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Mice Net : February 2009
technology story by Ray shaw has a dark side too technology Passionate about technology and its ability to enhance the meetings process, Ray shaw wonders at what cost? software and computerised my business at least a decade before most other PCO businesses bought their first PC. I am extremely passionate about using technology to streamline meetings industry processes but I worry at what cost. Technology has a dark side that can and will impact on us all in various ways. A new staff member commented that she never realised she would spend 90 per cent of her time in front of a computer screen – she imagined that she would be “out there” interacting with suppliers and clients and being hands-on in managing meetings and events. Sorry, but the reality is that 90 per cent of our work is tedious and depersonalised – preparing briefs, doing budgets, writing meeting reports, processing registrations and answering emails, etcetera. In that respect I am all for technology to remove tedious and repetitive tasks to free up human workers for more strategic and creative roles – if those roles continue to exist. The rush to adopt technology by meetings industry suppliers has changed the industry in ways we never expected. In particular it has dramatically reduced staff numbers and this has lead to reduced expertise, “plain vanilla” levels of service and creativity. For example, hotels have forcibly moved their clients to online bookings. It was a matter of survival as automation resulted in major increases in efficiency as fewer sales, accounting and front desk staff are needed per room. Add this to computerised room management (cleaning and restocking, etc), computerised responses to requests for proposals and near automated check-in and this industry has become more a sausage factory than a luxury service provider. The side effect was that commissions, once the cream on the meeting manager’s cake, have been steadily eroded because delegates find it more convenient to book on-line. Considerable benefits that used to accrue to clients like room upgrades, FOC rooms or even commission sharing, etcetera, have been decimated. I suspect that the average PCO now books less then 30 per cent of the accommodation making the future for bed banks/venue finders very grim. I 64 mice.net n case you don’t know I started dabbling in technology in 1979 as a way to increase the efficiency, and reduce the human cost, of managing meetings. I wrote the original EVENTS conference Similarly, airlines have moved online to cut out the middle man and commissions have been all but eliminated. It has allowed airlines (and hotels) to practice yield management, allowing them to fill what were formerly empty seats (or rooms) at various prices. In the meetings industry it has forced prices up as hundreds of delegates want to arrive and depart at similar times, creating maximum yield opportunities for the supplier. Yes the booking process is much more efficient but it takes control away from the delegate, forcing them to take what is on offer. There is little benefit any more in appointing an official airline as online bookings are nearly impossible to match back to the client. So online, be it in offering registration, accommodation, travel or any other service that has embraced the model, has taken away the human factor and that is not necessarily a good thing. When was the last time you spent 45 minutes listening to an automated message when you were simply trying to talk to a real person? (Telstra please take note). How many technology users really understand what the software does - most just simply rely on it to spit out answers. When the software goes down most staff pack up and go home. It is an anathema that most Gen Ys can’t spell or punctuate, can’t add up a column of numbers without using Excel or a calculator (let alone do it in their head), don’t understand the principles of double entry book-keeping (yet use tools to manage million dollar budgets), and assume that the answers they get are right – but are they the best? The long-term impacts are simple – the meetings industry will require fewer, less qualified staff, and service levels will decrease in line with the automated offerings. I think it is important to offer personal service, don’t you? A new trend too is online procurement. Almost all of the models I have seen are heavily based on a “weighting system” that puts price at the top and service at the bottom. It may yield savings but it reduces or eliminates great service. Are we facing a future of “plain vanilla” goods and services when our expectations are still very much higher? To quote: “It is not very comforting to know that you are sitting in the pride of America’s invention, hurtling along at over 40,000 mph knowing that it was part of the same program that bought us Jumbo jets,