The Elusive ALA Event Management System (and Why We Have to Make This Process Better)

ALA’s Conference Services and ITTS staff have been working together to implement a new Event Management System that would handle everything from taking program proposals for ALA conferences to handling committee reviews of proposals to placing accepted sessions in specific rooms and producing setup reports for each venue. It’s an ambitious project, in part because it would finally give us one place where someone could go to submit a program idea to any ALA unit or ALA itself.

The plan was to implement the new system this summer and be ready to open the form for meeting room requests for the 2014 Midwinter Meeting this month. One month later, the new Annual 2014 meeting room request form would open in October, and then a new public proposal process would begin in spring 2014 for the 2015 Annual Conference.

That was the plan.

After a lengthy RFP process that began in August 2012, ALA chose a new vendor in March 2013 and we began working with them this past June to implement the first forms. However, by August it became clear that the system wasn’t going to meet ALA’s needs after all. So for ALA’s 2014 conferences, we’ll be reverting back to using the previous system that was in place.

What couldn’t the new system do? Unfortunately, quite a few things because ALA does conferences differently than almost every other organization out there. An internal discussion has started about the need to simplify ALA’s processes, especially in light of our budget issues. One of those discussions will center on how we do conference planning. It costs too much money and takes too many resources to maintain our status quo.

The way things work now, every unit designates a meeting planner who submits that unit’s sessions. Sometimes it’s a staff person (in the case of divisions), sometimes it’s a member (often for a round table). That part’s fine because only that unit knows what committee meetings and programs it’s going to offer.

What has to change is how units can submit requests that deviate from a standard setup. It’s those exceptions that have to be pre-programmed into the system that take so much staff time (not to mention money) to accommodate. There’s no Event Management System out there that handles AV and room setup requests from 60+ meeting planners out of the box. It requires a lot of customization just to handle room requests from 60+ units, let alone produce the AV and catering reports for 2000+ sessions. Other organizations don’t  allow this many people to decide room and AV setup at the meeting-by-meeting level, a fact that became painfully clear when we began to explore alternative systems last year.

Before we can [again] begin investigating our alternatives for future conferences, we need to talk about how to simplify and streamline our processes so that units can still submit their meeting information, while ALA Conference Services handles planning the room setup and AV for each session. Changing this part of the process is a first step towards expanding the software options available to us and reducing the complexity that hangs around our neck like an albatross. Reducing the footprint of the conference is working, and we need to figure out what else we can simplify in the planning process.

That’s what we’re going to do this fall, and we’ll be posting updates and soliciting feedback here. Watch this blog to learn how you can make your voice heard and share your ideas. Good ideas are what will make things better and help us build a better process, and we need yours.

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