So you have a meetings technology system as part of your strategic meetings management (SMM) program, and you’re using it for all the usual tasks like managing attendance, facilitating sourcing, budgeting, and reporting. But did you realize that your technology platform informs at least nine different critical areas of your SMM program, as shown in red in the graphic? And if your data are not accurate when you are trying to track down travelers during an emergency, or reporting to a regulatory body, or the CFO, you could be in serious trouble. Maybe this topic is not so boring after all!
So how do you make sure this never happens to you? Well, I’m going to tell you, but first I have to walk you through how data flows through the system. Then I will tell you the three things you need to do now to make sure that you never receive a phone call that begins with “INSERT YOUR NAME HERE, we have a serious problem…”
You’ve heard it before: “garbage in, garbage out,” and how true it is! Data entry into meetings software is handled through imports from Excel, data feeds from other systems (e.g., HR) and manual entry by any of the following user types:
- Meeting planners
- Sourcing specialists
- Group air agents
- Operation managers/directors
- Invitation website designers
- Meeting owners
- Meeting attendees
- Travel and Meeting Managers
- Technology system administrators
- Financial analysts
In other words: Lots of ways to enter garbage by lots of users!
They can make errors of commission, but also of omission, and any one of your ten user types can upload a file, manually type information into the meeting profile, budget module, or RFP section, resulting in numerous mistakes in fields such as:
- Event dates
- Number of attendees
- Attendee names
- Contracted rates per attendee
- Venue location
They can also forget to enter data in these fields, leading to other kinds of inaccuracies. Mistakes in any of the five fields mentioned above will have serious ramifications for all nine report types shown in the graphic, but perhaps most importantly you could:
- Have serious problems locating travelers en route and on site during emergencies, making evacuation more difficult
- Have ground transportation show up on the wrong day, leading to stranded attendees
- Have arrivals and departures at the hotel set for the wrong days, causing undue hardship on attendees and speakers
- Misreport amounts spent on doctors or financial service brokers, causing regulatory problems
- Misreport SMM program costs to the CFO, leading to unwarranted budget cuts or expansions
Do not pass Go! Do not collect $200!
Three Things You Should Do Immediately
1. Do not be overly demanding in data collection requirements
Nobody likes filling out endless forms. I have seen meeting request forms with more than 70 fields to be completed. The more you ask of your users the more likely they are to resist completing all necessary fields. So cut down on the number of fields by critically evaluating every data entry field to determine if it is mission critical to the report types you require to manage the operations, supplier management, security, compliance, and financial reporting imperatives of your program. Better yet, develop a reporting strategy covering the nine areas of reporting shown in the attached graphic, and map every data entry field back to a specific data point in your reporting strategy.
2. Cut down on data errors by using drop down menus, mandatory fields, and tab next to walk through data entry
There are three primary ways to cut down on some types of data entry errors, whether of omission or commission:
- Use drop down menus to populate fields with variable spellings, such as venue name, chain, city, country, etc.
- Use mandatory fields to force users to provide all critical information prior to submitting the form
- Use tab next to force users through the workflow of the form
3. Implement intermediary processes to check data quality and ensure accuracy and completeness
Above we discussed how information flows directly from the fingertips of your users to the eyeballs of your CFO, with no intermediary buffer. However, there are two ways to insert a buffer, one manual and one fully automated.
- The manual solution is to simply have every completed form routed to another person to review all data entry fields for completeness, reasonableness, typos, empty fields, approvals received, proper dates, and locations, etc.
Imagine the poor person doing this job! Human error is bound to creep in again after a few hours of doing this thankless task.
- The second way of ensuring accuracy and completeness is to use a fully automated middleware system (such as Meetings Analytics) to review every record for these types of errors. This solution uses a rules engine to test every record against a pre-agreed upon set of exception rules. These rules look for the exceptions described above, but additionally they can determine whether actions were taken or not, and whether on time. For example, one exception might be whether a sourcing specialist turned over an event to a meeting planner, and if not, the middleware can generate a warning to do so. This way a meeting never falls between the cracks. The system can also generate periodic exception report summaries that help educate users so they don’t repeat their mistakes.
Over to You…
The stakes are high, but many, many organizations have not yet identified this risk. It’s all in your hands now. Items 1 and 2 above are pretty easy, and there are no excuses for not getting them done ASAP. Item 3 will take more effort and resources, but I have seen the results of a fully automated solution, and I am a big fan. I have seen dozens of errors caught per week – even by very experienced sourcing specialists and meeting planners. Good luck on your journey.
See the other posts in this series: