Smartphones, tablets and an ever-growing selection of intuitive web applications make migrating one’s business to the cloud easier than ever. For planners who travel often and have clients and colleagues in other parts of the country, working from the cloud gives everyone involved access to the latest versions of files (contracts, event schedules, speaker bios, etc.) anywhere, anytime. No more waiting until you get back to the office to update the team.
Cloud-based solutions are good for the environment (goodbye paper waste!), provide backup in case hard drives crash, and, if done properly, save time and money. I spoke with experts on cloud-based business and technology to keep you informed of the best resources for managing events across platforms and devices—in the office and on-site.
IN THE OFFICE
Cloud-Based Document Storage
Jim Spellos, CMP, president of Meeting U., a company that brings planners up to speed with the latest apps and tools through its technology courses, advises starting the paperless process with a cloud-based storage surface. “It’s the place for all the documents you need access to on-site, plus what you’re working on while you’re in your planning phases of the meeting,” he says. “Any sort of cloud storage is going to replace your three-ring binder.”
Matthew Dunn, Ph.D., founder of Say It Visually, a branding agency that helps companies explain their services and products, says the cloud appeals to planners for its ability to stay up to the minute with ever-changing details. “Let’s say you’re scheduling rooms and topics, and trying to keep the team coordinated,” he says. “Emailing is not the way to manage. Instead, create a master spreadsheet that can be updated moment-by-moment. Whether you reach it from a tablet, phone, desktop or a hallway big-screen, it’s the same data.”
Bitcasa, Box, Carbonite, Dropbox, eFileCabinet, Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive are some of the major players in cloud-based storage. Dunn and Spellos both prefer the free Dropbox. For handwritten notes and hard copies gathering dust in antiquated filing systems, Captricity takes paper files such as surveys filled out by hand and converts them to digital data.
Internal Meetings and Collaboration
In-person meetings aren’t always feasible, and that’s where web-and-mobile collaboration platforms come in. Dunn’s company uses Podio for its built-in instant messaging system, customizable apps and “document pointers” that sync with Dropbox, instantly updating files in both locations.
Accounting and Bookkeeping
Cloud-based systems like Bill.com and Xero streamline the process of billing clients, tracking expenses, and running profit and loss reports. “It’s amazing,” says Dunn, whose company relies on FreshBooks for invoicing. “You end up getting paid instead of going, ‘Wait a minute, did I send that?’ while looking at an Excel list from hell.” Dunn, who had his his bookkeeper do a six-month, side-by-side evaluation of Quickbooks and Xero, calls Xero “the most comprehensive cloud-based accounting system I’ve found.”
Apps can greatly simplify the site evaluation process. “I can make notes right on my smartphone or tablet, and depending on where I am later in the day, those notes will be accessible from my PC or Mac, iPad or smartphone,” says Spellos, who uses Evernote for note taking. “That sort of capability is the core of what a great mobile device can do for you—not restrict you to a single device or location.” Evernote also offers a handwriting app called Penultimate that allows users to write or sketch directly on their iPads, then syncs with Evernote to make notes searchable.
Spellos recommends looking outside the meetings industry for great tools. He stumbled upon Point and Measure, an app that “turns your iPhone into measuring tape,” while doing a home renovation. “I can open up the iPad and get an exact distance from wall to wall or from the pillars to the wall. It has nothing to do with the meetings industry, yet it’s perfectly attuned to what we need to accomplish.” Spellos also developed the super-handy TechSpec app in conjunction with fellow meetings technology expert Corbin Ball, CMP, and QuickMobile. It’s a free tool that allows planners to easily assess a venue’s technology capabilities.
Sarah Brand, founder of SKB Events in Bellingham, Wash., uses Social Tables, an app that allows planners to create mock-up seating charts. “It has helped streamline and cut down on time on setting up tables and planning the space,” says Brand. “We use the same spaces in town over and over and being able to save spaces and relay info for events to clients digitally is great. And we use it at the event itself during check in.”
With a smorgasbord of apps, web tools and software available in many constantly updated versions, it’s only human to become overwhelmed. Cloud-based business solutions aren’t a one-size-fits-all. You may need to search outside the industry (the Point and Measure app, for example) to find tools that meet your specific needs. “The tools keep changing,” says Spellos. “If you don’t find something you like right now, check back in three weeks or a month—with sites like betali.st, which lists current tech start-ups and the new functionalities they’re creating—it’s likely that somebody’s thinking about developing it.”
A version of this article appeared in Connect magazine.