A haphazard approach to meetings is a risky strategy

Meetings and events seem to be excluded from a lot of the risk assessments that are carried out in other areas of business.

Surely the best way to avoid risk in this sector is to implement a strategic meetings management programme (SMMP). But this can only happen with more awareness at a senior level.

We have mandates for travel and raising purchase orders for the vast majority of areas of spend. But for meetings and events, there seems to be very little support from ‘C-level’ for what’s an extremely expensive and risky area of the business.

There are thousands of people from all sorts of companies travelling around the world in an unmanaged way, and an SMMP would address this. We have spent a lot of time investigating best practice for meetings and events, looking at the supporting software and technology. We have support for implementation of the technology but not for mandating the process – if we did, we’d have visibility for our security department of where events are being held and the related travel.

Many companies have offices worldwide, including in countries where there has been terrorist activity – but also other types of unrest that might not be at the forefront of people’s minds.

If there is a business need to carry out training, or some sort of sales incentive with third parties, this is not covered by other mandates. It seems to be a cultural default that meetings and events are left to junior and potentially inexperienced individuals, who not only plan the specifics of the meeting but also have responsibility for sourcing hotels and venues.

These may have no effective security processes in place, even the physical security of the venue may not be taken into consideration. This wouldn’t happen with an SMMP in place, because security departments would automatically carry out risk assessments on behalf of planners.

Before I put processes in place a couple of years ago, every planner had ad hoc responsibility to identify venues and destinations. I am now looking for a meetings and events manager to be responsible for procurement and to implement a defined process to give full visibility before any contracts or agreements are signed.

Within the procurement department, I have formed a central team to own procurement and sourcing and we do that through use of technology, which allows us to mitigate physical and contractual risk. But without a centralised mandate for an SMMP, it is difficult to motivate planners either to use the technology available to them or the guidelines that are in place.

To try and achieve adoption of the technology and guidelines, we have had discussions with as many meeting planners and business unit owners as possible, through one-to-one and group conversations, online meetings, physical workshops, and giving presentations outlining the benefits and the hidden risks associated with unmanaged processes. But we’ve met with mixed success without C-level support.

When we have large groups of people travelling to attend a meeting or event, we need to know exactly who is travelling, where and when, not just employees but contractors, customers and suppliers.

The terror attacks in Paris last year are an example of why a process is necessary. Our organisation had a meeting planned in Paris for just after when the atrocities happened.

We had to work through the night and over the weekend to identify who was attending the meeting, and whether there was any other events planned to take place in the city. We had partial visibility through the centralised procurement team, but it was a laborious, manual process. If our technology had been fully adopted and implemented, all the information would have been available to the right people at the right time.

With the world the way it is at the moment, this visibility should not be an option.

This article originally appeared in Buying Business Travel online, 22 January 2016 as a ‘Mystery Buyer’ feature.


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