Building Back Better

Artificial Intelligence: A Viral Sensation or A Revolutionary Tool?

12th December 2023

As we strive towards a more sustainable future, the integration of AI into association operations can be a game-changer. It not only enhances the efficiency of organizations but also contributes significantly to building a more sustainable world. This article, part of our Building Back Better series, explores the ways in which AI benefits associations and how this, in turn, promotes sustainability.

Words Vicky Koffa

AI and its ‘magical’ powers have been around for a while, mostly used though by IT experts. Its popularity in the meetings industry started rising after the pandemic to become a widespread tool assisting all kinds of organizations with their day-to-day activities. “At the beginning of 2023 the global business events industry was barely talking about AI. Nine months later, 68% of business event professionals are telling us that they see AI as a crucial tool for their business,” says Sherrif Karamat, President and CEO of PCMA.

The Professional Convention Management Association has already integrated Project Spark in its tasks and for its members. The AI tool for eventprofs, by eventprofs aims to help their members jump-start routine event planning tasks, complementing human skills and expertise. “According to a recent PCMA survey, nearly 70% of meeting planners see AI as crucial for their business. To meet this demand, PCMA launched Project Spark, an AI platform tailored for meetings and events. After garnering over 3,500 users since its spring launch, Spark is unveiling expanded paid versions for both individual users and enterprise clients,”says Karamat.

The Magic Wand of Associations

The fuss over AI has moved beyond ChatGPT and its powerful text output abilities to countless other applications able to generate images, videos, music, notes, speech… any task you can think of really. The technology offered (mostly for free, with advanced options available on payment) has unleashed endless possibilities for associations to tap into. 

Personalizing member experiences by sifting through large amounts of content within the association to determine what is of greatest value to the individual; 24/7 member support through chatbots; streamlining membership workflows like automating finances, generating invoices, and accepting applications; predicting membership dissatisfaction by evaluating member feedback, surveys, and social media conversations; creating engaging content; the list is endless. 

“The meetings industry is on the cusp of an AI revolution. As artificial intelligence capabilities rapidly advance, business event professionals are exploring how to harness these tools to enhance productivity and performance,” states Karamat.

Associations are starting to catch up, but with caution. As the possibilities are overwhelming most choose to start small. Jimena Gómez de la Flor, Communications Director at the European Flavour Association, uses AI for summarizing PDFs, brainstorming event ideas and generating invitations: “It’s very helpful for the little things, the little processes that can be optimized, especially for the more simple, tedious, time-consuming things that can really save you a lot of time. It allows you to be more focused on what’s important for your members.”

Besides improving their services to their members, associations have the opportunity to grow from within. Through AI, employees find the right tools to unfold their potential, as Loredana Bucseneanu, Project Manager for AI at DIGITAL SME Alliance, claims from experience. “AI-driven insights personalize professional development, helping employees tailor their skill enhancement journey. This not only empowers individuals to thrive in their current roles but also prepares them for the evolving demands of the future workplace,” she says.

Sustainability Accelerated

The integration of AI into association operations has a broader impact on global sustainability efforts. Optimization of resource allocation, minimizing waste and promoting eco-friendly practices (by collecting and analyzing data from a wide variety of municipal smart meters), comes to mind first. AI-driven solutions are also actively engaged in monitoring and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while supporting the growth of clean energy solutions. AI can optimize energy consumption in buildings, factories, and transportation systems by analyzing patterns and large-scale data (from solar panels, for instance) to identify areas where energy is being wasted and suggesting improvements.

Moreover, AI’s contribution extends to education and awareness campaigns on pressing global issues. By facilitating the creation of informative resources, AI plays a vital role in driving positive change. Additionally, its language translation capabilities enable associations to connect with a global audience, fostering international cooperation and understanding.

Challenges & Ethical Considerations

However, many have treated this opportunity as a threat. Could these new ‘robotic’ skills take over the human factor? Are current jobs in jeopardy? Is AI replacing human creativity? Can it be used unsupervised? Karamat reassures: “While AI shows immense promise, striking the right balance between human creativity and machine efficiency will be key. AI is ready to revolutionize meetings – but human oversight is still essential.”

From practical day-to-day experience, Gómez de la Flor shares: “It’s like having a new colleague for free. You have to train your colleague, obviously, and you might have to double-check what your new colleague does, but you don’t have to do it physically and start from scratch. It’s a valuable tool, especially for secretariats.”

Privacy concerns and the perpetuation of biases are other key issues that need careful consideration regarding the extensive use of AI. These challenges require organizations to prioritize ethical AI development and governance to ensure AI’s positive impact on both associations and the world. “Incorporating AI in our workflows also emphasizes the importance of ethical decision-making. As project managers, we navigate the responsible use of AI to ensure that our technological advancements align with our values, contributing to a society that thrives on fairness and integrity,” argues Bucseneanu.

For once, legislation is not playing catchup, but is a step ahead. “In April 2021, the European Commission proposed the first EU regulatory framework for AI, emphasizing the need to analyze and classify AI systems based on the risks they pose to users. These regulatory measures will serve as a precedent and guide for the responsible development and deployment of AI systems worldwide,” the European Parliament informs. The priority is to make sure that AI systems used in the EU are safe, transparent, traceable, non-discriminatory and environmentally friendly. The EU AI Act is expected to be adopted by the end of 2023.

In conclusion, the integration of AI into association functions and services is not only a boon for these organizations and their members but also a significant step towards a more sustainable and inclusive world. As Bucseneanu states, “AI can be a force multiplier for collaboration. This synergy of human intelligence and artificial intelligence creates an environment where teams can achieve more together, and this will be reflected in global sustainability.”

Hit enter to search or ESC to close