Will Anderson, deputy director, North American Employee Transportation Services, with Sanofi Pasteur (the vaccines division of the Sanofi-Aventis Group), compares developing his company’s strategic meetings management program to “holding a tiger by the tail.” In other words, it has been a truly wild ride.

It all began four years ago after Anderson got his certification in the Six Sigma business management strategy. He ran across the StarCite SMMP solution at about the same time, and things just clicked, he says. “We thought, the more automated we could be, the better off the customers we support would be.”

After two years of development and another two years of implementation and fine-tuning, the benefits of automating the payment process include leveraging the company’s total meetings spend, eliminating out-of-policy bookings, and helping the company comply with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America’s Code on Interaction with Healthcare Professionals, state laws, and the upcoming Physician Payment Sunshine Act provisions of the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act.

First Step: Getting Buy-In
An early step in developing the SMMP was understanding the totality of the company’s meetings activity, says Anderson. What made it so difficult to define the Sanofi Pasteur meeting-planning universe was that pieces of it were housed in different systems throughout the company.

Anderson and the meetings team—Sara Gunderman, CMP, manager of meeting operations, and Theresa Steen, project coordinator of operations—rolled up their sleeves and went to work pulling all the meetings-spend data together. They also worked early on to get buy-in from procurement and finance, which Anderson says wasn’t too tough once he had the data to back up the need for what he was doing. “The pie chart I put together defining our meeting universe was the biggest seller,” he says, in convincing his execs to get on board with the program.

Equally challenging was getting maverick planners to register their meetings. (As he describes it, “No one wants to lose the opportunity to get all those points on their own credit cards.”) He attempted to pre-empt objections by holding a series of training sessions even before the mandate came down that everyone who planned a meeting had to use the system. The training sessions, called “Meeting Masters,” attracted quite a few people, possibly in part because participants could get credit for attending. To get the word out, Anderson put notices in the company bulletin, and flashed information on the training on video monitors in the office. Once the program was mandated, the CFO and the VP send an e-mail targeted to a select audience involved in meeting planning. They also held Brainshark training to provide a short slide-deck version that would be easily understood by people at all levels whom the approval process would affect.

“I’d say maybe eight out of 10 people are OK with the system because it’s an empowerment tool—it doesn’t say ‘No’; it says ‘Yes, go plan your own meeting,’” says Anderson. “It’ll keep them compliant with policy, so it gives them a good night’s sleep.”

Step 2: Defining the Process
Gunderman then designed a new process for meetings, which begins with a pre-meeting approval. “You do your pre-meeting approval,” he explains, “and the complete template of the meeting is sent to the approver to authorize, deny, or request more information. After two years of refining, Anderson and his team presented the process to management, which approved it—so now everyone who plans a meeting has to use the process.

There are two tracks to the Sanofi Pasteur system: One for local meetings held at four preferred properties in the company’s hometown of Bridgewater, N.J. The company has pre-negotiated contracts and pricing with these local hotels. The other is for traditional off-site meetings held anywhere in the world. For local meetings, the meeting requester can work directly within the StarCite system to plug in the information and manage the program. For larger, off-site meetings, the templates are sent to a meeting planner to handle. In both cases, the information can be tracked on an individual and program level.

From the moment a meeting is registered in the system, it begins the approval process, which provides a cascade of information so all involved are clear on the type of event it will be, the budget, and what needs to be provided for the healthcare professionals, says Betty McNulty, StarCite’s senior vice president, global account management and implementation. The e-RFP then goes to a database that highlights the venues that are appropriate for the companies’ compliance with PhRMA Code requirements, along with price points and other considerations. For investigator and advisory board meetings, the company also sends a template to the participating physicians to fill out, which are then uploaded into the system, so airfare, meals, and other HCP expenses can be extracted easily. Third-party planners also are required to use the system.

Once a meeting is approved, expenses are charged to a company American Express Corporate Meeting Card, which is managed by Anderson’s group. The Meetings360 tool, an integrated solution between StarCite and American Express, allows planners to reconcile the corporate account with the budget on a virtual basis. At the end, planners are just one button-push away from having an end-to-end auditing trail that includes a complete history of the meeting, as well as being able to reconcile the budget and get expenses paid via wire to AMEX. A recent tweak, says Anderson, was to implement an invoice approval process that sends the invoice to the person who originally approved the meeting during the pre-meeting approval process. “We put the meeting on hold until that invoice is approved electronically, then it comes back to us and we can close out that meeting.”

Next Steps
Now that word about the SMMP is getting out, Anderson and Gunderman are making presentations about the system’s benefits to Sanofi Pasteur affiliates as far afield as Cambridge, Mass. “Our job is to help people see over the mountain at what this thing can do in terms of leveraging spend and having one central reporting point,” says Anderson. “We have a shared vision and we’re running with it.”

Sidebar: SMM Benefits
Will Anderson, deputy director, Travel Services, with Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of the Sanofi-Aventis Group, has found some significant benefits to automating the division’s meeting planning processes with StarCite’s Life Sciences Strategic Meeting Management system. Among them:

• It centralizes meetings registration.
• The template walks administrators who plan meetings through all the different aspects of a meeting, so they don’t miss anything.
• It provides spend visibility for the company. “We now can devise a preferred-hotel policy for groups, air, hotels, limousines, transient hotels, and for meetings,” says Anderson. Still on deck is audiovisual and other services.
• It enables the company to comply with all the codes and regulations by requiring the use of compliant, preferred properties.
• It strengthens the company’s leverage, resulting in reduced cancellation penalties. For example, if one group faces attrition, the company can negotiate a break by pointing out all the other business it brings to a property.
• It enables the company to manage risks and crises more effectively. For example, when the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in 2010, disrupting travel worldwide, company executives were able to discern in just seconds where all its employees were.
• Because corporate social responsibility is built into its hotel templates—think coolers instead of bottled water and requirements that the property use green products and have visible recycling bins—it enables the company to promote greener meetings.
• Now that the company affinity accounts are set up so that reward points go to corporate, not to individuals planning meetings, the company can expand its corporate social responsibility by donating the points to a United Way campaign.

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