Navigating the digital shift

The coronavirus pandemic pushed the Singapore Association of Convention & Exhibition Organisers & Suppliers to host its first-ever virtual AGM.

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Balance social distancing with cybersecurity by conducting an internal audit of your technology providers. When it comes to hosting virtual meetings, ease and efficiency doesn’t always translate to safe and secure

When Singapore’s coronavirus lockdown, dubbed as the “circuit breaker”, was announced in April, it put a brake on all live events and public gatherings.

What ensued was a tsunami of online meeting requests, WebEx calls and webinar invitations, as the business events industry hastened its pivot to the virtual world – and the Singapore Association of Convention & Exhibition Organisers & Suppliers (SACEOS) was no exception.

The SACEOS secretariat worked in record time, cutting through red tape, to host its annual general meeting (AGM) online in June — a first for the 40-year-old association.

Like most associations, the SACEOS AGM provides one of the few opportunities for members to voice their concerns, engage directly with the executive committee, and – most importantly – cast votes to affect leadership and constitutional change.

Protecting members’ voting rights was thus a key priority for the secretariat, and finding a tech provider that integrated e-voting, file sharing and live webcast functionality – all within budget – was no mean feat.

Cybersecurity was also high on the agenda to ensure votes could be properly validated and internal auditors could have video access to the meeting to observe proceedings.

“Navigating the virtual meeting space right now is a minefield,” SACEOS president, Aloysius Arlando, said. “We know from our members that many event professionals struggle to stitch together multiple technology providers behind scenes to meet client needs. For small teams, this isn’t always feasible.”

SACEOS worked with board management software provider, Azeus Convene, to create a customised platform that lives up to its goals of transparency and inclusion, and meet the government’s code of conduct for AGMs held amid the “elevated safe distancing period”.

“We employed a rigorous evaluation process when selecting a technology provider to ensure the platform was secure and allowed our meeting to remain compliant with the governing laws for societies in Singapore,” Arlando said.

The result was a pioneering virtual model that allowed members to securely submit proxy votes and questions ahead of time.

During the meeting, members were also invited to submit questions via a chat function or to dial-in with a voice call.

Azeus Convene sales and marketing manager, Kevin Yoo Seunghee, said SACEOS was one of the first trade associations in Singapore to convene a virtual AGM.

“SACEOS took a very forward-thinking approach to the Covid-19 crisis and came to us looking to co-create a digital solution that provided a secure environment, but was also user-friendly,” he said.

“Working with SACEOS gave us insight into the unique needs and challenges of associations, especially during this difficult time. The experience has also allowed our business to expand and created a number of new leads (among members who were inspired to adopt the solution for their own clients).”

Like all pioneers, SACEOS hit a few bumps on the road to digital transformation.

Engaging a panel of internal auditors, made up of members of the executive committee and its legal counsel, helped the secretariat conduct its due diligence in selecting a technology provider. This entailed an extensive evaluation of five different vendors, followed by a blind vote and unanimous decision to work with Convene.

The same panel of auditors observed the voting framework before and during the meeting to ensure compliance.

While the AGM ran into a few technical difficulties, those were deftly handled by the association’s honorary secretary. Ongoing housekeeping reminders helped acquaint members with the virtual platform, though several senior members needed additional help to navigate the digital tools.

Moving forward, Arlando said the association will soon offer training to members on how to embed digital capabilities and will seek to introduce pre-event tutorials ahead of each virtual meeting to help attendees familiarise themselves with the chosen platform.

Event SACEOS 40th Annual General Meeting
Organiser SACEOS
Venue Virtual meeting via online application AGM@Convene
Event date June 9, 2020
Number of participants More than 100