From Proposal to Exhibit

I am excited to share with you a behind the scenes narrative about our new proposal submission system for Imagine RIT.  For anyone out there interested in how our festival works, or event management in general, read on…

The goal of having a proposal submission system is to effectively and efficiently manage all requests from RIT students, faculty and staff to exhibit at Imagine RIT.  We typically have over 350 exhibits and more than 2,300 exhibitors, and this includes live performances and food venues.  One can “imagine” the challenge of manually coordinating the logistics – tables, chairs, power, Internet, water – for such a large number of exhibits.

The first system was developed by ITS  (Information Technology Services) at RIT in 2009, for the second year of the festival, and it sure did make planning a lot easier.  However, over time the code in the program began to break down and ITS was spending more time fixing things than should be necessary.  Fortunately, most of these “breaks and fixes” went unnoticed by our exhibitors, but for the organizers of the festival, it became cumbersome.  It was time to rebuild!

Throughout the fall and early winter of 2012, I met with Jason Pitoniak, Technical Team Leader/Developer, ITS, and Laura O’Donnell, Sr. Project Manager, ITS, to plan and design the new system.  It was challenging and time consuming in that we had to think from the end result backwards and account for every detail and piece of data that would be needed.  We also took into consideration the user interface and navigation of the system – the “bread crumb trail”, as Laura called it – which ensures exhibitors can enter and exit the system easily and quickly in order to make updates and changes to their proposals without getting confused, frustrated or “lost”.  Then there were the administrative aspects of the system that allow me to generate reports (Excel files) to look at the proposal data in a variety of ways.

Despite the hard work, the project has been rewarding.  We launched the new system on January 15 (right on time!) with a Message Center “Call for Proposals” to all RIT students, faculty and staff.  I am pleased to say that we have had practically no “bugs” or glitches since the launch, and very few emails from exhibitors indicating they are having trouble using the system or that they are not pleased with it.

Jason, Laura and I will continue to meet throughout the year to make changes as needed.  We have created a “To Do” list for next year as well – a number of  “nice to haves” that got put on hold in the essence of meeting our launch deadline.  As I have learned from Laura, our project manager, who is extremely organized, and persistent yet patient (smile), prioritization and tracking progress is critical.  Jason, too, has been a pleasure to work with.  He knows his stuff and has great attention to detail in his work.

Now on to the next challenge of: reviewing proposals, following up with exhibitors, approving and placing exhibits, and communicating their logistical needs to our internal service providers at RIT.  And much, much more….

See you in 79 days on the RIT campus!   – Program Chair, Heather Cottone


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