by Michael J. Shapiro | January 01, 2014
Deborah Matthews, a planner with the Washington, D.C.-based Edison Electric Institute, speaks about Starwood's new eVent Portfolio in life-changing terms. "This is what you need when you are a planner," she says about the web-based meetings management platform. "For someone who, for the last 17 years, has had to do everything either via email or by hand, this is fantastic."

In a nutshell, eVent Portfolio, which is free for planners to use, is a collaborative, secure web-based portal that serves as a central repository for key documents related to a meeting, including banquet event orders; meeting specifications; contracts and addenda; exhibits; group activities, billing and reservations; transportation needs, and more.

Plus, eVent Portfolio catalogs all relevant communication among the venue, planner, suppliers, and anyone who has been invited to join the group and provided access. All correspondence related to that meeting -- even if it was read within or sent from an email program -- is cataloged here, as long as it was initiated from or sent as a reply to the platform. And because the documents and correspondence all reside online, in the cloud, authorized planners and suppliers can log in from anywhere, via any Internet-enabled device.

The tool encapsulates a number of key features that planners and hoteliers alike have sought: It is collaborative, encourages the use of mobile technology, offers PCI-compliant data security, and is a sustainable solution that can save significant printing and paper costs. And it just might replace the binder.

One for all
Matthews has been using eVent Portfolio since early last year, for an event that will occur this March at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., one of Starwood's first hotels to roll out the platform as a pilot program. (Starwood officially announced eVent Portfolio in October.) But the underlying technology isn't limited to Starwood; eVent Portfolio is the chain's tweaked, white-label version of an application called Getplanning, the brainchild of Boca Raton, Fla.-based planner Jon Summersfield, president and co-owner of The Global Event Team.

Summersfield originally had worked with a developer to build Getplanning for his own firm, as a way to address inefficiencies in planning and collaboration. But he was pretty sure he had created something with more universal appeal; he formed another company to develop and market the technology, and soon became an affiliate of hotel marketing firm Cendyn, also based in Boca Raton. When they began pitching the tool to hotel companies, momentum really started to build.

"It was a piece of software that planners and hotels wanted and liked," says Summersfield. "There's a lot of great technology out there, but a lot of it is great for hotels, and a lot of it is great for planners. I think technology companies sometimes miss the fact that it should be good for both. So it was reassuring to us that we were solving issues on both sides."

Joining the club
The eVent Portfolio platform should be in use at about 50 Starwood properties as of Jan. 1, according to Dave Dvorak, Stamford, Conn.-based Starwood's vice president of catering and event management, and will be rolled out to the bulk of Starwood's meeting hotels by the end of the year. Any of the lodging company's brands are eligible, he adds, as long as they have meeting space.