It's certainly no secret here that I love software–as–a–service (SaaS). You've seen my drooling love statements about Salesforce, my predictions of the CorpTechPocalypse. It's kind of apparent I'm onboard with moving things into the clouds and services as its faster, cheaper, and let's be honest, kind of cool.
Lately I was working with the service known as Zendesk, a rather nice SaaS provider that provides, simply, a support system – tickets, knowledge bases, etc. Zendesk lets you create instant support for your company with a few minutes of setup. You can see why they've attracted some investment as of late.
Then it struck me, as I was rooting around in it, that this would be really a great way for a convention to manage questions for people. For a few bucks a month, you could have policies, answer questions, etc. I don't know if its practical in the end, but for larger events it might help get things organized, especially if the event is quite complex.
After contemplating that nugget of possibility, I began looking at my beloved Salesforce. It starts as your basic CRM, but is incredibly expandable–as noted, I use it myself just for personal information. Being so expandable, being easy to interface with other software, I realized that Salesforce could be used to run membership and other elements of the convention. Heck, I still don't know how many different plug–ins there are out there, and I've been busy installing some.
So I want to encourage you professional geeks out there that work with conventions to consider all of the SaaS opportunities out there for conventions. From Salesforce to Box.net, from Zendesk to Google Apps, and more, there are so many things out there that could make running your cons cheaper and more efficient.
Doing this has two advantages. The first is the obvious advantages of the apps, as noted. The other however is that by using these services, your team gets training on valuable, commonly-used SaaS products. Your convention becomes a kind of business training ground. Trust me when I say that experience in things like Salesforce definitely pays off career-wise.
(Besides, having seen convention data lost to bad backups and viruses, having things in the cloud is probably a lot more reliable.)
So next time you're helping plan a convention, take some time to research these services and what they can do, and contemplate the career advantages the staff will find using them. There are probably some sweet opportunities out there for all.
– Steven Savage