Software eases big event woes

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In August, Cisco Systems, a supplier of networking equipment and management, decided to integrate each of its sales meetings into one large Global Sales Meeting. It was the first time the company had all its worldwide sales associates under one roof. With nearly 14,000 people set to attend, the event presented a challenge well beyond the organizing team's previous experience: How to manage and execute an event successfully for the largest audience Cisco has had—including people from 80 different countries speaking 17 different languages?

"It was kind of crazy," said Angie Smith, manager-operations and event management at Cisco. So the tech company turned to a software program called Global LINKS, created by George P. Johnson Co., an integrated marketing company. The software, said Smith, "allowed us to build the content and manage everything from transportation and housing to shirt sizes. It was the holistic approach of putting that together in one strategic warehouse."

Real-time traffic patterns

What resulted was an event that ran smoothly with few surprises. Because the event management software allowed organizers a real-time understanding of traffic patterns and session attendance, the biggest change from previous events, Smith said, was the process of registration. "We have two phases of registration. First is getting people registered for our conference. [Global LINKS] e-mailed the individual who was invited and they would sign up. They could tell us they were coming and [then the software] assigned hotel rooms," she said. "The second phase sent an e-mail out allowing [attendees] to sign up for their sessions. The tool allowed us, on a daily basis, to see where people were migrating. Configuring those sessions in a center that is that big and ensuring that the air walls were moved?we were having to change that on a daily basis."

Additionally, she said, making last- minute changes to the event program saved the company money in the long run: "The session program managers were going into the [Global LINKS] tool and posting the abstract for their sessions and building content. They could see [which countries] the people who signed up were based in. We have committed to translating for three languages, so we would be able to see if we needed to provide translation. We didn't want to sign up for [translators] ahead of time because it's very costly, so we were able to make those decisions on the spur of the moment."

The second biggest change that resulted from the integration of the management software, Smith said, was the ability for organizers to communicate with each other much more effectively. "There are always people that work on the trade show floor, and then someone on logistics and then someone on building content," she said. Before they integrated the event management tools, "we weren't really collaborating with one another. The event manager was focused on housing, transport and food. The content manager was focused on sessions, topic, speakers and how the room would be set. We weren't talking to one another. It's really important that we were all taking to get transparency amongst the team."

Sharing information via Web

But the integrated system changed that, Smith said. Because the Web-based software allows users to access it from just about anywhere, each member of her team was able see what the others were up to at all times, she said. "[Before Global LINKS], we were working on our own projects, and it was difficult to share information across those teams. One person had to be in charge of updating all those teams, pushing data between those teams. Now each of those people is able to go to a one-stop shop."

This ability to communicate more efficiently combined with a real-time big picture of what was happening on the event floor resulted in a slimmer staff, another big money saver. "We have metrics built on just about everything," Smith said. "The return on investment for me was that [before], I had one full-time head-counter. Whereas moving to the integration of Global LINKS allowed me to eliminate the person. I no longer needed that person [because] a piece of technology could do that for us."

In the long run, Smith said, the advantages of the integrated management technology will outlast the event itself. "I would like to use it from now on," she said. "The tool is just global, it takes into account and streamlines every piece of the event management business."

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