Control Company Costs

A Blueprint for a Better Event: Democratizing Meeting Planning, An SAP Concur Podcast Conversation with Groupize

Kathryn Kamin |

In a time when, “self-serve is the new full-service,” event essentials now include things like instant communication, event ROI reporting, and seamless event experiences for all stakeholders. Having deep levels of database and platform integration not only keeps things running smoothly, but also dynamically optimizes programs real-time and into the future. Roles and responsibilities are also changing greatly in the event management space. “Every single industry has meetings, and they all have different problems to solve. And that's the beauty of an all-in-one platform that's configured to meet their needs,” shared Alisa de Gaspe Beaubien co-founder of Groupize. Listen to her vibrant conversation with Susan Isaacson, Principal Solutions Consultant for SAP Concur, as they discuss how to plan and conduct better events in a post-pandemic world.

You can listen to this episode on Apple | Amazon | Spotify | Listen Notes | Acast | Google or your favorite place to find podcasts.

 

Transcript:

Susan Isaacson:

Hello, my name is Susan Isaacson, and I am a Principal Solutions Consultant at SAP Concur. Today, I'm very excited to talk to Alisa about our partnership with Groupize. Hi, Alisa!

Alisa de Gaspe Beaubien

Thank you, Susan. I'm Alisa de Gaspé Beaubien and I am the co-founder of Groupize, and I am delighted to be here today to talk about Concur Event Management and how we can help companies have better events, help organizers get more time back in their day, and help the attendees have a better experience before, during and after every event.

Susan Isaacson

It's so exciting because I have been one of the people that have – I'm not a professional meeting planner in any stretch of the word. However, I have had experience with meeting planning. For an example, a few years ago, I was planning our event for just the Solution Consultants at Fusion, which is our big event for Concur. But I was in charge of about 40 people and the 40 people needed to know what hotels they were staying [at] when they were coming in, when they were leaving, when we needed to do dinner, what size shirts they had, all of these types of things.

And I literally, Alisa, had a six to twenty tabbed spreadsheet. So how could have you helped me?

Alisa de Gaspe Beaubien

Wow. I think that your experience is common and so relatable to so many roles in any organization. I think that every single company and every single department has people that are tasked with planning events and meetings. Sometimes they're not called events and meetings. They're a get together a gathering. Maybe it's a project that you're going out to visit. But I think the common thread that they all have between it is typically the most organized person in the department is tasked with managing it, and you probably experienced it, it was a full-time job on top of your full-time job! So, I definitely admire your persistence to get through it, and you probably did feel responsible for the experience of your 40 colleagues as well. So, to kind of fast-forward to how we could have helped you. I think there's endless ways we could have helped you as well as your organization and all of the people that were going to the event. Concur Event Management is an all-in-one solution that can be leveraged to manage a meetings program, such as the spend, or individual event logistics. So, I think today we can focus on the individual event logistics and how anyone in the organization can help have a better meeting. So, one of the questions that I get asked frequently is, how does Concur Event Management actually manage the 43% of T&E spend that comes from groups and meetings? And how is [that] done is by managing the individual events and all of their logistics?

So, this solution helps companies by managing the entire category of spend, but [also] helps their organizers and their attendees have better meetings by managing the individual event logistics. So, whether an organization is focused on managing their spend or elevating their event experience, they don't have to choose because they actually get both.

And many companies have under-managed this category of spend, and this gives them the opportunity to seamlessly bundle this spend management into their core solutions. So, you can think of it as maybe someone asked you, Susan, you know, who you know that you needed to start coordinating this meeting? Or did that come from someone on your team that kind of said, Guess what? You're in charge?

Susan Isaacson

Yeah. So, a lot of times here, like it's a blessing in disguise, right? It's like you should do this and you're like, OK. And then all of a sudden, I need to order shirts and things for like 40 different people and figure out when they're coming in and when they're going to be in the booth and all of these things that I'm like, yeah, that's what I thought I was going to do.

Alisa de Gaspe Beaubien

Well, I know, you know what, a lot of people, it does sound glamorous from the outside, and I think it's probably more of a reality to people that have planned, or organized meetings in the past is that it's really a logistics role. It's kind of getting all of the right people to all of the right places, and often in a company, someone maybe hasn't had experience in organizing a meeting before, and they're kind of like, where do we start? Sure, I planned a family vacation or maybe my wedding, but I haven't done a meeting before.

So, the concept behind Concur Event Management essentially democratizes event planning [and] meeting management. And so, anyone within the company can log in to the Concur Event Management and it recognizes the user. So, it would say, “Hi Susan, what would you like to do today?” And one of the options would be to plan and start a meeting. So just like Concur Travel has rules, Concur Event Management has rules, that's going to help you know what you can do or when you should be asking someone else on your team for help. So, the solution would allow you to go in and start with registering the meeting. It needs to get on the calendar. Everybody else needs to know that this event is happening so that nothing is organized over it.

And then after you have it on the calendar, so the organization knows it's happening, then you need to move into finding the venue. So, another question, Susan, I think when we have talked in the past that you've shared with me that has come up is about what really does self-service mean and is that a good thing or a bad thing? And so, I liken it to just like Concur invented the online booking tool for travel. The Concur Event Management is the online booking tool for meetings and events. 15, 20 years ago, we used to have to call a travel agent to make it airline booking, and maybe five years ago we had to call a meeting planner to make a meeting reservation. And in today's world, while we still very much rely on our travel agents and our meeting planners, there are some categories of events that are better suited to be managed by an individual within an organization.

So, self-service does not mean giving up controls or, you know, prohibiting any part of the experience. It's just today's world that people want to be able to manage more components by themselves, and now they can. I hope to talk about later.

I had heard a little rumor that you have a meeting coming up in Q1 and it's happening in five different locations. So, logging into a portal and picking a venue. You know, that's a very important task in this whole process. So, within the solution, you're actually able to go in and say, OK, my event is happening in Seattle on these dates. I think there's going to be about 40 people and we're going to need three nights of hotel rooms and we're going to need meeting space and a projector and some coffee. And if you've ever gone to a hotel website, finding that information is hard, it's often hidden and hotels enforce a kind of a process where you have to fill out a form, send it in. It kind of goes into this blank black, you know, black hole and people may respond to you in a few days, and there's no instant gratification for that. But what can Concur Event Management does is it allows you to shop all venues within a location that would be appropriate for your meeting, and it would also have things like your company's preferred rates, preferred deals, et cetera. So, you'd actually have the power to shop multiple venues at one time, and you could even put in four or five, ten, fifteen – get fifteen bids or two bids, whatever your policy is, and then you'd be able to send it to the hotel. And believe it or not, 80% of hotels respond within twelve business hours. And if they haven't responded to you, it's going to send a follow up to the hotel at 24 and 72 hours.

So that's often the pain point. So, after you've got all of your bids, the solution would automatically fill in a spreadsheet and give you a cost comparison report.

So, you'd be able to take it to someone else on your team and say, “Gosh, I've just went out. I have bids from five different hotels. Let's pick one together.” It sounded like, Susan, in your going to Fusion. Maybe hotels were already selected and then you picked up after the venue was chosen. Is that true?

Susan Isaacson

That was the fact, Alisa. But I love that you brought up this other situation that we are in right now, and I probably have a question. And then maybe some follow up questions. So, we are having a sales meeting, I'll just put it called sales, even though I'm not technically in sales in Florida and again, it's the venue selection, it's the menus, it's the negotiating, the contracts and then above and beyond that, we need to make sure that people are: A) vaccinated and/or have a COVID test, and B) that we have less than or 100 or less and people in each individual hotel. So, I'm wondering how you're dealing with situations like that?

Alisa de Gaspe Beaubien

Wow. Well, first and foremost, I am thrilled to hear that you are getting together in person. I definitely believe there is no replacement for that. And, you know, in the industry in the past two years, there was, you know, an obvious and necessary transition to virtual.

There's a lot of talk out there about hybrid. Some industry experts actually call hybrid what you're saying. It is one meeting that used to take place as a large group, and now it's happening in smaller groups, in different locations.

So, whether you know it or not, I think you're going to a hybrid meeting. And I think that meeting and event planning was always challenging, and in today's world, there's even more moving parts. So, you are correct with selecting the venue, and I'm going to answer your question about kind of the protocols of attending.

But I want to also point out whoever selected that hotel probably had safety protocols in that venue selection. So, one of the features of this platform is allowing to ask those questions, those safety questions to help with venue selection.

So, I'm sure that was done. And in the solution, there's also functionality called "registration." So, most people have been to Fusion before, and they've received an invitation. An email comes in and it says “Alisa, please come to Fusion,” and you're so excited to get it and you click to learn more.

That's actually a functionality called "registration." So, Concur Event Management does that. [It] sends out invitations, save the dates, and allows you to start to register for the event. So, registering for the event can be as simple as, "I'm Alisa and I'm coming," or it can be more comprehensive that would allow me to, first and foremost, opt into any regulations for travel.

So, I think we're in today's world, regulations change every single day, and you want people to recognize that they have responsibility for attending a meeting. So right from the get-go, it's going to say, Susan, do you really want to come to this meeting? And of course, I'm sure you would say “yes!” Yeah. And then you'd be able to go through a more typical registration, maybe answering some questions dietary preferences, emergency contacts. But it would also allow you to upload a vaccination card. So that would allow you to have a more seamless experience on-site so that you wouldn't have to stand in a long line and show it to someone. The organization would already have it on file. So that's going to improve the attendee experience during – they don't have to go through that hassle. But more importantly, it's also can be auditable in the future for the organization so they can go back in any time and say, “Gosh, you know, 50 people are coming, 48 uploaded their vaccination card in advance and two people showed it on-site.” So, we're able to track at that level and more so after the event. If there's any need for communication, we have reports on every single logistic of the meeting, but also contact tracing. So, if any notifications needed to go out, you'd be able to have that communication tool as well. So, I liken this tool as the tool for today and tomorrow.

And also, one last point: You know, who knows what could change during now and then? Maybe something would change in your personal schedule or change that some of this would be virtual. This platform allows a person or a meeting to transition to virtual or back to in-person with just a click of a button. And I think that's a unique and exclusive functionality in this tool because most systems you'd actually have to start over. Can you imagine if you had to start over after you'd already done all the work you were talking about?

Susan Isaacson

No, I can't. And I love how you streamline that communication. And then also, if you needed to bring it to virtual like we did in 2020 with our SAP Concur event, Fusion, that would have made things so much easier in some ways to make, you know, for a better event, not only for the employees that were coming to speak and present at the event and the vendors that were coming and having their booth at the event and everything else, but just a better event in general that could have come across like that.

It's like almost like a blueprint. Also, I was thinking as we're planning to do more in-person things. A blueprint for like if you had an event this year and things went well and you had all of this information and reporting how it would, how would does that benefit companies going forward?

Alisa de Gaspe Beaubien

So, you said a few things there that really got me excited. So, I am so excited to answer that question. The first is kind of that blueprint-slash-playbook. One of the tenets of this platform is ease of use, and it is designed for an occasional planner. So, some meeting systems in the marketplace. Gosh, I've always thought you needed a Ph.D. to use. So, nobody needs to worry about that. Nobody needs to be intimidated by technology. The system has playbooks-slash-templates that you could come in and look at last year's event and clone it and basically bring over all of the components that are still relevant. And they're already built for you. And you can maybe just change the date or location, but everything else is there. So, and it would also show you budget and venue negotiations that would really give you that playbook of where to start.

I know in my past careers, when I was asked to plan a meeting kind of "year two," it would be dig out the binder, try to remember, where did we go, what did we spend? So, we take all of that, which is usually just floating in multiple disparate systems and bring it into one. But that one other area that I think was very interesting and what you just mentioned was about vendors and speakers. And I think that's an under-discussed topic as well is that many meetings and events bring in people that are not employees of the company. In Concur speak, "non-profile travelers."

So, Concur Event management is the best solution in the market for managing non-profile travelers. And I think there's some crazy statistic right now that about 43% of workers are contingent workers, which I think is another word for gig economy, but contractors, projects, etc. So essentially with Concur Event Management, you can take all of the Concur Travel tools you're used to using for employees in a self-service and make it available to non-profile travelers and your contractors or your "HCPs." And that's really powerful because there's massive savings, and it also improves the experience. Nobody wants to call and make a booking anymore, so allowing them to self-serve in Concur self-serve is the new full service.

Susan Isaacson

Yeah, I completely agree with that, Alisa. And the other thing that I think about is when I used to go to events and I like I said, I've been here for a long time, so it doesn't happen that much lately. But when I used to go to an event, you know, you'd go book something here, expense something there, and then how does it come to fruition, like with the reconciliation? So, figuring out how to plan for next year, what did we budget for all of those things? How does that come into play for you?

Alisa de Gaspe Beaubien

It's a very important component of an event, and this platform helps companies before, during and after the event. So obviously reconciliation comes in after. There are two areas, which I think it provides value. One is for the actual attendee. It can automate expenses that are associated with travel to the meeting, and it also allows whoever is tasked with reconciling it, whether it's someone in accounting or another individual that was not the planner, with their reconciliation features. And of course, being able to track the budget from an approved budget all the way through to negotiated and final. That also provides a blueprint for future years, and it allows you to report on your entire year meeting program, which really goes into cost control, et cetera.

Susan Isaacson

Yeah, I think that speaks to what an entire organization would want to do. "Was this event fruitful or not?" Right?

Alisa de Gaspe Beaubien

The actual ROI for the event that is very important to track, and there are so many tracking points within a platform like this that allows you to really, kind of, assess and identify the ROI for your event.

Susan Isaacson

I remember back a few years ago when I was helping plan an event, the communication, like, I was getting emails and I was like, “Well, OK, what did everybody get this email?” And I would just like, ping or text, my friends. Did they get this email?? How does that work for you guys?

Alisa de Gaspe Beaubien

Great question. So, communication is vital in today's world. I think we're all attached to our phones, at all times, and we're an instant gratification world. And I believe that this platform helps all stakeholders, from a company to a planner to an attendee with instant gratification because it has real-time insights into things like itinerary travel plans and, of course, ultimate attendee communication. So, it does allow for easy email communication as well as text messages. I personally love that when I'm in a meeting and it's like, “Hey, the keynote speaker is going on in 15 minutes, you better move down to center stage,” as well as direct messages. So, I think you nailed it on the head that communication is a key component of employee experience and satisfaction.

Susan Isaacson

I completely agree. It's almost like you sometimes forget where you're supposed to go for certain things. And like you said, if you got a text or an in-mail about that, that would be amazing to be able to know where and where, where you should go during a particular event.

I also love how you guys have pivoted to make a model that is adaptable to change. Like we talked about earlier, the fact that you can upload a COVID vaccination certificate or whatever you're always looking forward and in-time as well.

Alisa de Gaspe Beaubien

Yes. And I think, you know, I'm sure it could be a whole other podcast of everything that has changed in the world. And I believe most of the changes are positive. And one of those is system optimization and expansion. It seems like every company I talk to is going through a digital transformation, and they're digitally transforming their organization by necessity and also by desire. We're at a time where people want to use technology to make their lives easier and Concur Event Management does that. And so, taking your core solution of Concur for travel and expense and extending it into an entirely new category that's often about 43% of spend within a company just makes sense in today's world, and it's really about optimizing core solutions and expanding them within a company.

Susan, I have a question for you. Are you seeing any titles change that used to be maybe "travel manager" or "meetings manager" that now might be called "global mobility?" Are you seeing that people that didn't used to have responsibility for meetings now do?

Susan Isaacson

That is very interesting. Alisa, and off the top of the cuff! Yes, I have seen that. It is interesting especially, you said, "mobility managers." But yes, they have new titles coming up as well!

Alisa de Gaspe Beaubien

I know it's fascinating to me, and I think that in today's environment that a lot of budgets that previously were or that were spent on travel have been reallocated into HR departments, and companies want to retain their top talent. They're really focused on employee experience and they're investing in internal meetings. To me, that's one of the most exciting trends that companies are. Well, they've always cared about their employee experience, but it's more defined now, and it's more obvious that they're investing just as much as an employee experience. They're equal VIP's, just as a customer or a prospect, would have been in the past. So, I'm seeing not only new titles, but new departments that are really concerned about better events and that would be HR and Facilities, for example.

Susan Isaacson

Absolutely. I think the same thing, Alisa. And I even think about like small events like we have a small footprint here at SAP Concur, where I am located in Minneapolis. But we haven't had a quote-unquote "holiday party" for many years. And even something like that is where I think your meeting organization like Groupize can help us out a lot.

Alisa de Gaspe Beaubien

Well, it could and in two ways. And of course, it makes communications easier between the organizer and the attendees. But you know, when you're doing a meeting like that locally, which many organizations do, whether it's a fun holiday party or a product launch or training. If people are driving, there's typically no duty of care system that focuses on that. So essentially Concur Event Management is the duty of care solution for day meetings, off-site events without an air ticket because otherwise they could just unfortunately be on somebody's Excel spreadsheet on their laptop, and nobody has the visibility.

And which reminds me of another great way that this helps companies control and be compliant is that you don't want people to have the capacity to take spreadsheets with PII and email them all around to hotels and others. So, another key benefit of Concur Event Management is really control and compliance. Whether it's PCI, GDPR, California privacy, all of that is covered as companies need today.

Susan Isaacson

I totally get that Alisa. It just brings forth to me again my 20 tabbed spreadsheet when I was planning an event for those 40 people. And like I have their emails; I have their emergency contacts. I'm like, "should I really have all of this information?" Probably not. And then also, like a group event like that, you could also put in how to contact like an Uber or Lyft or a taxi, like as part of that, like just that small holiday party. It doesn't have to be huge. It could just be something small like that.

Alisa de Gaspe Beaubien

Yes. And I know so many Concur customers could rely on other Concur apps and their app center partners, like you're mentioning Uber or Lyft. This would actually not only be able to put it in kind of recommended that they take it, but also Uber or Lyft, you know, credit numbers as well. So, one of the great things about this solution is also staying within kind of the Concur ecosystem that I have always found so powerful.

Now moving to a different industry in life sciences, this product has recently announced an integration with Medpro that really helps with compliance for health care professionals. So, it's, you know, I think every single industry has meetings and they just have different problems to solve. And that's the beauty of an all-in-one platform that's configured to meet their needs.

Susan Isaacson

I couldn't agree more. My first, well, not my first job, but when I was in graduate school, I was a speech and debate, not professor, but the coach. And so, I like literally took like I was 22, 23 years old, Alisa. So I took kids in a van and we went to a hotel like throughout the Midwest and even Arizona. Like all of that's so fantastic. And I mean, somebody had to figure out how much we were going to pay for the hotel, how much money they were going to give me and the team to be able to travel not only in the van, but how much per diem we were going to get – all of this. And I think, oh my gosh, if I had what you have now, it would have made even life for 22-year-old Susan so much better.

Alisa de Gaspe Beaubien

Yeah, and I absolutely agree. And I think there's two themes that I hear from that. One is kind of cost control and spend governance. Having the ability to, you know, approve a budget in advance, approve a form of payment, ensure that payment is in accordance with that organization's terms. But of course, as we were just mentioning kind of the duty of care. In today's world, I doubt many organizations are operating that way. You know, they may be because they don't haven't heard of Concur Event Management yet, but you want the ability to be able to go into one solution and have real-time access to who is where. And I think that's important. I think that's where we bring in risk mitigation. And I think I remember I was speaking to a travel manager of a clothing brand that's a Concur customer not too long ago. And he said the risk by not doing this is unquantifiable. So, there are so many risk points in an event that you can really manage well with this solution that I think that's also compelling and that's where the safety officer might get brought in and just really making sure you're having a better event. You know, we all want to have events, we all want to go to events. We just want to be able to rest-assured that all of those behind-the-scenes important things to a company to mitigate risk are taken care of for us.

Susan Isaacson

Alisa, I loved our conversation today. I am excited to talk to you again. Just so much interesting facts and scenarios. Thank you so much.

Alisa de Gaspe Beaubien

Well, you're welcome. I know. And if you did have Concur Event Management, some of the research shows we could have saved you 23 hours per event. You probably could have gotten home on time for dinner and enjoyed the event. So, looking forward to helping companies have better events, helping organizers have more time in their day, look like a superhero to their colleagues and guests, and make sure that the attendee has a seamless experience and are utilizing the tools that they know so well for both travel and expense.

Susan Isaacson

Thank you for joining us, Alisa. Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

Alisa de Gaspe Beaubien

Well, thank you, Susan. I think today's conversation has inspired me. I can't wait to plan my next event, but I just want to ensure that just like all of the Concur products, ensures spend governance, control and compliance, help with employee experience and satisfaction can Concur Event Management follow suit. We're going to help everybody have a better event.

Susan Isaacson

Fantastic. Thanks, Alisa.

--------

 

Alisa de Gaspe Beaubien is the CEO of Groupize, the award-winning, innovative platform for global enterprise-wide meeting and event management. Her Bachelor of Science degree in Hotel, Restaurant, and Tourism Administration is the foundation of her highly successful career as a travel executive and entrepreneur. Experiencing the inefficiencies and daily pressures of managing group reservations for more than twenty years with the nation’s leading travel companies inspired Alisa to reimagine an antiquated industry. Today, she is a visionary force, leading the digital transformation to simplify end-to-end meeting management with modern tools. Alisa is a respected thought-leader, advisor, sought-after speaker and proudly served as a member of the Endicott College Board of Trustees and as the President of the Endicott College Alumni Council.

Follow Alisa on LinkedIn

 

 

 

 

Susan has been with SAP Concur since 2008. As a solution consultant, she has assisted hundreds of customers in analyzing their data to understand what they can do with their employee-initiated spend. Even more importantly, she believes "why" we do something is more important than simple automation.

Susan binges on documentaries and NPR podcasts. She loves board games, gardening, and karaoke. She is based in Minnesota and is a lifelong Twins and Vikings fan.

Follow Susan on LinkedIn

Control Company Costs
Those Who Fail to Plan (Travel), Plan to Fail (Audits)
As business travel continues to come back, it is time to dust off our understanding of the rules around travel cost reimbursement by the government.
Keep reading
Control Company Costs
Using AI to Automate AP
There are a lot of people who may still believe that artificial intelligence AI is something that belongs in the future Thankfully were not quite at the point where robots are planning...
Keep reading
Control Company Costs
The Wheels of Change are Spinning Fast: An SAP Concur Podcast Conversation on Optimizing Mileage Spend
Whether youre clamoring to return to the office contemplating a hybrid work model or are staunchly opposed to ever setting foot in the office or going on a business trip again...
Keep reading