What's great about PlanSoft's Ajenis software is not that you can quickly and easily create documents like meeting resumes and banquet event orders on your computer. It's that the documents you create can be sent back and forth electronically between you and your meeting hotel, amended every step of the way if necessary, with nary a fax or a pen involved. (Have trouble keeping track of all those changes? Don't worry--Ajenis is storing them for you in a history file.) Eventually, Ajenis software also will handle housing and registration.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. At this point, everyone using Ajenis software is a tester. And what they're testing now is the electronic management and communication of meeting specs.

"Ajenis helps you build meeting specs in lightning-fast fashion," says Ed Tromczynski, PlanSoft president. (PlanSoft/Ajenis, based in Twinsburg, OH, is a joint venture of PlanSoft Partners--Hyatt Hotels Corporation, ITT Sheraton Corporation, Marriott International, the American Society of Association Executives, and Meeting Professionals International.) "Here's the meeting planning process today: I've got to go out and find all these suppliers for our meeting. Once I've found them, I have to plan for 1,000 hours in word-processing. We said, 'Great. Once you find a hotel, you use Ajenis to do all the planning.'"

Here's how. Say you've chosen a few potential meeting properties, sent them requests for proposal, nar- rowed the field, and finally selected the one that fits. Now you're ready to start creating your meeting flow.

You decide to start by creating the welcome reception. From the database of hotels provided with Ajenis, you open the specs for your meeting property. These are shown as "pick lists" of items available--everything from shrimp to lecterns.

Then you open an event template and start clicking. You want passed hors d'oeuvres so you call up the hotel's food menu and "drag and drop" some choices. You choose your seating preferences, piped-in music, time, reception room--every critical detail. The idea is that the software itself is packed with all the puzzle pieces--the planner puts them together.

If you're meeting at a hotel not in the database (possible, though Tromczynski says the database includes everything from Best Westerns to Ritz-Carltons) or if you are planning the welcome reception outside the hotel--at a museum, for example--you can simply drag items off Ajenis's generic pick list to create your event.

Then you can access the real power of PlanSoft, by dialing into the PlanSoft network and sending your event order electronically to your contact at the hotel, who simply dials in to retrieve it. If your meeting hotel (or museum) doesn't have Ajenis, you can print the event order, as you probably do now, and send it along by mail or fax.

This process is repeated for each meeting element--and for other meeting planning documents, such as meeting histories.

Soup to Nuts Each of the hotel chains in the PlanSoft partnership has committed 40 properties to the current testing phase. The software was installed in the hotels beginning this fall, where it is being used by convention and sales staff and some of the hotels' meeting- planning clients.

Pat Welch is overseeing the testing at ITT Sheraton, whose Boston, Chicago, and New Orleans properties are getting the software first. "We need meeting planners to have an in-depth product to take them through the planning process, from soup to nuts," says Welch, the hotel chain's director of sales automation. "We also want to standardize things more, to make meeting planning simpler."

Welch says that ITT Sheraton's national sales managers already communicate electronically with some 350 planners. But while sending, say, Microsoft Word documents by e-mail is easier and more efficient than endless faxing, it still leaves open the possibility that some of the hundreds of details of a single meeting will be overlooked.

Communication via Ajenis is designed to eliminate that danger. Say you've sent your meeting resume to a hotel. That document is set up so that the hotel must go through it point by point, accepting or not accepting each request. When that document is "pushed" back to the planner, it is immediately clear which aspects of the program the hotel can handle and which it can't. "It's much easier for the planner to see what the issues are," Welch explains. "We're also hoping to save some trees."

Your Search Ends Here The Ajenis software package includes a whopping 30MB worth of databases, so you can do your supplier searches right off your own hard drive. Even better is to log on to the PlanSoft Web site, as the online listings are continuously updated. (Ajenis users receive quarterly updates to their databases.)

We're not talking just hotels, either. Whether you're logged on to the Web site or using the supplied databases, you can also look for convention and conference centers, CVBs, airlines, rental car agencies, audiovisual and production companies, special event venues, destination management companies, exhibit companies, and meeting management firms, plus all major industry associations and a calendar of meeting-industry conferences. (For more on the PlanSoft Web site, see sidebar, page 48.)

The new official launch date for Ajenis is March 20, 1998, but the functionality of Ajenis and the PlanSoft Web site continues to evolve. Housing and registration are the next hurdles the company is preparing to leap. Keep checking in at the Web site for the latest developments.