Few people understand online meeting registration systems — or most meeting technologies, for that matter — as well as Jeff Rasco, president of Attendee Management Inc., Wimberley, Texas. Medical Meetings had the opportunity to sit down with him recently to discuss changes in the marketplace and to get advice on improving adoption rates, security concerns, pricing, and more.

MM: Are group demographics the most important factor to implementing e-registration successfully?

Jeff Rasco: We thought that if you had a young, professional group, you'd get a higher adoption rate, and if you were dealing with doctors or older people, you'd get a lot of faxes. While that's true, it's not nearly as bad as we thought it would be. For example, for a program at the beginning of 2003 that was highly medically oriented, we had a goal of 20 percent online, but we went to 58 percent. One factor is the strong use of e-marketing. People respond in the way they are approached. If you mail out a registration form, people are going to mail it or fax it back. If you announce the meeting electronically and give them a quick link back, then they tend to register online.

MM: What techniques help to increase the percentage of attendees using online registration?

Rasco: One of the easiest: Tell attendees that if they register online they'll pay a discounted registration fee. Some groups tell attendees that they'll get something extra in their pickup bag.

We do find that if there is payment involved, it's better to give attendees the option to send a check later. Some people are still reluctant to give out personal information, such as their credit card or Social Security number.

We've also found that a simple little e-mail that says, “Hey, don't forget,” does wonders.

MM: Where do you see the biggest improvements?

Rasco: The technologies are talking together better. With the ability to tie together what had been very divergent processes — registration, housing, transportation — you now have all the data in one place. Now you have one set of data that you can share with the people who need it — instead of three, four, or even five sets of data. By having all the information in one place, you can start doing useful data mining. You can do things like see who is registered but has not booked a hotel room.

You want is to be in control of your data. Registration, housing, and airline technologies are evolving into one software that will allow you to do all of it — and to turn functions off and on as you need them, a more modular approach.

One thing that we're watching, out of self-preservation as much as anything else, is the interest that Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity, and other online discount travel sites are showing toward the meeting industry. What happens to the meeting technology companies if they're going up against Expedia?

I think you're going to see more of the meeting technology companies banding together out of self-defense. Consider StarCite's acquisition of b-there. They already had RegWeb; why do they need another registration solution? Well, they need the customer base.

MM: If you use a third-party vendor, how can you be sure that your data is secure and is not sold or shared?

Rasco: You need a solid understanding of the vendor's Service Level Agreement and its privacy policy. Have your lawyer look them over. The SLA basically says how the security is established — the kind of encryption and the physical security at the server site. If a vendor won't or can't provide a Service Level Agreement to your satisfaction, that's the time to break off negotiations. The privacy policy needs to guarantee that your information won't be used in any other way, and should explain what happens to the data if the registration company goes out of business.

I've done consulting with Fortune 500 companies looking at adding online registration, and their biggest concerns are security. They don't want their data on someone else's server. They want the data in-house. That limits your options. Only a handful of the online registration ASPs [application service providers] will do it — Register123 and eMeetingsOnline, among them.

Other ASPs started out offering those services, but found that it wasn't practical. They weren't just managing one software, but software on every server that their product was installed on. If they had an update, they had to get the update out to everyone. And these companies aren't Microsoft. They're relatively small and don't have the resources.

MM: How is pricing for online registration changing?

Rasco: With most ASPs, users pay a license fee, an annual renewal fee, and some transaction fee, plus something extra if there is credit-card processing. The license fee preferably covers the entire organization, but sometimes fees are based on individual users (known as seats) or simultaneous users (meaning that, for example, five people in a 10-person department can use the system at any one time, but that all 10 people have access to the system). Every company is a little different. EMeetingsOnline, for example, came out and said, “Just pay us a license fee and you can do as many meetings with as many attendees as you want.”

You need to know your business. If you're doing more than 5,000 transactions, chances are you're going to want a license. If it's under 5,000, you may want to look at the service side. That brings me to another pricing model. Some of the ASP companies aren't making the billions of dollars they thought they would just selling transactions, so they're ramping up their service side — building out clients' registration Web sites, training, etc. — and selling smaller numbers of transactions without having users buy an annual license. This is a whole different deal. Before, if these companies would say, “We're a technology company,” now they're saying, “We're a technology company that also offers some services.”

It's similar to what we do. At AMI, we're really a service extension of an ASP. Specifically, we license Certain Software's Register 123 and StarCite's RegWeb. Our client doesn't need to pay the license fee or go through all the training. They just call up and we make it happen. We set up our pricing as a combination of what you would expect from an ASP and what you would expect from an old-school registration services company. We have a transaction-based model that includes the registration site and e-marketing setup.

MM: When do you see costs falling?

Rasco: Transaction costs are already lower, especially as companies provide service along with transactions. They see they can make money on the service side, so they are willing to cut their transaction costs. Competition is forcing these companies to bid on jobs that they never would have before.

MM: What advice do you have for meeting professionals as they get started with online registration?

Rasco: Define your terms. Make sure your vendor spells out, for example, how it defines a transaction — is it per registrant or per visit to the registration site? That is, does a change to a registration count as a new transaction? How are seat licenses counted? How are financial transactions charged? How much service and training will you get? Are you charged for every call to the help desk?

Sidebar: What Do You Need From Your e- Registration Provider?
What services are you expecting from your online registration provider? Are you looking for a system for a simple one-off meeting or a robust registration solution to integrate with your enterprise systems? Do you need e-marketing support? Air booking capabilities? Credit card processing? Know your needs before you go shopping for a vendor. Here’s a list of potential services to consider:

  • Customized Web registration site

  • Web links to meeting and destination information

  • Integration with an online travel booking system

  • Integration with a housing service

  • Integration with meeting management applications

  • Call center services/customer service calls

  • Manual entry of mail and fax registrations

  • On-site registration support

  • Online credit card processing

  • Roommate matching

  • Pre-meeting e-mail marketing

  • Compliance with ADA standards for the visually impaired

  • Different forms for different kinds of attendees

  • Attendee database retained for future events

  • Registration for breakouts and meals in addition to meeting registration

  • Confirmation letters

  • Electronic reminders

  • Survey development and distribution
  • Reports:

  • Attendee lists

  • Payment collection reports

  • Session registration reports

  • Housing and transportation reports

  • -Custom report builder
    -Name badges
    -Online training
    -In-person training

    Online Registration Companies

  • Acteva, San Francisco

  • Attendee Management Inc., Wimberley, Texas

  • BlueSkyz Inc., Stevensville, Md.

  • Certain Software (Register123), San Francisco

  • Cvent, Arlington, Va.

  • eMeetingsOnline, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

  • E-ventCentral.com, Los Angeles

  • Event Ready (formerly Registration Unlimited), Rocklin, Calif.

  • EventRebels.com, Ellicott City, Md.

  • RegOnline, Boulder, Colo.

  • SeeUthere Technologies, Santa Clara, Calif.

  • StarCite Inc. (RegWeb and b-there), Philadelphia

  • The Registration Assistant, Austin, Texas

  • WebRegPro, Carmichael, Calif.

  • Peopleware, Bellevue, Wash.

  • Isis Corp. (GoldReg), Oakland, N.J.

  • Amlink (Events Pro), Brisbane, Australia