Could the General Services Administration (GSA) meetings fiasco have been avoided if there had been an adequate Strategic Meetings Management Plan (SMMP) in place at the federal agency?
Absolutely, says Kevin Iwamoto, vice president of enterprise strategy for StarCite, recently acquired by Active Network, which offers a suite of SMMP software products for spend control, documentation and reporting.
Government’s ‘knee-jerk’ reaction
He takes issue with the government’s response to the GSA scandal, which he said is “throwing the baby out with the bathwater with its pending legislation that drastically cuts spending; it’s a knee jerk reaction.”
“The best approach is to ask why it happened and what can we do program-wise to mitigate this in the future.”
He added that corporations often make the same mistake. When they have an issue, they immediately cut travel and meetings, not recognizing that it’s travel and meetings that energize the company.
“Rather than cutting back on or banning meetings, the smartest way to build a better event is to strategically manage meetings,” he said. “For example, implement and automate approvals of purchases, and e-source for the best hotel options and other meetings services.”
He also noted that government agencies should implement, as do many corporations, mandated travel policies that restrict certain types of entertainment and require use of preferred suppliers.
Making the planner’s job easier
Using SMMP technology is a good way for organizations, whether in the public or private sector, to ensure that spending stays under control and objectives are realized, according to Iwamoto.
“What SMMP technology does is make the planner’s job easier and more manageable,” he said. “It allows them more freedom to focus on things like emotional engagement and accomplishing the mission of the meetings.”
While StarCite is, of course, promoting its own SMMP product, the lessons that can be learned from the GSA situation are valid no matter which SMMP product or approach is in place, Iwamoto said.
He recommends the following:
1. Be consistent. The problem with GSA was not the planners; it was the lack of policy enforcement. The same thing is true of many corporations and associations. If you don’t have an automated way of documenting approvals, you can end up in trouble.
The more you replace manual interfaces with automated ones, the less risk you will incur. If you have 100 planners with different systems and no consolidated process, you will eventually have a serious problem.
2. Be transparent. If GSA had used SMMP technology, there would be visibility as far as the planning process, budgeting, sourcing, etc. If they were being scrutinized publicly, they could go back and show all this documentation.
Or if they were called for an open audit, every step would have been captured – from the original budget through the approval process. That would include information like: How many venues were looked at? What was the initial asking price? What was the final negotiated price? All of that data would have been readily available to anybody who was asking.
One of the major benefits of establishing a SMMP is the ability to audit and monitor spending in real time versus post event when it’s too late.
3. Anticipate the future. Decentralized companies without SMMP will have no idea of who’s spending what and no idea of what’s on the calendar for the next six or 12 months. With SMMP you have a pipeline you can review.
Imagine the power of a planner who can go to management and say, ‘I know you have 100 meetings over the next 12 months. Fifty percent are revenue generators, and I recommend not cutting back on them. The other 50% are internal and we can look at them on case by case basis to see if they should be maintained.’
4. Make it 24/7. SMMP must be ongoing, not just revolve around a specific meeting. The only way to insure coverage is to keep all the data flowing through all events and through the year.
5. Think historically. After you have maintained an SMMP program for a while, you will have the documentation to plan for the future. If you can say that your costs were up only 2%, year to year, that provides you with more leverage.
Those companies that are already engaged with SMMP are not too concerned about a reaction to the GSA scandal. They can report fully on what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. This scandal should give pause to those companies that have procrastinated on launching an SMMP program.