AV + Connectivity

An RFP for Internet Access

A new tool from the Convention Industry Council is changing the way planners evaluate Internet offerings at venues.

With the demand for Wi-Fi accessibility at meetings showing no signs of plateauing — to say nothing of the debate over pricing — the Convention Industry Council’s APEX Standards Committee has released a new free tool: the RFP Strategy Guide for Event Internet and Communications. It’s the latest in a portfolio of resources that APEX has developed around bandwidth and connectivity for meetings and events.

We talked to APEX Chair John Rissi, senior vice president of operations for PSAV, about how CIC hopes meeting professionals — planners and suppliers alike — make use of the new guide.

How did this project come about?

What we realized in one of our APEX council meetings was that there was a severe lack of knowledge out there, both on the meeting-planner side and on the venue-operator side, about Internet and bandwidth, so we had a pretty lively discussion one day about the challenges, and we decided that there was a project we needed to undertake. The first step was to try to get people to understand, especially on the meeting-planning side, the questions they needed to be asking the venue operators related to Internet. A lot of them would just say, “Wi-Fi should be free,” and what we were trying to do is educate them that just asking for something for free might be just like asking a chef for food, right? It was a challenge getting them to understand that there may be a need to pay for it, but you have to understand what your requirements are before you just tell somebody you need it for free.

We went on this education campaign. We produced some white papers. We produced some PowerPoint presentations. We’ve done a lot of in-person presentations to the community, but then we also realized that the venue operators were just as ignorant, for lack of a better word, of what their own infrastructure was, what their own capabilities were, so they weren’t actually able to have a conversation with the meeting planners either. They would always defer to the technical experts. And so we said, we need to educate both sides of the equation, so that they both can have an intelligent conversation.

We had a lot of really positive feedback about what we had produced, and we said, the next step really is to create an RFP guide to take meeting planners through the process, so they know what questions to ask, going from a basic meeting to a very complicated meeting. We think it will easily guide anybody on the meeting-planning side through the process, and if venue operators would like to access this as well, it’d probably be good for them to know what questions they’re going to be asked by the meeting planners.

Are there still a lot of misconceptions about Internet for events on both sides of the table?

Yes, I think there are. There are a lot of issues that continue to come up related to Internet, and the challenge right now is trying to first of all understand it from the venue-operator side, and the challenges they have in keeping up with the demands on their network. The technology moves so quickly, both on the infrastructure that they have in their venues and the technology that they have to support. And who knows what the next generation of communication devices is going to look like. But whatever it is, we know they’re probably going to be dependent on Internet.

In the RFP guide, there are a lot of different areas that it gets meeting planners to think about, from the attendee perspective, presenters, exhibitors — everybody that’s going to be involved in your meeting. It gives you the questions to ask related to what’s important to them, as opposed to just saying, “Well, let’s make sure we have Internet capability.”

You have to know who’s using it for what reason, and making sure that you’re taking care of that specific need for that specific group of people. It’s not like you can just turn the network on and everybody has access and can do exactly what they want to do at any given time.

How would you like to see meeting professionals use this guide?

Our goal is for them to have a tool. Obviously, they might want to customize this based on their specific requirements, but we would like this to be something that they take on every site visit, and we would love for the venue operators to also be aware of this. If you’re a director of sales at a venue, you should know what support you have available to you with the Internet, you should know what your infrastructure’s like, you should know what the latest iteration of wireless access points are in your ballroom. Because if you look at the guide, it actually tells you how many devices can connect to what iteration of wireless access points out there.

We’re hoping that it’s a two-way street — that the venue operators are looking at this and educating themselves, and that the meeting planners are looking at this to make sure that they’re informed on all aspects of their meeting. I think what this really does is get them thinking about not just the attendees that might be in the room, but every aspect of the meeting, from the registration desk to exhibitors to presenters. There’s a lot of things that a meeting planner needs to be thinking about from all aspects of the meeting, and we think this guide informs them on most of those decisions.

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.