By Barbara F. Dunn O’Neal
Partner, Barnes & Thornburg LLP
The ability for attendees and groups to utilize technology at meetings is as critical nowadays as having plenty of coffee at the meeting. We love it when it works; we hate it when it does not work. It is a meeting professional’s worst nightmare to have a failure in technology during a meeting which affects the group and attendees. Yet there is only so much a meeting planner can control on their own. Much of the technology depends on the meeting facility and its Internet provider. So how can a planner protect the group and themselves from technology issues during a meeting?
As I so often recommend, managing issues at meetings requires a “before, during and after” strategy.
Before the Meeting
In order to ensure technology will function properly during the meeting, it is critical for the meeting professional to understand the group’s technology needs. This includes the amount of users and devices in order to determine bandwidth and other factors as well as security requirements for the technology. While this information is well beyond my area of expertise, I recommend meeting professionals reach out to their information technology (IT) department to determine specific needs.
Once the group’s technology requirements have been identified, it is important that these requirements be included in the request for proposal (RFP) for the group just as it does for requirements such as sleeping rooms and function space. Any hotels responding to the RFP must be able to meet these technology requirements.
Once a hotel has been selected, I recommend including language in the hotel contract regarding the technology requirements and any potential interruption in technology service. If there are any interruptions in service, the provision should address what happens and who will pay any additional costs to remedy any problems. Following is a sample provision:
“Hotel represents and warrants that its facility, equipment and services meet with Group’s technology requirements and that its wireless Internet service will function in proper order and speed as may be needed by the Group. The Hotel shall also provide industry standard protection for Internet, network (including network segments) and physical IT security to provide reasonable expectations for data confidentiality, privacy, integrity, and availability. Should there be a failure to meet Group’s technology requirements during the Event, Hotel shall work to correct any such problems immediately and at its cost. Any costs incurred by the Group in connection with remedying technology problems shall, at Group’s option, be paid by Hotel or credited to the Master Account.”
Finally, I recommend meeting professionals search for back up options for Internet service just in case the service is interrupted. Often, a backup system can be brought on site to substitute for the facility’s service. Securing a backup plan is often the best way to ensure that a problem won’t happen in the first place.
During the Meeting
During the pre-conference phase, meeting planners should work diligently with their IT team in order to ensure that the technology service is functioning properly. Any testing which indicates potential problems with speed, user load, etc. should be addressed immediately and discussed with the facility team.
As attendees arrive, technology should continuously be tested in order to ensure proper functioning. Any issues which arise should be addressed as soon as possible and appropriate communication should be given to those who reported problems.
In the event of a major failure in technology, the contingency option should be mobilized immediately so as to limit any “down time”. An investigation should be conducted to determine the source of the problem. Any issues which are within the control of the facility or the internet service provider its internet service provider’s control should be addressed immediately by that party at its own cost. For issues of unknown origin, the group should work to correct the problem as soon as possible at its cost and later determine whether it can work to recover its costs from the guilty party.
After the Meeting
After the meeting, it is critical that the meeting professional summarize all technology related issues and share such information with the facility during the post-conference meeting as well as in writing following departure. Any attendee complaints or evaluations noting technology issues should be included in any notice to future document the concerns and the resulting impact.
If problems occurred and they were within the control of the facility or its provider, the meeting professional should work to determine the monetary damages sustained by the group as a result. Such costs would include any costs incurred by the group in order to correct any service interruption issues and additional fees incurred to retain IT consultants to address performance issues. The group should them submit a written summary of such costs to the facility or provider for payment.
The group should also work to provide appropriate follow up communication to attendees who had problems with technology use during the meeting. This type of “customer-friendly” outreach is important to ensure that attendees will return for future meetings despite the challenges they faced during the recent meeting.
While our relationship with technology is often one of “love and hate”, proper planning for and management of technology issues will help to reduce potential problems and to ensure proper handling if such issues do arise.
Barbara F. Dunn O’Neal is a partner with the Associations and Foundations Practice Group at Barnes & Thornburg where she concentrates her practice in association law and meetings, travel and hospitality law. Barbara can be reached at (312) 214-4837 or firstname.lastname@example.org. ©Copyright 2014. Barbara F. Dunn, Barnes & Thornburg LLP. Chicago, Illinois, USA. All rights reserved under both international and Pan American copyright conventions. No republication permitted without the express written consent of the copyright holder.