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Fashioning a new meetings strategy



A number of newer meetings platforms have enabled corporate clients to aggregate office locations and meetings spaces into their tools to make them part of a single workflow stream for potential bookers. Hubli, last April, announced its Office Connect module, which puts internal office space side by side with hotels and other external venues in the search and booking process.

Hubli CEO Ciaran Delaney told BTN that more companies than ever want to leverage their internal spaces to the point where the Hubli sales process increasingly engages with facilities managers and corporate real estate teams as well as travel and meetings managers to support new policies that preference those internal spaces.

Heston works with simple meetings technology provider Bizly, which offers similar capability. She also said her team is now “working collaboratively” with Elevance’s corporate real estate team to support onsite meetings and update stakeholders on office makeovers that enable more functional meetings. Office listings in the Bizly tool include photos, layouts and even local catering recommendations.

“Our offices have become very much like hotels. We have individuals on site that are basically supporting meetings in the conference centers at our offices, which have all been redone.” It is so similar in function and format, she said, that “we really do call it ‘hoteling’. ”

Heston has designed a workflow for simple meetings that directs stakeholders to Bizly, where they can “seamlessly” make a request for availability at preferred hotels and office spaces – a process she said “worked really well.”

In terms of external venues, it’s not an RFP or an instant booking, at least not in major markets, Heston reiterated, “because our prices are pre-negotiated.”

Self-service approach

Elevance uses a number of meetings technologies, including Cvent and Lenos. Stakeholders are required to complete a meeting request form linked to a budget owner and cost centre for any event that will exceed $5,000. “That data is fed into our expense tool, which has a check to ensure the budget owner has signature authority and the cost center is a real cost centre,” she explained. “So, everything is transparent.”

Cost isn’t the single factor to determine whether the meeting is directed to a self-service tool or routed to a more full-service model, she said. That depends on the level of the attendees and the complexity of the event. Elevance relies on Meetings & Incentives Worldwide for outsourcing services and support for the in-house meetings team – and the firm may be called in for meetings with an executive footprint, no matter what size. During peak demand, M&IW works “across the whole gamut” of events, from small client meetings to large multi-day events. The outsourcing team will use Bizly but also ramps up to Lenos or Cvent for more robust or customised needs.

Self-service models have become a viable meetings solution in recent years, thanks to this spate of simplified technologies like Bizly, Groupize, HRS, Hubli and others. But not all companies want to use them. Only 12 per cent of BTN survey respondents said their companies contracted with such tools.

One buyer speaking to BTN on background trialed a self-serve meetings tool and called it “a mess” in terms of policy and compliance in their complex and layered organisation. Additionally, that company shied away from implementing a secondary technology to their Cvent platform to handle simpler meetings because it risked “fragmenting the data picture” for the buyer’s meetings management programme. 

Heston hasn’t found that to be the case, but she supports the self-service route with what she calls a “concierge service” wherein the Elevance travel and meetings team provides a link at the bottom of the company’s meetings request form that enables meeting owners to ask for logistical and planning help. “It’s really just knowledge sharing at that point because everything is there for them in the Bizly system,” she said.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Heston isn’t working on programme improvements. Currently, she’s working to streamline the meetings payment and expense process through Emburse Chrome River, with a customised solution using American Express virtual cards within the Bizly environment.

“Our objective is to set up a virtual card for a particular meeting and let the stakeholder – not my team – run the expense through the standard [reporting] process” through Emburse, she said. This way, all the relevant meetings costs are reconciled to the event automatically and meeting owners take advantage of the existing transient expense reporting process.

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