McGettigan Partners didn't intend to be in the software business--and it wasn't competition from a software company that pushed the meeting management firm in that direction. In fact, explains Mark Jordan, director of marketing for McGettigan, the development of CORE Discovery--the company's meeting manage- ment and expense-tracking software--began after a travel company lured away a McGettigan client by promising to consolidate meeting spending the way it had been consolidating travel spending.

"We realized we'd better plan for this trend," Jordan says.

Since then--some four years ago--McGettigan has launched CORE Discovery in a dozen companies that spend millions on meetings every year. The networked system is designed to create a detailed picture of companywide meeting spending by having anyone who plans a meeting, whether in the meeting department or not, register that event.

With the current version of the software, a planner can search for a suitable meeting property and create RFPs (requests for proposal) to send to potential suppliers. The new version of CORE Discovery, planned for a January release, has been expanded to include event- and attendee-management functions.

A couple of things make CORE Discovery unique. The first is that if what you read here sounds good to you, you can't just call up McGettigan and order a CD-ROM. CORE Discovery comes as part of a larger partnership package with McGettigan, one in which a company guarantees McGettigan a certain amount of meeting management business. (If you're looking for hard numbers: For CORE to be feasible, a company should plan at least $7 million worth of meetings annually and should be able to hand over at least $3 million worth of meetings to McGettigan.) The price of CORE Discovery, in fact, is pegged to the amount of meeting business a corporation is able to turn over to McGettigan.

Installation of the software usually includes a full-time McGettigan staff person as well. "There's a lot more to managing the data than turning over the software," Jordan explains. Because large companies have meetings being planned by lots of people in addition to those in the meeting department, the first challenge is to get all of those meetings registered in the CORE Discovery database. The McGettigan staffer helps in developing that process, Jordan says. His or her subsequent role varies, but Jordan suggests that McGettigan often ends up taking over site research. With the new staff person handling that piece, the meeting planner is left to focus on content.

The second thing that sets CORE Discovery apart is its emphasis on creating a big picture for management. "We focus on what the corporation sees as well as what the planner sees," Jordan says. "Do you need a companywide spending management tool? That's CORE." Reports generated with CORE are used by management to make overall budget decisions. On the ground level, CORE reports mean that the planner knows what hotel rate is fair at a particular property, given the company's history with that property. A planner can access every rate ever quoted to the company by that hotel. Tracking these costs means stronger negotiating positions.

Getting It All Together After hearing about CORE (which refers to McGettigan's entire program of consolidation and meeting management and stands for Consolidated Operating and Reporting Environment) and CORE Discovery (the name of the software), a light went on for Jules del Vecchio.

"We're a big company, we plan meetings all over the place, and I'm not tracking them. [Registering them with CORE Discovery] is a great way to save money, especially with the market being so tight right now," says del Vecchio, vice president at New York Life, Manhattan.

CORE Discovery will give del Vecchio access to more than 5,000 meeting properties, which he will be able to search using a dozen descriptors. When he's found two or three hotels that might work, he simply highlights each one, hits a fax button, and an RFP is on its way there.

The important thing is that anyone planning a meeting anywhere at New York Life will go through the same process.

Del Vecchio and two meeting staffers traveled to Philadelphia this fall ("I was so excited about it I sort of dragged them down there," he says) to see CORE Discovery in action. "What McGettigan is espousing is not that they plan every program, but that we track every program. With that information, we can negotiate better deals. We can drive purchasing," del Vecchio explains.

As for the requirement that New York Life hand McGettigan some of its meetings, or some aspects of some meetings, del Vecchio says that's fine with him. "It would not bother me in the least to give them a crack at our business. Added-value partnering is a thing of the future," he says. Besides, he just found out his department will plan four more major meetings, with no increase in staff. "There's an opportunity right there," he notes.

Not all insurance meeting executives are so comfortable about "partnering" with a third-party planner, as Karyn Altman, regional director of sales for McGettigan, attests. She's spoken with half a dozen insurers about signing on with CORE and with McGettigan. "Insurance planners are the most savvy in their jobs," she says. And they're fiercely protective of those positions. She says a typical response to her sales pitch is: "Now you're really going to take away my job."

Altman is unfazed. "I love it when they say that, because it's exactly the opposite." Her reasoning: Planners will save their companies money by registering all meeting information in one place, they'll free up their time so they can focus on meeting content, they'll have an outsourcing contact whenever they need one, and they'll have a much better handle on meeting spending. Basically, she says, "they'll be heroes."

Managing Your Attendees The January release of CORE Discovery will allow attendees to register via the Internet or a corporate intranet. All that information is stored, so once a person registers for one meeting, all subsequent registrations are that much easier. The attendee can simply OK the information--or amend as necessary. Session choices, golf handicaps, special dietary needs--all these bits of data formerly written on faxes or confirmed by telephone calls are readily available for every meeting. And a planner can change the form at any time, with fields deleted or added.

The planner also will set up hotel inventory through his or her computer, tracking the progress of the room block. Breakout session and activity registration can be tracked, and waiting lists created.

Another new feature will be the ability to export data into any reporting tool. "Previously, you had to accept canned reports," Jordan explains. "With the new release . . . the system will be able to run with any kind of relational database. We've tried to make the software as IT-friendly as it can be."