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Using Cloud Services : Collaborating on Event Management - Exploring Event Management Applications

6/30/2011 6:33:48 PM
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Understanding Event Management Applications

What exactly does an event management application manage? Less-sophisticated apps may focus on one or two operations, such as event registration or facilities booking. The more full-featured apps include management of everything from pre-event marketing to post-event analysis.

Let’s take a look at what you can expect.

Event Planning and Workflow Management

A successful event starts well in advance of its opening date. There are tons of details involved in an event of any size, and managing all those tasks takes quite a bit of computing horsepower—just the thing cloud computing can help you out with. Most event management applications include robust task planning modules, similar to what you’d find in higher-end task management applications or lower-end project management apps.

What you want is the ability not just to track individual tasks in a to-do list fashion, but also benefit from sophisticated workflow management. That is, you need to know which tasks need to be completed before later tasks can be started; you need to know who’s doing what, and be alerted to any tasks that are unstaffed or understaffed. In other words, you need the planning and workflow management functionality to continue into the event itself, so that you can manage your staff in an efficient and effective manner.

Event Marketing

Unless you let people know about your event, you could be disappointed with the final attendance. To that end, many event management applications include modules to help you market your event.

For example, many apps offer web-based email marketing, which lets you promote your event via targeted email messages. Other apps help you create your own event website (on their cloud computers), which also helps to promote your event.

Event Calendar

Another part of your event marketing mix is an event calendar—an online calendar that displays all the happenings within your overall event. This proves particularly useful if you’re hosting a conference or trade show made of lots of individual panels, sessions, or meetings. You can post each individual event on the main event calendar, easily accessed by any attendee or potential attendee with a web browser.

Facilities Scheduling

Unless you’re running a one-room meeting, chances are your event involves multiple rooms and maybe event multiple locations. If so, you need to be able to schedule different rooms for different components of your event; when a participant or group asks for a room, you need to be able to see what’s available and when.

To that end, most event management apps include a facilities scheduling module. Ideally, this module ties into the event host’s systems, giving you complete power over room or hall scheduling.

Advance Registration

Most larger events require or encourage advance registration of participants. To that end, most event management apps include a web-based registration module, where attendees can sign up (and, in most cases, pay) for the event. Attendee information is entered into a web form, and that data is then stored on the application provider’s cloud servers. You then access attendee data from your own computer, wherever you may be.

Some of the more sophisticated advance registration modules provide additional functionality. For example, you might want to collect demographic or other information from attendees, and then use that information to help plan specific programs during the event. Or a registration module might tie into a hotel reservations module, to automatically reserve hotel rooms for those who need them.

The registration module is the backbone of the entire event management program. Make sure it does everything you need it to do, and does so in a way that you find usable.

Payment Processing

Collecting payment for your advance and onsite registrants is a key part of the event management experience. You want the event management software to tie payment processing into the registration process, letting you accept payment via credit card, PayPal, or whatever other payment methods you accept.

Travel Management

If you’re running a real “hands-on” event, you might want to consider offering travel services to select attendees. This may be as simple as arranging ground transfer services (taxis, buses, and so on) between your local airport and the event hotel, or as advanced as linking into an online travel site or airline reservations system to provide flight reservations. Although not all event management applications offer this type of functionality, it is available with some apps if you need it.

Housing Management

More common is a housing management module that helps match event attendees with available rooms at your event hotel. Many attendees prefer to have the event host handle their hotel reservations, so that you serve as kind of a “one-stop shop” for all your attendees needs. The best event management apps link directly from advance registration and payment into the hotel’s reservation system—and then let you confirm rooms and such at the event site.

Onsite Registration

Your attendees sign up (and probably pay) for your event in advance. But when they arrive on opening day, you need to sign them in, print out badges, provide a welcoming packet, and so forth. All of these tasks are managed by the event management application’s onsite registration module. Ideal onsite registration ties into the advance registration and, optionally, the housing management modules of the application. And, because it’s all web based, you can manage all onsite activities via a notebook PC at the event site, accessing your main database in the cloud.

Contact Management

Here’s a service that many event managers offer attendees. Using the master database of event guests, you can provide contact management services to help attendees get in touch with one another. At the very least, your event management application should let you print out (or host online) a master directory of attendees, which can then be provided as part of the welcoming packet of materials.

Budget Management

Running an event is an expensive and complex undertaking; your overall budget includes hundreds of individual expense items. To that end, your event management application should include a robust accounting or budget management module, to track both your expenses and your income.

Post-Event Reporting and Analysis

When the event is (finally!) over, your job isn’t quite done yet. Not only do you have to balance the books, you also need to look back on the entire event and determine how successful it was. That’s why most event management applications include some form of post-event reporting and analysis. Some apps even let you send and process attendee surveys, which can provide valuable feedback from those who were there. Look for a reporting module that lets you see at a glance how you performed to plan in a number of areas, not all of them financial. (For example, how many hotel rooms were blocked out in advance versus how many rooms were actually used?)

Exploring Event Management Applications

Now that you know what to look for in an event management application, let’s look at the most popular of these web-based apps. Whereas most perform similar functions, some stand out from the pack in terms of what they do—or don’t—offer.

123 Signup

Taking these event management applications in alphanumeric order, the first out of the gate is 123 Signup (www.123signup.com). The company offers four different applications: Event Manager, Association Manager, Training Manager, and Member Directory. Of these, the one in which we’re interested is the aptly named Event Manager.

Note

123Signup claims to be one of the largest event management applications, having processed more than 1,500 events, registered nearly a half million attendees, and handled more than a million individual transactions.


123 Event Manager is scalable, so it can be used for both smaller (employee meetings, stockholder meetings, alumni meetings, and so forth) and larger (trade shows, fundraisers, conferences, and so on) events.

The application handles a combination of front-office and back-office tasks. Front-office tasks include defining and marketing events, automatically generating informational web pages and registration forms, and marketing your event via targeted email messages. Back-office tasks include event registration, badge printing, payment collection, and database management. The program even provides real-time reports on registrations, attendance, collections, and other key factors.

Figure 1 shows a typical initial registration page. Potential attendees see information about the event, including a link to a map of the event hotel and the ability to add the event to their Microsoft Outlook calendar. To begin the registration process, an attendee need only click the Register icon; attendees are then prompted for their name and contact info, as well as payment method.

Figure 1. Beginning the event registration process with 123Signup.

Acteva

Acteva (www.acteva.com) offers online event registration and payments. Using Acteva’s web-based solutions, you can handle event registration, ticketing, and payment handling (via any major credit card) directly from your own website. You can then sort and manage all event registration data online.

You start by creating what Acteva calls an Active Page for your event; this is simply a web page with built-in payment handling and data processing. (You create your Active Page by filling in a few web forms—it’s quite easy.) After you’ve published your event page, you then use Acteva’s EventMail service to send out notification of your event to potential attendees. Interested parties then visit your Active Page to register and pay for the event. Acteva processes and confirms event registration and sends an email confirmation to the participant. You can then use Acteva’s online event management tools to generate will call lists, meal preference lists, name tags, badges, and the like.

Conference.com

Conference.com (www.conference.com) offers one of the most full-featured web-based event management applications available today. By using Conference.com’s cloud servers, even small events can utilize the company’s powerful event management tools, designed to serve the needs of the largest events. Your data (and the behind-the-scenes application modules) are hosted by Conference.com’s secure servers, accessible from any Internet-enabled location.

The company offers a wealth of features for events big and small. You get wizard-based event setup, real-time credit authorization, customizable web pages and forms, onsite processing, and the like. When an event participant submits his registration via your custom-designed web form, the application automatically updates the database on Conference.com’s web servers, so your information is always up-to-date.

Conference.com’s Event Manager Systems application is actually a suite of interlocking modules, as shown in the diagram in Figure 2. These modules include the following:

  • Appointment Manager, an online meeting scheduling application. This module enables attendees to self-schedule one-to-one sessions with other participants at your event, within time slots that you predefine.

  • Credit Card Manager, offering real-time credit card authorization integrated into the registration process.

  • Email Manager, an email broadcasting utility that dynamically pulls recipient names from your registration data.

  • Export Manager, an export/import utility that lets you copy the data from one event to another event in your database.

  • Hotel Manager, a professional room block management tool tightly integrated with the company’s Registration Manager module. The system manages everything from small single property blocks to citywide room inventories. Each room type is defined with its own price, description, and starting inventory; as a room is sold, the nightly inventory for that room type is automatically adjusted.

  • Lead Track Manager uses bar code technology to verify session attendance and provide lead tracking services to exhibitors.

  • Profile Manager links member, employee, customer, and prospect databases with your conference registration processing, enabling attendees to authenticate themselves through a login web page.

  • Registration Manager is the core module of Conference.com’s Event Manager systems. This module contains the accounting engine, report engine, a graphical report library, and other functions that integrate directly with other modules in the suite.

  • Survey Manager enables you to create professional-looking online surveys at any point in the event process. You can solicit pre- or post-event attendee surveys; Survey Manager lets you email invitations with hyperlinks that take the user to the correct survey form.

  • Travel Manager, which helps you manage ground transfer services between multiple airports and event hotels.

Figure 2. Conference.com’s interlocking event management modules.


Together, this suite of modules creates a full-featured event management application that should handle the needs of any sized event.

Cvent

Competing directly with Conference.com is Cvent (www.cvent.com), with its Event Management system. Like Conference.com, Cvent’s Event Management system is a suite of interrelated tools, including the following:

  • Event Registration, including online event registration, branded event websites, data collection, and generation of name badges and mailing labels

  • Email Marketing, with automated invitations, “save-the-date” reminders, confirmations, and post-event “thank you” messages

  • Secure Online Payment Processing, which lets you accept payment by all major credit cards—and offer “early-bird” discounts to motivated participants

  • Housing and Travel Management, which provides a one-step process for attendees to sign up, pay, get a hotel room, reserve an airline flight, and receive all relevant follow-up communications

  • Contact Management, which creates a professional directory or address book from all entered participant information

  • Budget Management, which helps you build, track, and analyze budgets for your events

  • Custom Event Websites, which helps you launch a custom website for your event—complete with onsite promotion of event sponsors

  • Event Workflow Management, which helps you manage the entire event planning process from start to finish, complete with to-do list emails for event staff

  • Event Calendar, a web-based calendar that displays all events open for registration

  • On-Site Functionality, which enables you to check in attendees as they arrive onsite, provide self-registration kiosks, print session-attendee lists, create bar-coded name badges, and process live credit card payments

  • Event Reporting, which lets you access event data in real-time via a library of standard and custom reports

Cvent’s functionality may be even more than that offered by Conference.com; you should definitely compare the two if you need to manage a large or complex event.

Event Wax

Event Wax (www.eventwax.com) isn’t quite as full featured as other event management solutions . In fact, it really isn’t designed to handle large-scale events such as trade shows and conferences. Instead, Event Wax is for smaller-scale in-house events, such as company meetings, parties, open houses, and the like.

That said, Event Wax performs many of the same functions as the more full-featured programs. You can schedule multiple events, send out email invitations, create event web pages, enable attendee self-registration, and the like. You can even sell tickets for your event, as shown in Figure 3, with different types of tickets at different prices.

Figure 3. Monitoring ticket sales with Event Wax.

eventsbot

Our next event management application is eventsbot (www.eventsbot.com), which offers online event registration and ticketing. You can use eventsbot to plan and manage your event, sell tickets in your choice of currency, collect credit card payments, and even promote your event with major search engines and event directories.

Creating a new event with eventsbot is as easy as filling in a few web forms. This creates a cloud-based website for your event, like the one shown in Figure 4. You can then activate ticket selling for the event, which takes place on this web page. After that, eventsbot handles ticket and attendee management for your event.

Figure 4. A typical eventsbot event page, for the Iota Phi Theta Summer Leadership Conference.

RegOnline

Like eventsbot, RegOnline (www.regonline.com) offers online event registration and payment. You use RegOnline to create a website for your event, create web-based registration forms, accept credit card payments, send automatic email reminders and confirmations, print name badges and room signs, and generate all manner of custom reports. The application also handles the reservations of individual hotel rooms and room blocks.

Figure 5 shows how easy it is to get started with RegOnline. This event builder page walks you through the event creation process via a series of web forms. Fill in the relevant information to generate a web page and other functions for your event.

Figure 5. Using RegOnline’s event builder page to create a new event.

Setdot

Setdot (www.setdot.com) isn’t really for large corporate events; it’s more of a stylish web-based way to schedule and manage smaller personal events and activities. Setdot lets use choose from various preset themes for your event web page. It even displays maps and directions to events. And, although it’s mainly for smaller events, it does manage guest responses and messages.

Tendenci

Here’s another unique approach to event management. Tendenci (www.tendenci.com) combines a web-based calendar application with online registration and payment. You create an event calendar, like the one in Figure 6, which you embed in your own website. When an interested party clicks an event link, he’s taken to a dedicated page for that event, where he can see more information and register online. You can then manage the attendee data, print name tags, and the like.

Figure 6. A typical Tendenci online event calendar, for the Houston chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.

Events in the Cloud

Event management is a process-intensive endeavor. There’s so much involved in managing event the smallest event, it really benefits from the power of cloud computing.

Here’s the thing: Even a small event has beaucoup number of individual pieces and parts, all of which can benefit from behind-the-scenes computing horsepower. It’s seldom cost-effective, however, to purchase the hardware and software to manage these events; you might use the same software applications to manage a 25-person seminar as you do to manage a 1,000-person trade show, even though the 25-person seminar brings in less revenue.

Unfortunately, although both events have the same management needs, the smaller event probably can’t afford the traditional type of event management software that the larger event has the budget for.

This is where cloud computing comes to the rescue. By tapping into the same server cloud as the larger event, the smaller event can now afford the same level of event management. The same applications are used, just with less server horsepower.

Cloud computing also lets you take event management from the office to the event site. The attendee database isn’t landlocked on your company’s computers; it’s located on the web, where it’s accessible from any web browser. So fire up a series of computer terminals in the event registration room, or just take your notebook PC with you. Everything you or your attendees entered prior to the event is there for your onsite access—which is great not just for onsite registration, but also for solving those niggling problems that always tend to spring up the day of the event!

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