MARGARET MOYNIHAN, director of strategic meetings and projects for the Global Conference Group of Deloitte & Touche, based in Wilton, Conn., has learned to go with the flow. And then some. She has headed up global meeting planning at the mega accounting and consulting firm for more than 25 years. She saw the handwriting on the wall back in 1998 when she spearheaded the centralization of business travel, and again in 2002 when a corporate travel process review began with the goal of combining business travel and procurement into one organization.

It wasn't long, she knew, before her group's 800 meetings a year, attended by some 50,000 employees, would be placed under the same process review that corporate travel experienced.

After all, “travel is one of the largest expenses we have,” said Michael McMahon, chief procurement officer, Deloitte & Touche, who, along with Moynihan and Michele Bryant, director of travel and nontechnology procurement, presented a session on how to make the integration of procurement and meetings a successful arrangement at the recent Financial & Insurance Conference Planners annual meeting in New York City.

The company's meeting costs are estimated to be at least $50 million a year, said Moynihan, and that includes just hotel, food and beverage, and audiovisual — not airfare or other travel costs.

“It became quite evident that changes needed to be made,” said Moynihan. “The demand [for our meeting services] grew so quickly and we needed to enable some planning functions conducted by smaller offices to happen.”

So began the business process review of the Global Conference Group in early 2005. Today, the alignment of the meeting and procurement departments continues. And, despite some bumps in the road, Moynihan advocates the streamlining of processes, particularly at financial and insurance companies that do large numbers of meetings.

Her meetings department was not unlike others in the industry, believes Moynihan. “We were committed to a high level of service. The planning function was used as a logistical support, not as a strategic resource. But budgets weren't being disclosed [to the meeting planners], budgets weren't being developed by the meetings department, and planners had some budget responsibility, but no authority.”

Because of their service mentality, Moynihan said “we never said no. Not to retirement dinners, wedding contracts, or vacation advice.”

So the meeting planners became highly reactive, she said, subject to drops and surges in workloads, since the bulk of meetings fell between June and November. Planners in her department managed between 40 to 70 meetings a year, start to finish, working an average of 2,400 hours a year (that's 46 hours a week. 52 weeks a year). It's little wonder there was almost 50 percent staff turnover in 2004.

The process review had clearly defined objectives, including gathering huge amounts of data, and was quite time-consuming. But it was critical, because it showed how much money was being spent on the various meeting elements. “It was essential to do in order to communicate from a business standpoint,” Moynihan added. The bottom line: the review process recommended realignment of every role and responsibility in the department.

Ultimately, the company decided to recommend a segmented approach to meeting planning. It used to be one planner would do everything, top to bottom: source the meeting, do all logistics, go on site, and approve the billing. After the review, these functions were split into three distinct departments: procurement (sourcing), planning, and closing/reconciling billing (which is also part of procurement).

The old business model was inefficient and hard to measure. But now, said Moynihan, “Everything is very process-based, and we focus on the core competencies of each employee.”

Five of the meeting planners moved to procurement, noted Moynihan, because they wanted to get off the road, and 17 planners remained in the Global Conference Group to handle meeting management. Moynihan is now working specifically on strategy, for today and the future. Finally, four staff (two from GCG) are dedicated to accounting and reconciling the bills: They report to procurement. Travel, procurement, and global conferencing are all integrated with each other.

A huge change is that procurement does the sourcing. While this was initially painful, Moynihan has "seen the benefit.” For example, both Moynihan and Bryant did the site inspection for their biggest and most important meeting together. Bryant dealt with the request for proposal, responses to the RFP, and the legal department. Moynihan worked on the space requirements and other site inspection details.

Through the processes of realignment, corporate travel and meeting spend is now combined, which has given the company a huge negotiating advantage.

Moynihan, who is still in the midst of adjusting to the new processes, said that open communication between the different groups will be the key to success.