Meetings & Conventions - Managing the Masses - March
Managing the Masses
How to choose and use online registration
By Sarah J.F. BraleyT
en years ago, the most significant
technological challenge for planners was how to bring the meeting
database in-house and produce rooming lists and badges without the
help of a service bureau. Now, with online registration widely
available, the task of inputting attendee information is being
handed over to meeting-goers.
In the meetings technology world, online registration is the
current must-have feature. Software providers are adding it to
their packages, Web sites exist just to offer the service, and any
third-party registration management company worth its salt offers a
sophisticated, glitch-free process. Is the hype well-founded?
Polly Collins is sold. "The money and the time that are saved
are incredible," says the director of meetings for the National
Society of Professional Engineers in Alexandria, Va. "When the
majority of attendees use it, it's amazing."
For the NSPE's Winter Meeting, held in Washington, D.C., at the
end of January, Collins tested RegWeb, an Internet-only product
from Berkeley, Calif.-based Cardinal Communications. About 66
percent of attendees registered on the web. In 1999, the online
registration for the summer meeting was outsourced, and 75 percent
of the attendees used the online forms. In 1998, the online form
had to be printed out and faxed to the meetings department.
The quest begins
"This is the hot area in meetings management software right now;
everybody wants to have it somewhere, somehow," says Corbin Ball,
CMP, author of The Ultimate Meeting Professional's Software Guide
(Meeting Professionals International, Dallas, members $25,
nonmembers $35). "But it is a tremendously difficult decision. The
problem is you're comparing apples to oranges a lot."
The biggest challenge is marrying the information input by
attendees with an existing database. "Peopleware has a pretty
interesting solution; it sort of reaches out and handshakes with
what has been gathered on the database," says Ball. "Isis Gold does
Some might assume online registration is only for associations
whose attendees register and pay on their own, but the technology
works well for corporations, too. "The only difference for
corporate planners is they would want it running on an intranet,"
says Wimberley, Texas-based meetings technology consultant Jeff
Rasco, CMP. "The planner would be able to draw from HR files to get
the names of people who are invited to an event. All the attendee
would need to do is go in and say, 'yes, that's me,' click, and the
registration is complete."
Lucent Technologies is one of the many corporations using online
registration for its events, switching in September to the Gold
System to handle the data. "We've been doing online registration
for a while, pouring information into a Microsoft Access database
using our own forms," says Eric Van de Water, events and marketing
manager for the Murray Hill, N.J.-based company. "We bought the
Gold System knowing we were going to be doing Web registration. It
manages all the information and is able to help us control how many
rooms we have available."
Van de Water, who evaluated three products before choosing the
Gold System, plans to use the software for four yearly meetings of
500 to 2,000 attendees, as well as many smaller events. The forms
are on the Internet, so Lucent employees and customers can register
through the site. "We're hosting our database ourselves, running it
off our own server," he adds.
Adding to the suiteOakland, N.J.-based Isis Corp. (www.isisgold.com)
offers a solution that works with its Gold System meetings software
or on its own. "The attendee fills out the form, creating a file
that either can be e-mailed to the meetings department or
downloaded into the Gold System," says director of marketing Jay
Reilly. "The manager has the ability to check the incoming record
for duplications and updating of information." The module can work
from a preformatted template, but Reilly has found planners prefer
custom forms: "The notion that one template might fit a customer's
needs sounds great in the sales pitch, but each meeting is
different, and planners want to treat them differently." Clients
are charged from $1,500 to $4,500 per form, and Isis often hosts
the page on its server.MeetingTrak users now can buy WebTrak, which works with
Microsoft Access 97, for $1,495 (a version for Access 2000 was due
mid-February). "Let's say you're planning your annual convention,"
says Bob Walters, president of Pleasanton, Calif.-based Phoenix
Solutions (www.psitrak.com). "WebTrak would look for relevant
information that already is in your database. It picks fields that
MeetingTrak needs to process a registration, and then the planner
can ask for custom fields to be included on the form. It generates
a template, which is given to the Web developers, who then create a
page for the Web site." Once an attendee fills out the form,
WebTrak generates an ASCII-formatted file that the planner then
posts to the database.
Planners who already use a meetings management package, like
MeetingTrak, the Gold System or Peopleware Pro, should research
whether a module has been introduced to allow their software to
integrate online registrations. Chances are, it has.
Scheduled for release in mid-February was a more robust version
that generates and publishes the Web page, lets planners put any
information in their MeetingTrak databases on the Web (for example,
allowing attendees to check how many CEU credits they have), and
provides broadcast e-mail functionality.Meeting planners using Peopleware Pro (www.peopleware.com), can purchase its Internet
registration module for $2,950, which includes the first year of
hosting the Web pages, technical support and training. An advantage
of the Bellevue, Wash.-based company's solution is the integration
of Internet registrations and the Peopleware database. It automates
the import of the registrations into the main database but still
gives the planner inventory control, as registrations come from
more than one source.
The module has three components: the site where people register;
an administrative area where planners control the look, feel and
options of the registration; and the transfer manager, which
enables planners to upload events and subevents from the Peopleware
Pro database to the site and to bring down registrations that are
stored on the Web. Registration data is saved in a temporary
database on the server; the administrator can retrieve
registrations whenever she wants, with the option to look them over
and throw out the duplicates and bogus ones.
All onlineThere are three versions of RegWeb (www.regweb.com). The
basic is for planners who are saying, "I need it now." The
information generated by the online forms can be downloaded into
Microsoft Excel or Access, and the planner does all the processing.
It is for one meeting and costs from $2,500 to $10,000, depending
on the chosen features.
Several firms offer registration solutions that reside on the Web
or on an intranet.
Many planners, though, need the ability to create forms for
multiple meetings and post them to the Web at will. For them, there
is a more robust version of RegWeb. "It is a custom application
built around the features and functionality of the meeting planning
process," says Rodman Marymor, president of Cardinal
Communications, which created the software. RegWeb "Pro," which is
the unofficial name Marymor gives it, is template-driven and
browser-based, meaning planners create forms while working in
Netscape or Internet Explorer. An e-mail tool lets planners alert
select attendees about meeting updates (for instance, letting those
who signed up for a seminar know if it has been canceled) or send
e-mails to everyone on the list. And just about any report a
planner could need can be customized. The "Pro" version costs
$25,000 to $30,000 and takes about 16 weeks to build.
The third version, scheduled to be available by press time, is
called RegWeb AS. It is the same as "Pro," but Cardinal hosts the
information, and planners open an account with the company to
create as many events as they want. The price is based on the
meeting's guaranteed attendees, about $5 a head.Another Web-only service is from B-there.com (www.b-there.com). "We
have created our software to be self-configurable, so planners can
create forms that capture any kind of registration information they
need," says Karen Vogel, industry vice president for the travel Web
This solution also is template-driven, and B-there.com offers an
event wizard that leads planners through the process. Subevents can
be created within an overall event, and individual price points can
be offered to different attendees (for instance, students, early
birds, regular attendees). Standard registration and financial
reports are run easily, and there is a customized report generator.
It also has broadcast e-mail capabilities.
"We host everything on our server," adds Vogel. "But it is all
client-controlled and secured through passwords. We don't do
anything with the data."
B-there.com was created by the owners of a travel agency,
Westport, Conn.-based Lee Travel, so it offers a number of
peripheral options having to do with getting to and enjoying the
destination. "We are building and integrating components so
attendees can look at pre- or post-meeting tours and book them
there," says Vogel. Users are charged a per-transaction fee,
depending on volume and based on two structures. Simple
registration 9 a profile and about 10 questions within one module 9
ranges from 90 cents to $1.90 (the more attendees, the lower the
cost). More complex conference packages range from $1.50 to $3.Web-based housing and registration management are the focus of
WynTrac (www.wyntrac.com), whose online registration module can
stand alone or can be used with other features. Users can create
forms allowing attendees to sign up for everything from a general
session to a spouse or golf event.
"We store all the data," says Michael Foster, president of the
Plano, Texas-based company. "If you were an attendee, the next year
when you identify yourself by your name and phone number, the form
self-populates and asks if there is any information you want to
change." WynTrac can build the Web page for the meeting, or
planners can build it themselves.
One convenient feature of WynTrac is the 10-minute recovery
window it gives users if they lose their Internet connection. In
many cases, when a connection goes, you lose whatever you were
working on and have to start over. WynTrac holds the information
that already has been input for 10 minutes; if you come back within
that time, it asks if you want to start from where you left
The service costs from $3 to $5 per attendee. The registration
process easily melds with WynTrac's room-tracking and reporting
features. It also offers broadcast e-mail functions.StarCite (www.starcite.com), an offshoot of Philadelphia-based
McGettigan Partners, is an Internet-only, total meetings-management
product. Web registration is just one element of the whole, which
also includes budgeting tools, facility searches and an RFP center.
Users can customize all the registration features, including any
questions that need answers ("What is your T-shirt size?"). All the
data is hosted on StarCite's servers. Like other Web-based
services, StarCite charges a fee of $5 per registration.
Do it for me"For 90 percent of our clients, we host the pages," says Mark
Kennedy of Galaxy (www.expocard.com), which is based in Frederick, Md.
"We put a form on the Web, and they [link] their conference site to
the registration page."
Plenty of planners just do not have time to deal with registration,
so they outsource. Companies like Galaxy Information Services and
Laser Registration handle it for them, offering all the luxuries
the do-it-yourself products have.
Galaxy also offers real-time credit card verification on the
Web, cutting down on the number of charge-backs planners deal with.
"We found early on that we were getting incomplete credit card
information," says Kennedy, the company's senior vice president of
marketing. "This way there's no balance due, no bad credit
Galaxy's clients are mostly trade shows, some that have taken
50,000 to 60,000 registrations over the Internet. The basic Web
page ranges from $1,500 to $2,500, depending on its complexity;
other charges apply as features are added.Many similar options are offered by Laser Registration (www.laserreg.com), based in Washington, D.C. Its
service features many automatic functions that smooth the
registration process. "For the attendee, it checks the member
database, verifies if there is space available in seminars and
automatically adjusts fees as options are chosen," says Tony Melis,
vice president of marketing and sales. "If you book a hotel room
for Tuesday but select a session for Monday, it will ask if you
want to arrive earlier."
The planner accesses registration data through a service called
RegBrowser. This gateway to real-time updates and preformatted
reports is password-protected. For security reasons, however,
financial reports cannot be viewed over the Web. Instead, a fax
number is stored in the system; when the planner asks for financial
updates, reports are faxed automatically.
How About Hackers?
Just as the new century dawned, a hacker cracked CD Universe's
customer database and tried to extort $100,000 from the retailer.
When CD Universe called the FBI, the hacker posted links to
thousands of customer names, addresses and credit card numbers. The
incident is enough to make a planner nervous about requesting such
information over the Web. How do program developers soothe those
"All the credit card companies have a big stake in supporting
your business on the Internet," says Jay Reilly, director of
marketing for the Oakland, N.J.-based Isis Corp., whose meetings
management product is the Gold System. "Any credit card processing
is on a different server from the rest of the registration
information, and it's encrypted." He adds that none of the database
is stored on the Web server; files generated from the registration
form are brought offline. Other Web-registration providers use
Rodman Marymor, CMP, president of Cardinal Communications in
Berkeley, Calif., talks about the value of password- protected
areas. "All the data is stored on a secure server that is accessed
by password only," he says of information entered into Cardinal's
RegWeb systems. "When files are transferred, they are encrypted and
sent from the host server to the planner's desktop."
Marymor scoffs at the idea of a hacker trying to crack a
meetings database. "They're going to go for Charles Schwab or the
Bank of America. Why take a chance with the National Urological
Institute?" And, because the credit card companies want people to
keep spending online, the cardholder's liability is only $50 if a
number is stolen. - S.B.
How to Shop
The process of choosing a Web registration product starts with
knowing the systems and networks your department already is working
with, what software you use for other meeting planning tasks and
what kind of database holds your attendee lists. Then, when
evaluating online registration options, ask the following
questions, contributed by meetings technology consultants Corbin
Ball, CMP, based in Bellingham, Wash., and Jeff Rasco, CMP, in
Wimberley, Texas.How long has the provider been in business?Does the firm have clients with needs similar to yours?What operating system does the software run on? How will it
mesh with your system? Does it need to mesh with your system?How is the system set up for handling credit card transactions?
Can it handle other types of payment, like Cyber Cash, a secure
e-commerce payment service?What security measures are in place? Who has access to the
data?How will registrants be handled if there is a problem with the
network?What other tech support is available?If you are evaluating a registration service, what is its link
to the Internet?How is the data backed up and how often?What are the costs for the system or service, and how are they
calculated and itemized?Will references be provided?Is there a demo version? - S.B.
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