by Michael J. Shapiro | January 01, 2014
Hilton Worldwide is the other major adopter. The Getplanning platform is listed on Hilton's Connect+ website (connectplusathiltonworldwide.com), a portal the lodging giant launched in mid-2013 for meeting planners. The site offers support for about 115 of Hilton Worldwide's largest properties in the Americas. More than 60 hotels currently offer Getplanning, and the company is rolling it out to the rest of the Connect+ properties.
A few smaller hotel companies also have signed on, says Summersfield, as have many independent properties. And in the past year a number of major meeting planning firms have expressed interest; one very large one, he says, is very close to signing a contract.

Ultimately, Starwood's Dvorak hopes to see Getplanning used everywhere. "We think this is something that will revolutionize planning," he says, "because it saves so much time and so much money, and it really moves planning from an antiquated 1970s-style process to a much more automated and secure environment."

Getplanning's PCI Level 1 compliance is increasingly important, too. Not only is email a notoriously unsecured means of sharing, many cloud-based solutions like Dropbox don't meet the data-security requirements of some organizations.

Filling a need
Getplanning's success is likely indicative of a larger trend. "I think this is something that you're going to see more of," says Dahlia El Gazzar, the Chicago-based CEO and founder of the event-technology consultancy The Meeting Pool. Particularly appealing, she notes, is the "paperless event binder" aspect, as she calls it.

"Planners want that 10-pound binder to be gone, and to have everything in a platform they can access from anywhere," El Gazzar points out. (See sidebar, "More Ways to Go Paperless," on page 42, for examples.) "And I kind of like that hotels are offering it," she adds -- something which to this point makes Getplanning unique in the marketplace. In addition to the fact that planners don't pay for it, there's the aspect of not having to convince and train the venue to make use of the platform. Rather, it's the other way around.

"The hotels might be pushing planners out of their comfort zone a bit," acknowledges El Gazzar, "because not all planners are on the same level when it comes to technology."

For planners who don't have their own tablets, Starwood properties provide an iPad, complete with permanent wireless codes so eVent Portfolio will work, even if the planner is in an area of the venue where connectivity hasn't been purchased for the meeting.  

Laying waste to waste
It isn't just planners who want to trash the binders. "Early on," says Summersfield, "hotels realized that Getplanning would actually eliminate the dreaded three-ring binder for them -- especially the ones they were handing out at pre-con meetings, which, as a planner, is probably my pet peeve. I walk into a hotel, I sit down for my pre-con, and I get presented with a folder or a binder. It contains all of this information, and as soon as we start discussing changes, it becomes immediately obsolete."

It's also expensive for the hotel. "We were looking at an average of three to 10 binders a program," explains Michelle Edwards, meeting and event manager at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin. "That's just an exorbitant amount of paper we've been throwing away. And some meeting planners open the binder once, and they never look at it again."

To document paper savings, the eVent Portfolio platform was designed with a sustainability tab. "It calculates the number of documents we've uploaded," says Edwards, "and the approximate number of sheets of paper we have saved. After about four months, we're near the 2,000-document mark, and we have saved more than 40,000 sheets of paper. Just within the meeting and event department, we've saved hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Time savings is another benefit: During meetings, updates are made to that shared document in the cloud, with no need to later incorporate the changes agreed upon.

After seeing her first demo of eVent Portfolio, Edwards championed its use throughout the Swan and Dolphin. She ensured that all associates involved in meetings were trained. "As of Jan. 1, it is mandatory to do every event on eVent," she says. The property purchased 15 iPads too, for event staff and planners to use on-site if needed.

"The hotels love it because it makes the processes so easy," notes Starwood's Dvorak, "but also the customer feedback has been tremendous, almost more so than we expected."

Communications hub
For the Edison Electric Institute's Matthews, the benefits of eVent Portfolio come not only from instant access to documents, but from the central hub of communication. Since early 2013, she has been working with the Swan and Dolphin on EEI's semi-annual National Key Accounts Workshop, set for this March. The workshop will draw about 800 customers, and the logistics are complex, involving a lot of meeting space, a large number of breakout sessions, an exhibit hall and off-site events. The fact that she can access all of the event-related communication, organized by topic in a central location, is ideal.