When I sat down with Sam Hummel, CEO of Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council, and told him we consider him to be a passionate user of event technology, he said, “I don’t want to be! I just want functional solutions that fit my needs!” He empathizes with how hard it is to be a technology company in the event space because of the diversity of events. Diversity such as: audiences that are tech savvy and those that are not; events that are complex and events that are simple; events that charge and events that are free and those that charge extra for certain things. That said, he feels technology rarely rises to meet his needs in the event space. Here’s what else Sam had to say:

In the sustainable purchasing world, what changes or trends do you anticipate in the next five years?

I’m excited and optimistic. Many more large organizations and even small organizations will develop comprehensive purchasing programs. Their employees, customers, and investors demand it. We just released SPLC BENCHMARK, a benchmarking tool that will allow these groups to know if their organizations are acting responsibly. It’s important because when USGBC introduced LEED, as a student at Duke University, I suddenly could ask, do campus buildings meet this standard? That was game changing. I think we’re onto some game changing stuff at SPLC, too.

As well, people are really starting to ‘get it’. This planet is small. Particularly with climate change, just as one aspect of sustainability, it’s helping people to see how small the world is, that we are all in the same boat and as long as you are on the planet, you can’t escape this problem. Young people, especially millennials, are asking, “Who’s idea is it to toast our atmosphere and why?” Followed by, “I don’t want to do business with or work at an organization that does that.” As one example, you might ask, what does it matter how the shrimp at my event was caught? Personally, I don’t want to live in a world where I’m eating shrimp cocktail that was harvested in SE Asia using slave labor.

In the past, people knew that bad things happened in the world, but it seemed far away. Now, our connections seem a lot closer, and I am hopeful that the knowledge will make a difference. I don’t think a lot of people realize that shrimp they buy could involve slavery, but companies who buy shrimp are worried about it. People are asking them, “How do I know that your shrimp isn’t caught using slave labor?”

I’m just very hopeful because this information is coming to light, it’s increasingly important to people, and pressure is mounting for those who can make decisions about it. That’s why we have to have benchmarking tools and standards.

How do you take advantage of technology to connect the participants of your event?

I want really good networking at my event!

We regularly have people tell us SPLC Connect is the best buyer-supplier matchmaking event they’ve attended, largely because both sides get to put up a profile that explains what they are looking for/offering, both are able to extend and accept invitations, and generally interact with each other. This year, a buyer member of a Fortune 100 company told me excitedly she had 10 out of 10 great appointments, which is extraordinary and makes us extremely proud.

What app has come the closest to meeting your needs and what did you like best about it?

Shout out to b2match, the matchmaking event software used at the SPLC Summit. The reason I like it is that from the first time I used it, I could tell it was well engineered. They designed things carefully and thoughtfully and things could be repurposed and exchanged to make the system useful for my needs. We’ve been doing business with them for a few years, and user suggestions are taken seriously. In the beginning when they were smaller and I asked them for things, a week later it was done. Now, that they’re bigger, suggestions may be incorporated next quarter but they still get done. We just finished our event and sent them some change requests, which they said would be done in Q3. I’m glad for their success, and to see they have thousands of events using the system yet they are still responsive.

RegOnline has also worked well for us. Any number of things I’ve wanted it to do, the system can accommodate, and the engineering behind it is obviously good. Their support is terrific, if you can’t figure something out yourself and you involve them, chances are they will tell you how the system can do what you want it to do.

What gaps in technology would you like to see filled? Do you have any new ideas that involve technology?

I go to a lot events, and I’ve been to few events that had a mobile app allowed me to do what I think should be possible at this point in time. As well, every year I look for a mobile app provider for my own event and I am shocked I can’t find anyone to provide what I think they should be able to provide.

For me, this is includes two main pieces: A regular app that includes sessions and speaker information, venue and city information, promotes sponsors, etc. Then it should have a companion website that connects to your LinkedIn profile (or other social media account), pre-populates your bio and existing connections and tells you who within your network is attending. You should be able to flag fellow attendees in advance, message them, schedule meetings, with all of it going to both email & the app. A PC interface is critical because functionality needs to be available on a large screen to effectively send messages and otherwise connect with other attendees and really, nobody downloads the app until they arrive at the airport on their way to the conference.

What advice do you have for others who are considering their own app needs?

Learn from others’ wins and fails. Anytime you have a great or bad app user experience when participating in an event organized by someone else, figure out who made the software and keep a record of your thoughts about it. The devil is the details and you rarely experience the pitfalls in a demo because sales people are skilled in guiding you around them.

Try before you buy. If an app vendor won’t give me a trial account, that’s a huge red flag. When I do get a trial account, I try to build out the entire app exactly as I want it while still within the trial window. If I run out of time, I’m not bashful about asking for an extension. Several times now I’ve invested quite a bit of time in building out everything in a trial account, discovering pitfalls that I just couldn’t swallow, and abandoning the app before going under contract. That might seem unfair to the vendor, but it’s not. Here’s what happens when I go under contract first, then start building it out, then run into problems I just can’t live with: I ditch the app and demand my money back because at that point I’ve put a lot of time in and gotten no value out, so I don’t see why I should owe them a thing. (I’ve always gotten my money back.) In the second situation, a lot of their time and mine gets wasted negotiating contracts and tearing up contracts. It’s better for both parties when you really try before you buy!

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Having said all that, I am extremely appreciative and loyal to technology solutions that can serve my needs.

Keep pushing, Sam! We applaud you as a leader in sustainability, technology uber user and change agent!

About Sam Hummel

As CEO, Sam leads SPLC’s strategy, program delivery, partnerships, and fundraising. Sam has led SPLC’s engagement with Fortune 500 corporations, government agencies, universities, and NGOs since recruiting the Council’s founding members in 2013. As a trusted advisor, Sam provides members with executive support for implementing strategic sustainable purchasing programs that drive innovative business practices throughout supply chains. In his prior role as Director of Outreach & Operations, Sam created SPLC’s membership program and created the in-person and virtual collaboration spaces that enable SPLC’s vibrant community of sustainable procurement leaders to network, share best practices, and execute projects together. Prior to his work with SPLC, Sam was instrumental in growing the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), whose Sustainability Tracking Assessment & Rating System provides guidance and recognition to institutions of higher education for sustainability leadership. Sam created and oversaw the green purchasing program for Duke University & Health System while working as the university’s Environmental Sustainability Coordinator. He got his start in responsible supply chain work in 1999 while helping Duke University develop programs to eliminate sweatshops from its licensed apparel supply chains. As an entrepreneur, Sam has experience marketing renewable energy and organic food. Sam graduated from Duke University with a degree in Computer Science.