It Takes More Than Software to Manage Abstracts | Omnipresence
Each year, as we produce our annual State of the Conference Industry Report, one statistic never ceases to amaze me. Meeting planners continue to indicate that, when it comes to conference content, managing the collection and review process is their single greatest challenge. We hear the same thing from new and prospective customers nearly every day. So why is this point so fascinating for me?
During the past several years, a number of new abstract management technology providers have emerged on the scene. Some software to manage abstracts is SaaS based, and some is full service. And, many of the technologies—both new and established—continue to become more feature-filled and complex. Yet, the pain surrounding abstract management for meeting planners hasn’t diminished. Which leads me to believe that technology by itself isn’t the magic bullet that some meeting planners had hoped it to be.
Conducting a successful call for papers is really more about having the right processes in place, not just the right tools. So before you evaluate your next abstract management system, it may be helpful to take a look at your current process. Once you figure out where your problems tend to begin, you can start to make adjustments. Here are a few questions to help you get started:
Are you starting with the end in mind?
How did you decide on the list of fields you require from submitters? Is this all the information you will need, or just enough to process their submission? It’s much easier to collect everything you need from a submitter during this initial process than having to follow up with them after they have been accepted. Be sure to ask for everything that you will need for your conference program, app, etc. during this initial phase.
By determining your final materials and working backward, you ensure the right data is going in and will be in the right format at the end.
Do you conduct adequate system testing before opening your collection site?
Do you recruit testers that reflect the age range and technical expertise of your pool of submitters and reviewers? Keep in mind submitters typically wait until the last minute. That adds a level of stress that can unnerve even the most technically savvy person.
Are you collecting your data in the smallest pieces possible?
Do you feature a single name field, or do you break it up into Salutation, First Name, Middle, Last, Credentials? Getting as granular as possible with your fields will increase the likelihood that data is filled in correctly and consistently. Doing so will decrease the need for data cleanup later on.
Do you find you have a “data gap” at some point during your process?
How do you handle content changes that happen after a speaker has been accepted but before your conference materials are produced? To remove any confusion, create a “database of record” before you collect submissions. This “database of record” is the single location where all your up-to-date content is stored. That way, when it’s time to send your content into production, you can be sure that all changes are being made across all materials.
Have you talked to others about your process to manage abstracts?
Have you tried reaching out to a colleague to see how they manage their call for abstracts? Their insights might help you find a new approach to streamline your process. Alternatively, your abstract management vendor should be willing to discuss best practices with you. At Omnipress, for example, our project managers always talk to the customer about their existing workflow. This helps us tailor the system to the customer’s specific needs. It also allows the project manager to point out any potential issues before configuring their system, and importantly, before their call for abstracts opens.
The role of an abstract management system is to help streamline and automate the collection and review process to make it easier for you and your team. But even the best software to manage abstracts can’t solve all of your problems. If you can identify and improve upon the areas of your process that are the most challenging, then maybe we’ll all see different results when we conduct our State of the Industry Survey for 2018. We’ll certainly be watching for it!