – from their event management and ticketing systems to marketing, sales, finance, membership and so on. Putting all this data together where all the different systems automatically talk to each other is where integration comes in. In fact, having this kind of data ecosystem saves event planners an enormous amount of time around data entry and other admin tasks. It also makes sure that people have real-time access to critical and accurate event information at all times

Last month, Eventsforce and Event Industry News conducted a research study with over 200 senior event planners to take a look at the current uptake of data integration in the industry and the results were very interesting. The study found that 60% of organisations have already integrated their event data with back end systems with CRMs, corporate websites and finance solutions coming up top.

What did our study results say were the key benefits of data integration?

Time savings, data accuracy and improved productivity were seen as the top three benefits of data integration with 75% of event planners saying integration had a significant impact on the hours spent doing admin work like data entry, reporting and chasing departments for relevant information.  However, factors such as cost, time and the challenges of managing multiple IT suppliers were seen as the top barriers to integration.

The study also found that that despite the overwhelming 75% of event planners who want to integrate their event data, a third felt uncertain of where to start.  With this in mind, Event Industry News and Eventsforce decided to create a new ebook that provides event planners with a comprehensive easy-to-read guide on data integration.  Download it for free here and let us know what you think.

For a more comprehensive look at the findings from the Event Industry News and Eventsforce ‘Do More with Your Event Data’ study, please download the infographic below:

infographic_can-you-do-more-with-your-event-data_final


Interested in integrating your event data with back end systems?  Have a look at our API and integration offerings here or get in touch by filing in our enquiry form here.


How Can Associations Do More With Their Event Data?

untitled-design-58Events and conferences have never been as important for associations as they are today. You visit an association’s premises these days and chances are you’ll find yourself in a modern (often trendy) office block with high tech conference suites and meeting spaces.  Their annual conferences are highly complex affairs that attract numerous speakers, sponsors, exhibitors, as well as thousands of attendees at a time.  The events they run are important because they give associations the opportunity to showcase their expertise, while allowing members to network, learn and invest in their Continual Professional Development (CPD). They’re also important because they have such an impact on an association’s bottom line.

The revenue associations raise from these events represents a significant proportion of their annual income (usually more than membership fees).  Aside from ticket sales for conferences and awards dinners, there is also the money that comes in from sponsorship deals, publishing titles and new memberships that are acquired through these activities.  Running financially successful events however is not the only reason these events are so important. Associations today are under increasing pressure to provide members with a greater return on their membership fees.  And one of the most effective ways of doing this is through the delivery of high quality, informative, educational events.

As the significance of events continues to grow for associations, so does the importance of managing the data around these events. The information that an association gets on its attendees is incredibly valuable and the more it makes of that data, the more valuable it becomes. Associations are doing some great things by integrating their event data with payment gateways, badge printing tools and mobile event apps.  But what is really starting to gain ground with a lot of the associations we’re working with these days is the integration of event data with other business systems – from membership and CRM to abstracts and finance solutions.

The Importance of Data Integration for Associations

Untitled design (32)Associations have different databases to capture different types of information around their events– whether it’s membership, events, finance, abstracts and so on.  Pooling this data together to create a data ecosystem where all the different systems are talking to each other is where data integration comes in.

Let’s look at the benefits of doing this for an association. Having the ability to automatically share information between different systems means that you can reduce the endless hours you spend replicating data from one system to another. So it saves time.  It also helps cut down costs and improve your team’s productivity.  More importantly, it helps you make better use of your event data.  Integration between your event management and membership systems, for example, can provide automatic delegate membership checks as part of your event registration process. Integration with your finance system can significantly cut down the time spent chasing attendee payments. While integration with your CRM can help drive attendance and bring on new members to your association.

Let’s have a look at the most common types of integrations for associations and their events today:

1. Membership Integration

It’s fair to say that most associations use some form of membership system which helps them capture and manage all the data around their members. Integration between events and membership means that any changes to records in one system is automatically updated in the other. This means that if a member provides a new contact number in their registration form, that change is automatically recorded in the membership system and vice versa.  It also means associations are able to more easily track which members have attended which event and provide adequate CPD accreditation.

Another functionality of membership integration is the ability to incorporate automatic membership checks as part of the event registration process.  The Liberal Democrats have a good way of doing this for their annual party conferences.  By integrating the Eventsforce event management platform with their membership system, the political party knows that members are going through the right registration channels and non-members are not paying discounted member fees. It has also helped them address queries around memberships a lot more quickly.

untitled-design-30 2. CRM Integration

Many associations are also now using sophisticated CRM solutions to manage the data for both members and non-members.  Integration with a CRM system ensures that all the information you have around the people attending your events is automatically being fed back to the CRM.  This way, your CRM management team can always have a clear view on which of the delegates were non-members, what sessions they attended and any other data captured within your event management system. This valuable information can then be used to drive new memberships or registrations for your next event. Remember, the cost of generating a new lead for a membership organisation is almost always offset by the first conference fee, so it makes sense to keep track of their activities.

An integrated CRM system has other advantages too. In order to provide members with the relevant CPD accreditation and attendance certificates, associations tend to use their event management solutions to store and retrieve information on the attendance history of each member.  However, there are many other sources of acquiring CPD points. As well as attending certain events, members may be required to watch webinar content, sign up to magazine subscriptions, publish papers and so on. By having your CRM integrated within one ecosystem, you can have one place that automatically captures all the information you need for tracking members’ CPD activities.  This not only saves time but gives associations clear insight on the net worth of each member. Imagine opening up your CRM database and seeing the exact number of times a member engaged with the association over the past year – from membership and conference fees, to an annual awards dinner, subscription to the association’s magazine, content contribution for the website and a speaking session on a webinar.   By integrating all your systems together, you will see how your members are worth a lot more than their annual membership fees.

3. Abstract (Call for Papers) Integration

Association conferences deal with a lot more data than standard corporate events – especially those that have to manage abstracts (call for papers) too. As well as keeping on top of attendees, speakers and sponsors, they also need to manage and track data around their submitters, authors, reviewers and presenters. These associations will almost always process their call for papers using a specialised abstract system, which helps them co-ordinate submissions and reviewers, assign topics, create agendas and manage communications.

Some of these systems like Eventsforce Abstracts provide both registration and abstracts management on one platform. However, if you are using two separate systems, it makes sense to have these integrated.   This way, any changes in speakers and sessions within the abstract solution will automatically be reflected in the event website and registration system. The integration will also facilitate checks such as ensuring speakers have registered before submitting an abstract.

4. Finance Integration

pci-complianceHaving the ability to track funds around events is hugely important for an association’s cash flow. Integration between your event management system and finance package will ensure all conference attendee payment details are always automatically up-to-date in both systems. Event invoices, credit notes and received payments can all be quickly generated and sent from either system – don’t forget that the quicker that invoice gets out, the quicker the money will be coming in. It provides the event manager access to important and accurate financial information without having the need to contact the finance team directly.  It can also reduce the time your association spends chasing payments from hours to minutes. By creating a report on your event management system, for example, you can follow up with all your unpaid invoices that are over 30 days through one single email.

5. Event App Integration

Over the last few years, event apps have become prevalent across many association events. Integration between your event planning software and your app provider ensures that when an attendee comes to the conference and logs on to their device, the app already knows who they are. It knows exactly what sessions they will be attending and can help tailor their event experience through personalised content and agendas. What is behind every successful app however is ensuring that the data on the app is always kept up to date and this can only be done through good integration between the two systems.  Most app vendors will tell you they integrate with your core system but it’s the quality of these integrations that is most important.  You want to make sure you work with an app that has an open-architecture and can integrate from the ground up, not one that started as a stand-alone app.

Conclusion

Click to get in touchMany event planners feel that dealing with integration projects may be somewhat technically challenging.   But don’t let that worry you.  As long as you understand the top level concept and what you want to achieve, then your event technology provider(s) should be able to help you with the details. Many event management systems like Eventsforce use simple development tools that make the whole process a lot simpler and a lot cheaper than before. If this is something you’re considering doing in the near future, then have a read through these top considerations when integrating your event data with other business systems.  Following these steps will ensure your integration projects work and more importantly, bring real value to your events.

Written by Paul Harris, Event Technologist & Client Services Manager, Eventsforce

 

How The Liberal Democrats Are Using Event Tech to Maintain Security at Annual Party Conferences

Lib Dem BlogThis 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

marketing-manager-2The 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

Untitled design (20)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 Road Aheadregistrations right

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).

Click to get in touchMoving 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.

 

 

 

 

Top 6 Considerations When Integrating Your Event Data with Other Business Systems

Untitled design (20)Almost every blogger, analyst, journalist and vendor has identified data integration as one of the most important trends in the events industry this year. The concept isn’t something new with most organisations having taken on some form of an integration project through payment gateways, registration scanning tools or event apps. What is new, however, is the increasing number of event planners taking the plunge and integrating their event data with some of their organisations’ other business systems – from finance and CRM to marketing and membership systems.

The case for data integration is quite simple:  It makes business sense. It cuts costs and improves your team’s productivity. It reduces the endless hours event planners spend replicating data from one system to another and it also helps eliminate all the errors and inconsistencies commonly associated with data entry. More importantly, it makes better use of your data by putting it in the hands of the people who need it the most. Integration between your event management and membership systems, for example, can provide automatic delegate membership checks as part of your event registration process.  Integration with your finance system can provide your events team with real-time updates on delegate payments.  Integration with your CRM can help you create detailed invitation lists, whilst providing your sales team with new leads whenever you have new registrations.

If this is something you’re considering doing in the near future, then there are some key things to think about to make sure your data integration project works and brings real value around your events. Have a look below:

Make Sure You Know What You Want to Achieve

The most important consideration when implementing a data integration project is to figure out why you want to integrate your event data with another system. Is there a strong business need for it? Can it help solve a particular problem around your events, like chasing delegate payments from your finance team?  In the case of an event app, what data do you want to pass on from your event management system? Should the app be used by delegates to make changes to their agendas?  What will this entail and how is that information tracked?  Assess and document the benefits of integrating the two systems together, both in terms of cost and time savings, before making any decisions. If you’re finding it difficult to identify how the integration is going to answer important questions around your events, improve the service you provide to your delegates or create efficiencies within your events team, you’re probably wasting your time.

Ensure All Stakeholders Are Involved from the Beginning

shutterstock_61234468The more you know about exactly what you want to achieve, the more likely you are able to identify who needs to be involved in the project.  If you want to integrate your event data with your CRM, then it makes sense to have your CRM manager involved.  If it’s with your accounting system, then it should be your finance manager, and so on.  The next step is to approach your software providers, find out if the integration is technically possible and agree on the objectives.  It is in your interest to help the provider understand your business requirements correctly as this will help them accurately identify and integrate all the required data points.

A common pitfall at this point is for event planners to pass the project on to their developers or IT departments but you need to remember, data integration is a business initiative, not a technology one.  There should be someone throughout the whole process that understands the value of this data and will be able to lead discussions about the long-term goals of the project in order to make it consistent, successful and beneficial.

The other important factor is good communication with all team members throughout the duration of the project. This involves ensuring that there is ‘buy in’ for your project from everyone involved – from the executives in the different departments within your organisation to the techies who will be carrying out the roll out of the project and the events team whose work will be affected by the integration. Everyone need to understand what it is you are trying to achieve and why – you’ll be in a better position to identify potential problems and won’t need to make as many last-minute changes to the development work.

Agree Detailed Specifications & Data Maps Before Starting

It is crucial to determine early on which systems need to talk to each other, which fields within your systems need to be updated and how often this needs to be done. Is the data going to flow one way or two ways between the systems? So if you’re integrating your registration software with a CRM solution, you should decide which questions from your registration page (names, address, telephone numbers) should be updated in the CRM and vice versa. This ‘data mapping’ process is important as it ensures that the right data goes into the right field of each system.

Often, your expectations of what you’re able to do must be realigned as the sheer quantity of data that needs to be dealt with is sometimes underestimated – especially with CRM integrations. Gathering the data can be harder than you think and the data you have might need more ‘cleaning up’ than you first thought.  Take delegate phone numbers, for example. They could be entered in all sorts of different formats: ‘020-888-4567’ or ‘(020) 888-4567’ or they may have no separators at all.  Slightly different formats, minor typos or extra spaces and characters in your CRM system can cause problems when your event management system is expecting things one way and gets another. Take these factors into account when mapping out your data flows. Consult with both software providers and make sure you have workarounds put in place as even the smallest discrepancies and inconsistencies can stop your integration from working as it should.

Be Realistic Over Time and Budget!Untitled design (4)

The good news is that integrating two pieces of software together is no longer the big financial commitment it once was, largely due to generic communications tools (such as Java, APIs and REST) that make it simple to consume and post data from one system to another. Dealing with good software companies also helps as they can provide all the relevant support and expertise you need – which means the whole process can take as little as a few days at a fraction of the cost. However, don’t underestimate the time and budget you need to allocate for such a project.

Think about things like data discrepancies we mentioned earlier on.  If your event management and membership systems, for example, record delegate birth dates in different formats, you will probably need to invest in a bit of development work that will allow the automatic conversation of data from one format to the other. This is a small example of a simple format issue and by itself, no big task.  But multiply this across thousands of data fields and records and dozens of types of formats, and the development work to do clean-up, workarounds and validation can be substantial. Remember that development time can be expensive so think about all these eventualities when mapping out your data flows at the beginning of the project.

Allocate Adequate Technical Resources

Avoid wasting valuable time by ensuring you have the adequate IT staff on hand to answer any technical queries that may come up during the development, implementation and testing stages of your data integration project. Developers from your event management solution provider, for example, may have specific inquiries about the set-up of your bespoke finance system or vice-versa. If you don’t have the necessary technical staff, consider hiring an independent consultant or specialist system integrator for the duration of the project. Once the development phase is over, your technical staff should also be responsible for the proper testing of the integration to ensure that data flow between the two systems is correct, complete and up-to-date.

Make Time for Thorough Testing and User Acceptanceintro_tech_to_assn_congress

Both the technical and business teams need to be involved in the testing stage to ensure that the results are as expected or if anything needs to be resolved.  So if it’s an integration with your finance package, set up a test on your event management system and put through enough transactions to make sure both sides are comfortable and have covered all delegate payment scenarios.  It is then the responsibility for each department head to train their relevant teams on how the system works.

Ensure your team are aware of how the integration impacts their daily tasks.  When creating new events in your event management system, for example, staff need to know that certain fields can no longer be changed as they are now also being used by the finance team to track delegate payments. Create an action list of do’s and don’ts or include it with your event management system template each time a user logs in as an administrator.

Conclusion

Click to get in touchThinking about all these points when planning your data integration projects will ensure that the whole process will be smoother and lot more flexible for any changes you want to make in the future. It is important to note though that regardless of size, an integration between two systems is a moving thing and technology can always change. Don’t forget about it once implementation and testing is over. Stay on top of it with continuous testing and regular meetings with your software providers to ensure everything is working as it should.

Written by Ian Webb, Business Development Manager, Eventsforce