By  Ian Stringer, Director, MTInsight

I think it is safe to say that there are a number of things most people would rather do than assemble a budget. To me, gathering the information to store in one place, so that you can perform the calculations and analysis tends to be the biggest headache. Not to mention that part of budgeting is tracking your current situation relative to your set benchmarks, which means you need to continually access, format and transform new transactions when new expenses are incurred. This becomes a time-consuming challenge that probably deters many of us from even starting the process, or at best, causes us to manage the task with limited precision and accuracy.  
To be honest, up until about five years ago, I was never a diligent budgeter with personal finances. The effort to do so didn’t seem balanced with the perceived benefit at the time. That was until a colleague of mine introduced me to a personal finance-tracking program I could use for free online: Mint.com. Following his advice, I tried it and immediately realized the benefit. The game changer for me was Mint’s ability to automatically bring in data directly from my bank accounts, so that everything I spent and earned was conveniently made available for analysis. The program not only processed the transactions, but also associated the transactions with the most probable expense categories, conveniently producing an historical expense pattern I could use to start a new budget for future expenses. Mint.com eliminated all of the manual data entry work I would have had to complete, and that was the key innovation that tipped the balance in favor of approaching my household finances with rigor. The availability of reliable, new information on a regular basis at the click of a couple of buttons completely changed my perspective on the process and enhanced my ability to manage expenses more effectively. The tool gave me a real-time assessment of my finances, which allowed me to make real-time decisions on what to do or not do with my money. 

This very same concept of eliminating the data entry steps for budgeting was integrated into the new budgeting tool now available in the IMTS Exhibitor Passport application through MTInsight. Just like Mint.com, our budget tool inside Passport automatically imports the 2014 costs incurred with official IMTS vendors. In addition, we have organized the detailed expenses in a hierarchical format that provides two levels of aggregation for major category and subcategory level tracking. Making the 2014 data available automatically and including space for other custom transactions provides a comprehensive historical snapshot to start a new budget for IMTS 2016. 

As the vendor transactions are automatically loaded for 2016, the Passport budget tool then has the data necessary for reporting. Standard reporting includes visuals comparing your budgeted dollars to actual dollars spent to date. In addition, the tool compares your expenses relative to those of booths that are of similar size for each major expense category. However, I think the most universally useful report is a cleanly formatted summary of all costs. The summary report is generated on demand in seconds showing every major and subcategory level expense relative to budget. This summary report includes all updated info and can be easily exported and shared with the team.   

While the analysis and reporting tools are great, to me, the most important innovation introduced in the budgeting tools are their ability to acquire and continually update new data in real time with no effort required by the user. Without efficient access to data, the consumption of visuals and analysis is moot. It is a key concept we are conscious of when building all MTInsight apps, knowing that our users want the answers buried in data but only when the benefit of acquiring those answers exceeds the costs of retrieving them. 

If you have any questions about the IMTS Exhibitor Passport, please contact Mark Kennedy, Director - Exhibition Sales, 703-827-5220, mkennedy@AMTonline.org.