is a familiar concept in the business world, and those of us in the meetings industry regularly outsource tasks, such as event registration and virtual design, that are better handled by a specialty company. Recent Internet developments, however, present two refinements to the outsourcing phenomenon that may transform the way planners work.
The first change simply takes current outsourcing practices and carves them into smaller and smaller niches. Because the Internet creates a new and potentially less costly distribution medium, new companies can spring up to handle more and more specialized portions of an industry's value chain. For instance, the registration process, itself a subset of the event management process, can be further split into online registration and on-site registration, with two different companies handling the pieces.
The second change involves a business model called Application Service Provider (ASP)--a cross between traditional software sales and service outsourcing. In the ASP model, a buyer doesn't purchase software from a vendor; instead, the buyer leases the right to use the software. And the vendor provides a private--and usually privately labeled--Web site. Users simply point their browsers to the site and use the software as if it were installed on their machines.
The beauty of ASPs is that the same database used to do daily work, such as event planning, selling trade show booths, or handling registrations, can also deliver information about the event to your Web site. Therefore, your private work and your public face to the world are always, and automatically, in synch.
The ASP Model: Three Cases I've recently returned from a trip to the San Francisco Bay area, where I dropped in at several Internet companies using the ASP model. One company, BlueDot Software (www.bluedot.com), is probably familiar to many readers, since in 1995 the company was one of the first to introduce a virtual trade show product. BlueDot is now moving toward offering a ERP-like (i.e., Enterprise Resource Planning) service that will provide planners with a comprehensive tool for every element of their jobs, from grading educational abstracts to invoicing for booth sales. Because BlueDot uses the ASP model, any information from the planning process can be immediately and automatically posted at your Web site.
The other two companies I visited, Acteva Corp. and SeeUthere.com, may be less familiar, but are equally worth exploring. Acteva (www.acteva.com), formerly known as TixToGo Inc., offers do-it-yourself online ticketing and registration services. In the words of Lu Cordova, Acteva's chairman and CEO, "Most Web sites offer vitamins--you know, Amazon.com offers things to make your life better. Acteva provides aspirin. We take away the pain of the tedious work inherent in the planning industry."
Acteva's service lets a planner set up an event with an online registration system, take payments over the Net, get reports on registration activity, and funnel the registration information into any modern membership system (i.e., one built on an SQL database). SeeUthere.com (www.seeuthere.com) offers a similar service but focuses more on the invitation process, providing fax and postal services to complement its electronic invitation process.
The thread that ties these companies together is not simply that each uses the ASP model to provide a focused outsourcing service, but rather that these companies represent the future of the meetings business. More and more manual tasks are being automated and outsourced, and planners who understand these new services will have a significant edge over slower-moving competitors.