While effective data capture and reporting is considered to be one of the most critical aspects of a strategic meetings management program, getting a successful data management plan in place can be a daunting task. At the Sixth Annual Pharmaceutical Meeting Management Forum, co-organized by Medical Meetings and the Center for Business Intelligence and held in Philadelphia in March, attendees learned some data management best practices from Peter Matthews, CMM, and Kimberly Meyer, both principals at Meetings Analytics, a Chicago-based business intelligence company focused on travel and meetings; and a global manager from a pharmaceutical company.

Data Dependability

One of the biggest issues companies struggle with is ensuring that data is clean and accurate. When the pharma company embarked on the process of improving its data management for meetings, ensuring the trustworthiness of the data being entered into the system was of utmost importance.

“There was a point when we didn’t have reliable data, and we didn’t have confidence in [our] technology tool.” said the global manager. That lack of confidence meant they couldn’t rely on the data for key decisions. It also meant the meetings team had to scramble to pull together reports at the end of each quarter and couldn’t be sure that it was providing quality information to senior management. (Senior execs generally want reports that spell it out for them without having to look at all the raw data--and they want 100 percent assurance that the data that drove the reports is accurate.)

One of the first steps the company took was to select a single technology platform to make data capture easier and more consistent. The company uses StarCite for sourcing and captures all meetings-related data through the system.

People, Processes, and Technology

The company also began working with Meetings Analytics to refine standard operating procedures, or SOPs, that dictate what data points will be collected, who will be responsible for reporting metrics into the system, and time frames for logging in data . “We wanted to ensure that at any given point, the quality data we needed was going to be available,” said the global manager.

Because so many different people are responsible for entering data into the system, adhering to the SOPs is critical to the consistency of the program. At the pharma company, sourcing managers are responsible for capturing and tracking data from the early stages of the meeting life cycle, while meeting planners are be responsible for logistics-related data.

For example, a sourcing manager would report out all data points relating to meeting approvals, tentative and contracted meeting dates, and data on negotiated costs. Planners would be responsible for entering into the system all data related to attendees and logistics, and finance or accounting managers might report out billing and final reconciliation data.

“For every step of the process there is a record of what was done during that step,” said Matthews. The pharma company has 18 status check points for capturing data during the life cycle of a meeting. Meetings Analytics’ software automatically reviews these status check points to ensure that accurate data is logged into the system and monitored at each stage. This assures management that reports from the technology platform are accurate at any given time.

Dealing With Discrepancies

But what about when inconsistencies appear? With so many people responsible for data entry, it is only natural that some erroneous data will make its way into an otherwise clean report. It’s something the company’s global manager takes very seriously and addresses in the SOPs that govern the process as well as in the technology itself.

Meetings Analytics’ proprietary software interfaces with the StarCite platform (as well as other SMM technology) and generates automated alerts when any data entered into the system is not in line with what is customary for a particular field. For example, if someone enters the room rate for a particular meeting as $52,000, the system will flag the entry and issue an error notification.

According to the company’s process, the person who enters the data into the system owns it. That means if data is inaccurate, it is that person’s responsibility to fix it, and that person will be held accountable if it is not fixed.

The SOPs also come into play for the multiple outsourced logistics agencies the company uses. Each person who handles meetings for the company—whether in-house or outsourced—is trained on the data-management process and held accountable for reporting accurate data from each event.

“It all comes down to training,” said the global manager. “The logistics agencies that support us are all trained [on the technology and SOPs] and responsible for supplying us with data from their programs.”

By giving employees ownership of certain aspects of the data throughout the process, the company is better able to monitor consistency as well as measure employee performance based on their following the SOPs. It’s an ongoing and evolving process, notes Matthews. “SOPs are not a one-off exercise. They need to be revised and reviewed on a quarterly basis.”

Six Action Items

Here are Meetings Analytics’ tips for implementing a successful data management process:

1. Choose just one technology platform to use for data collection and management. Disparate systems not only complicate the process, but also increase the likelihood of errors.

2. Develop standard operating procedures that dictate what data points your company will capture, who has ownership of data at each stage of the meeting lifecycle, deadlines for logging data into the system, and processes for monitoring data accuracy.

3. Train internal and outsourced staff on the SOPs and build performance metrics and performance assessment into employees’ job roles to drive them to adhere to the process.

4. Review SOPs regularly to ensure processes are in line with company goals. If your company’s ultimate goal is cost savings, SOPs should be built around capturing data points that illustrate cost savings.

5. Determine your audience. Know who will be using the various reports that come out of this process and capture actionable metrics that address each executive’s needs. Tailoring reports to each audience will help planners transition from being thought of as logistics specialists to consultants.

6. Establish monitoring procedures to review data quality and address how errors will be handled in the system. How will exceptions be handled? Will the system automatically generate error notifications? Who will be responsible for monitoring and correcting these?

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