by Brad Langley | February 13, 2018

Brad Langley of Etouches"How do I make smart decisions about event technology?" That's what planners always ask me. Today, technology is more important than ever, as third parties look to boost efficiency and make up for reduced commissions.

I'm always pleased to provide answers from a unique vantage point. You see, before joining a tech company, I spent most of my career as a third‐party planner. As COO of one meetings company, I headed up technology procurement. During my time there, we more than doubled the size of the company through organic growth. Today, that company continues to prosper. The growth is due in a large part to the technology choices we made.

The fact is, technology can drive tremendous growth for meeting and event companies. It's one of the most important decisions you can make for your business. In fact, technology can be the difference between your company just surviving or truly thriving.

So how can you make smart choices about technology? The following three considerations are key.

#1: Total cost of ownership
In December, my family and I saw our favorite show -- The Lion King -- on Broadway. We searched high and low to score the best possible price on tickets. The trouble is, we made our decision based solely on the perception that we got a "good deal" on the tickets. What I failed to consider were all the extra costs accompanying a Lion King experience -- dinner, cab fare, souvenirs, snacks, character photos, etc. Before I knew it, our Lion King total cost of ownership (TCO) was five times the ticket price.

What does this have to do with technology? Everything. Gartner defines TCO as "a comprehensive assessment of information technology (IT) or other costs across enterprise boundaries over time." When it comes to technology, "TCO includes hardware and software acquisition, management and support, communications, end‐user expenses and the opportunity cost of downtime, training and other productivity losses."

Technology TCO can exceed the cost of the hardware by several times. So, consider tangible and intangible factors carefully when determining TCO. Take these factors into account to make sure you don't get sold on a low entry price. Then, later discover the true bill you've signed up for.

Tangible Costs
• Hardware
• Maintenance and service contract
• Software
• Network infrastructure
• Fixed operating costs
• Deployment
• Integration with existing systems
• Add‐ons for scaling up

Intangible Costs
• Conversion
• Risk mitigation
• Operations
• Training time
• Reliability
• Availability (measured in downtime)
• Serviceability (measured in repair time)
• Manageability (measured in systems per head count)

#2: Brand impact
When you manage events, do check‐in lines snake all the way down the hallway, or do attendees sail through registration in a few seconds flat? Is your staff frazzled or smiling and helpful? Do they look like they're enjoying the experience because they actually are?

These are all reflections of your brand impact. Airlines have conducted brand impact research on respondents' reaction to dirty tray tables. The findings? Passengers make mental leaps from cabin appearance to airplane reliability. Many responded: "If this airline can't keep the tray tables clean, how do I know they maintain the engines? Is this plane even safe?"

The simple truth is, event participants and clients judge your brand based on what they see. That includes work flow, employee attitude and customer‐facing technology. Then they draw conclusions about your overall competence and service. Perceptions affect customer confidence and serve as a basis for repeat business.

#3: Opportunity cost
Finally, consider the hidden costs of not investing in technology -- or the cost of investing in the wrong areas. So-called opportunity cost has a far‐reaching impact on sales, operations, service and support.

Turning back to my days as COO, technology helped us grow that meetings company many ways:
• The largest event we managed rocketed from 300 to 13,000 participants. Our team managed it with no overtime.
• Client retention and employee engagement each shot up from 55 percent to 97 percent.
• Average revenue per employee nearly doubled. For business owners, that means strong gains in productivity and profits.

Understanding opportunity costs is vital for small and medium‐sized companies. At this stage of growth, technology makes you nimble, so you can pivot to new markets and scale faster. It eliminates redundant, non‐value‐added work. It lets your team handle more meetings in less time without extra staffing. And it enables employees to innovate and grow.

Best of all, technology elevates your team, so they go beyond tactics and provide in‐demand strategic services as well. After all, great planning isn't only about RFPs, registration and logistics. Your event generates a goldmine of data around venue search, attendee engagement and ROI. In many ways, it's the business intelligence that comes out of your event that provides true value.

Armed with these insights, your team can supercharge attendee engagement, improve hotel negotiations, raise concession savings, drive compliance, reduce risk, generate better leads, lift attendee satisfaction, boost productivity, quantify the value your company brings to the table, build customer trust and more.

According to GBTA, 80 percent of potential meeting and event savings comes from the sourcing process. Why not use those savings to enhance content and networking opportunities? You'll create extraordinary events that keep participants -- and clients -- clamoring for more.

That's the true value of smart technology choices.

Brad Langley, CITE, is a 30‐year incentive and travel industry veteran and vice president of third‐party markets at Etouches.