Before Alejandro “Alex” Contreras had his head in the cloud computing that American Express Meetings & Events clients now rely on, he was working in a world without Windows. That background has made him adept at staying in front of technology. As the company’s director of global platforms and strategy, Contreras is borderline obsessed with integrating technology into events and creating innovative interfaces for planners to gauge the ROI of their meetings. We spoke with Contreras about technology’s evolution in the industry, how it can enhance face-to-face meetings and whether he’s an Apple or PC guy.
How did you get started in the business?
I started as an intern in the technology department with American Express in Mexico from ground zero. My first contact with meetings came a couple of years later when I was allowed to lead development on the first Windows-based point-of-sale interface.
What was it like before Windows?
Before the Windows platform, it would take travel counselors months and months of training to become productive. With the rapid-user interface’s inception, we can tremendously cut down on that time. That was very cutting-edge at the time.
Was that the most significant technology leap you’ve seen?
It was a leap forward for the industry, but it’s not the most significant step I’ve seen. There’s the Internet revolution and now cloud computing. Social and mobile have been enormous. It’s hard to say what has made the most impact.
You have your hands on a lot of projects.
I’m very fortunate to have a computer engineering background. I’ve provided solutions on various platforms, from mainframes to distributed applications. I’ve been working with cloud companies to deliver capabilities to our customers. What I enjoy doing the most is business architecture and creating the technology interface to develop innovative solutions.
Are you an Apple or PC person?
I love Apple products. If you look at my house, it is all Apple based. Its products are elegant, and its integration of technology is seamless.
What’s the top trend you see in the industry?
One of the critical things that are valuable for meeting owners is data. Undoubtedly, planners are looking for holistic insights into their return on investment. Data conversion and integration is a very significant areas of focus. For example, in the mobile space, we provide an exclusive dashboard that mines event space and saves data measuring attendees’ experience.
How often are you glued to your phone?
More than I wish. I have it hooked on my hand most of the time, looking at different apps and social sites. I like to be in touch with the consumer side of the experience. For example, my daughter had a class at school that showed her a neat app showing how healthy a particular food is by scanning the package’s bar code. We checked our entire pantry and decided not to keep anything that got less than a C-plus grade. We started using the app in the supermarket.
Is technology going to make meetings moot?
I don’t think so. Face-to-face meetings are always going to be there. As much as we look at social displays and other solutions, they complement and extend the reach of face-to-face and human interaction.