A central challenge in planning and executing event technology services is that success requires insight and skills in a broad variety of areas, from the technical (audio, lighting, and AV capabilities) to broader marketing and business management practices. It can be a complicated endeavor, but you can greatly increase your chance of success by making smart decisions regarding the most fundamental matters — not merely as an afterthought, but as an ongoing strategy. In this post, we offer six areas of operations that can have a great impact on your success.
1. Traditional Operating Models
Until recently, the two primary models used to provide event technology services have been Outsourcing and Self-Operation. In the Outsourcing model, the venue contracts with a third-party vendor to provide event technology services on behalf of the venue. The vendor is responsible for providing technical staff and an inventory of portable equipment. The Self-Operating model, on the other hand, is when the venue provides event technology services utilizing internal staff and its own portable and built-in equipment.
The Outsourcing model provides the greatest benefit to venues with large, flexible (that is, divisible) meeting and event spaces. Such spaces frequently require advanced technical support such as concert sound and lighting systems and multi-camera productions. Third-party AV production vendors are better aligned to provide these types of services, because they can shift specialized equipment and highly skilled labor between venues rather than carrying these costs in one venue alone.
The Self-Operating model provides the greatest benefit in venues where most events require only basic presentation support. In this model, the venue provides event technology services utilizing internal staff, who may or may not include dedicated technicians, using a combination of portable and built-in equipment. This provides management with control over service quality, aesthetics, and guest experience — while maximizing revenue and profits. These capabilities are going to be particularly important as hybrid meetings become more ubiquitous.
There was a time long ago when AV equipment was limited to slide projectors, overhead projectors, and occasionally film “movie” projectors. These were electro-mechanical devices that were reliable, easy to use, and relatively low cost. Then, beginning in the mid 1980s, portable computers, VCRs, and video projectors came onto the market, and the world of AV became much more complicated, expensive, and difficult to manage. Technologies advanced so fast that some equipment had a service life of less than a year before they were surpassed by newer, better products. Meanwhile, demand for the “latest and greatest” AV equipment rose steadily, and everyone wanted the “wow factor” in their meetings and events. This situation gave rise to the AV rental and production industry, and many hotels and event spaces opted to outsource their AV services.
Today, however, basic AV functionality is provided by equipment that is very high quality, affordable, reliable, and easy to use. Plus, all of our staff and clients are adept at operating this type of equipment, since they have the same kind of equipment at home and in their offices. There is still a need to engage outsourced AV companies for the more advanced services like streaming, large staged productions, multi-site hybrid events, etc. But basic AV for business-level and hybrid meetings can easily be provided using built-in equipment and venue staff.
When evaluating the best business model to follow, there are many factors to consider, such as size of venue and expected revenues, type and cost of equipment required to meet expected customer needs, local competitive market and services offered, and availability of qualified third-party providers.
Regardless of the business model chosen, to provide consistent, high-quality guest experiences and services, it is critical to establish the service standards that will guide event technology services within the venue. Many venues leave this up to their outsourced service providers, while self-operating departments often have no standards at all. Nevertheless, service standards are critically important, and effective event technology service requires having and following established guidelines, regardless of who is providing the service. As such, these standards should also address outside AV service providers as well.
3. Managed AV Services and AV-as-a-Service
A new, innovative approach to providing event technology services is through a Managed Services arrangement. This model builds upon the Self-Operating model by adding an outsourced support program that includes resources, training, and consulting services. It also empowers properties to provide standard meeting technology support using internal resources at a level appropriate for the venue and event.
This arrangement provides venues with all the flexibility, control, and profitability of the Self-Operating model. In addition, it provides the meeting venue with the confidence and professionalism of the Outsourced model, thanks to the knowledge that their staff is utilizing proven systems and procedures, and has the resources and support to overcome challenges and learn new skills.
One common misconception is that if you self-operate, you must be prepared to provide 100% of all your meetings customers’ needs. To the contrary, even outsourced providers do not necessarily stock and staff every venue they operate with 100% of what is needed. While the baseline for which services can be provided internally varies by property, nearly all properties can be capable of supporting such standard, day-to-day needs as presentation displays, presenter microphones, and accessories such as flipcharts and whiteboards.
Historically, an ongoing challenge for venues that choose to self-operate is the lack of training options for their staff, whether technical or non-technical. There are no trade programs or higher education courses that lead to a certification for event AV technicians. What’s more, many properties do not hire dedicated technical positions. The Managed AV services model solves this challenge by providing a program for the on-property staff to follow, including standards and best practices for the proper selection, operation, and troubleshooting of AV and event technology equipment.
Another emerging business model is making its way into the AV industry, reflecting the practices of the IT and telecommunications industries: AV-as-a-Service, or AVaaS. This business model shifts from straightforward ownership to a long-term rental or subscription model for the systems and equipment, and includes comprehensive preventative maintenance, repair, upgrades and support services. Often these arrangements can be made with no (or very low) up-front costs by the venue, and very affordable monthly operating lease payments. For organizations that have been limited to structuring their investments in meeting spaces as either CapEx or OpEx expenses, the AVaaS option may provide a welcome third choice.
4. Marketing and Needs Analysis
Whether a venue is public or private, hotel or institution, it should be able to handle the unique technical requirements for the various kinds of meetings and events its users want to host. When a venue is equipped with great event technologies, the related features and capabilities should be promoted within the facility (if private) or to the marketplace (if public).
In promoting these capabilities, the emphasis should be on describing the functionality and performance of the technologies — not on the technologies themselves. Examples could include performance and functionality options, such as platform-agnostic solutions, plug-and-play support of unified communications and collaboration (UCC) enabled hybrid meetings, streaming and/or recording capabilities, systems for interconnecting with remote sites, and solutions for group collaboration and interaction.
The venue staff should have a series of questions ready in advance to ask any prospective user of the event spaces to pinpoint the technology needs of the anticipated event. To enhance the effectiveness of the event, these questions can be organized in a decision-tree format, perhaps even including prompts for advanced features and functions that will meet the customer’s needs and expectations.
5. Protecting Owner Investment
Event space technology infrastructure and equipment represents a significant investment in such assets as audio amplification and sound systems, lighting and dimming systems, digital signage and visual display devices, control systems, infrastructure, and related technologies. While event space technologies are a revenue-generating and critical component of the meeting experience, the owner’s investment also extends to the background music systems, F&B and entertainment, venue audiovisual systems, and televisions in multiple guest amenity areas. These technologies are often forgotten… until something goes wrong.
Effective venue management requires the owner to not only invest in these types of technology systems and infrastructure, but also to ensure that the investment is responsibly managed. This starts with the recognition that built-in technologies provide higher quality and more reliable services that are more easily provided with internal staff (compared to using all portable equipment). In addition, a responsible operator will ensure that preventative maintenance, service contracts, repairs, and upgrades are planned for and budgeted as part of the operating expenses.
All technologies require preventative maintenance to provide reliable functionality and performance. When properly maintained and operated, audiovisual systems, components, and equipment have useful service lifespans that range from several years to several decades. Preventative maintenance programs will specify monthly, quarterly, and annual tasks that can be performed by in-house staff.
In addition, certain more technical services can be arranged through local AV companies, which may also provide break-fix and repair services as part of a preventative maintenance program.
Planning for lifecycle upgrades is an important part of responsible stewardship as well. For effective planning each year, a rolling three- and five-year look-ahead plan should be updated to advise the management and ownership teams regarding probable CapEx expenses.
Managing outsourced vendors and services requires a proactive approach and partnership agreement with mutually beneficial terms and conditions, as well as key service-level metrics. As Peter Drucker wisely advised, “You cannot manage what you cannot measure.” Self-Operated and Managed Service event technology business models can be among the most valuable elements of any facility’s management program.
For hotels and conference centers, this translates to profitable revenue streams and great guest satisfaction scores. For corporate and institutional facility management departments, it means delivering very high value to your internal and external clients and their guests. The event technology operations model should have key performance metrics established, monitored, and reported to management to ensure high quality and effective services.
Finding opportunity in challenge
Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating and disruptive for individuals, families and the economy. Yet at the same time, it’s also serving as a unique opportunity for the meetings industry to do a reset. A truly historic convergence of user expectations and technological capabilities is opening up new possibilities for more flexible, collaborative, and diverse meetings.
Fortunately, organizations that develop both internal capabilities, and take advantage of the many resources available on the market, have a compelling opportunity to seize the day and establish themselves as leaders in the bold new frontier of meetings. In short, better meetings equate to a better bottom line — for all stakeholders.