IDC recently quoted ‘No Chief Marketing Officer can be a good marketer unless they become a good technologist’. And that’s somewhat true for the event planner – it’s difficult running a good event these days if you’re not good at technology. At least understanding what technology can do for you. Event managers today are becoming more and more tech savvy as technology continues to play a critical role in all aspects of an event. From simple registration systems to sophisticated event management tools. From social media and event apps to new technologies like iBeacons and augmented reality. More importantly, event managers are starting to look at how technology can help them evaluate event data. Traditionally done at the end of an event, it is now possible to acquire information as the event unfolds, through the real-time collection of actionable data.
The data we get from our events is incredibly valuable and the more you make of that data, the more valuable it is for your organisation. But what happens when you integrate your event data with some of the other business systems within your organisation? What if you could cut out the hundreds of hours spent re-entering event information into other systems? What if you could stop the painful process of chasing payments with your finance team? What if you could automatically update your sales team on new delegate information?
Sound good? Let’s explore in more detail.
It may sound slightly technical but the concept is really quite simple. In fact, data integration is one of the most important IT concepts for any business and it isn’t new. Companies have different databases to capture different types of information – whether it’s sales, marketing, events, finance, memberships and so on. Pooling this data together to create a data ecosystem that the business can function in is where data integration comes in. Businesses can make better use of their data by linking their systems through Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), which allow different software applications to pull and share information with each other.
The lack of integrating these different types of data can be the source of a lot of frustration. To illustrate this in a practical example, I recently called up my mobile operator to inform them of a change in my billing address. Even though the customer service representative I spoke to updated my records, I still get promotional materials from their TV and broadband departments coming to my old address. Why? Because the change was only recorded in the mobile division’s Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system and not the system used by the other business units within. If the two systems had been integrated, my details would have automatically been synched with the other system and all correspondence from that company would have come to my new address.
Integrating your event management software with other business systems within your organisation will bring you a host of benefits – from increasing your staff’s productivity to improving the overall efficiency of your operations. It will also help you make better use of your data. For example, integration with a CRM system like Salesforce.com will allow you to automatically pull invitation lists from Salesforce directly into your event management system. Similarly, any new registration activity or changes to a delegate’s profile will automatically be updated in Salesforce, making sure your sales team are up to date with valuable lead information. If these two systems worked independently of one another, registration information for each delegate would be typically collated into a report, printed and manually entered into the Salesforce system. By integrating the two systems together, you can eliminate the hours of work spent in manipulating spreadsheets and updating records in an effort to organise and track delegate information.
There are other business processes where data integration makes sense for your events too. Integration with your back-end booking systems will help you merge the process of booking flights into your registration forms. Similarly, integrating with a finance package will allow you to automatically update delegate payment details into your finance system and vice versa. Event invoices, credit notes and received payments can be all be generated and sent from either system. This saves time and more importantly, provides the event manager access to important and accurate financial information.
Integrating your event management system into an existing data ecosystem is fast becoming a cost-effective and achievable solution. Many solutions come with built-in API (Application Protocol Interface) functionality, allowing event planners to easily integrate it with their existing systems. We are already seeing a lot of event managers integrate their systems with things like payment gateways, badge printing tools and mobile event apps. Integration with big back-end systems though is still in its infancy – but long overdue.
A common misconception in data integration is that it should fall under the responsibility of the IT department. Many event planners feel that dealing with APIs and integration models may be somewhat technically challenging. But don’t be bamboozled by technology. As long as you understand the top level concept and what you want to achieve, then your event techology provider(s) should be able to help you with the details.
Another misconception is money. It all sounds great but how much is it going to cost? Integrating two pieces of software together is no longer a £40,000 commitment. Ten years ago, a project like this would involve a lengthy process of setting objectives, designing the systems and writing code. Decent event management software these days, however, uses generic communication tools (such as Java, APIs and REST) that make it simple to consume data from the platform and post data to it. This makes life a lot easier, which means you don’t have to pay a third party IT company to sort out all the integration. Having an event technology provider that provides all the relevant support and expertise means the whole process can take as little as a few days at a fraction of the cost.
Data Integration Makes Business Sense
The bottom line is that data integration makes business sense. It saves you time by reducing manual data entry. It eliminates errors and inconsistencies that commonly cause problems in communications. It cuts costs and make your team more productive – and more importantly, it unlocks the real value of event data by putting it in the hands of the people who need it. If you’re already doing it, then you’re ahead of the curve. If you’re not, then your first step is to ensure your event management software can integrate easily with your current and future business systems. That way you can truly maximise the return on your investment.
Written by Paul Harris, Eventsforce
1IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Chief Marketing Officer Advisory 2016