APEX just might be the meeting industry's most ambitious project ever. A five-year mega-effort by the Convention Industry Council to develop and implement accepted practices for the meeting industry, APEX is focused on seven subjects: housing and registration, request for proposals, history and post-event reporting, resumes and work orders, contracts, meeting and site profile, and terminology. It's also fundamentally focused on technology.

A behind-the-scenes Technology Advisory Council, led by E.J. Siwek, has the task of integrating the terminology and forms created by all seven panels so that IT professionals, attempting to build systems that talk to one another, have a common vocabulary and understand how the fields in one meeting application relate to those in another. We talked to Siwek about the enormity of the task.

ICP: Can you explain data mapping and why it's critical to APEX?

SIWEK: Very few applications share common definitions and attributes for the meeting industry's data fields, so when you try to merge or exchange information between applications, a great deal of effort is required. The Technology Advisory Council is creating a data dictionary with a map to explain how the data flows. The data map gives IT developers a graphical illustration of how it's all connected, and the data dictionary provides field-level detail.

Imagine a road map. On a map where you'd have a city, in our case we have a function — e.g., registration, post-event reporting, any of the functions that APEX is working on. And on the map, there are roads and highways that connect the functions, representing data flow. The data map links a data field to the report to the function. So a vendor who's programming can say, “Oh, I see, ‘contact’ or ‘organization name,’ is used not only on these five reports, but it's the same field that sits over on the RFP, the history, the meeting event order.” The map helps them see how many ways a field is being used and how it's calculated or defined.

ICP: Of the seven APEX focus areas, which will benefit most radically from uniform data?

SIWEK: The answer depends on the stakeholder and downstream users. From the hotel sales standpoint, one of the most important will be history and post-event reporting, where uniform data will mean they get cleaner, more accurate data. Industrywide, I would think housing and registration will benefit most, followed by request for proposals. The benefit is driven by a combination of number of transactions and the expense required to process information within the individual functional area.

Housing and registration will also be the most challenging to standardize because of the multiple levels of transactions and last-minute changes.

ICP: Are you optimistic that this data-mapping initiative will be a success?

SIWEK: Yes. We have a broad cross-section of the industry involved. We have all the major facilities, many of the major third-party providers (like a Conferon), and many of the major applications tied into it. Groups that are truly posting hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of transactions each year, like a Passkey or b-there, are all getting involved. They know that the data flow is very important. They're getting feedback from planners saying, “Look, we need our program to communicate with this program,” whether it's a vendor or a third-party application.

Ultimately, as with any new product, it'll go through a pioneering phase that will be dependent on getting the highest-volume users to use it. Fortunately, the highest-volume users are already starting to collaborate on their data fields.

ICP: Couldn't these parallel efforts be an impediment to adoption of APEX?

SIWEK: I don't think so. They're all going down the same street. They all realize we have to move to an XML definition. I wouldn't call it a parallel effort; it's more of a complementary and pre-adoption effort. These early adopters are working on information that will help the industry overall. They will have walked that path a little bit sooner. Thanks to the large volunteer arm of APEX, senior-level decision-makers and influencers sit on a variety of the panels, including my own. As a result, the ability to share information and cross-educate is outstanding.

If we want it to work, it'll work. It's going to take time for adoption. We're in an area in which we can make an impact; there are definitely enormous dollars to be saved.

ICP: Could your work become irrelevant as technologies change?

SIWEK: As far as the best practices and data dictionary we're creating, if nothing else it will move everyone forward in the ability to use data more cleanly.

As we progress, new technologies certainly will be applied; for example, it's interesting to consider how, say, voice recognition or handwriting technologies could change the way we work, but the bottom line is that all the information still has to be filtered down to a core set of field definitions. I think our efforts will just build a better platform from which to work.

ICP: What's your message to meeting planners?

SIWEK: The message, is “stay informed and get involved.” Whether you are a meeting professional or work in system development, the Convention Industry Council's Web site (www.convention industry.org) should be one you've bookmarked.

As new draft reports are issued from any of the work groups, give your feedback. Help to organize a City Discussion Group in your area. The more that you're involved, the more you'll affect and understand the process. No other effort will have such far-reaching, industrywide benefit!