Sure, technology is reinventing how associations interact with their members and exhibitors. But what has it done for you lately? Take a moment from the hectic pace of association meeting andmanagement to consider whether you've got the right tools for your job. Here's a discussion of and Internet solutions, followed by a detailed product directory, which includes cost, technical support, and contact information.
General Meeting Planning Software MeetingTrak, by Phoenix Solutions Inc. (a unit of MEI Software Systems)
MeetingTrak is a comprehensive meeting and conference management package for small to medium-size corporations, travel departments, and associations. Software developer Phoenix Solutions is now part of MEI Software Systems. The system tracks speakers, exhibitors, and events, and provides name badges, confirmation notices, and rosters. It allows for multiple payments and on-site meeting registration. Optional modules track continuing education credits and data about members and exhibitors.
MeetingTrak is a shell built on Microsoft's Access database; a popular off-the-shelf software package. A major point of differentiation for this product is the inclusion of source code, which allows users to make direct modifications to the software. There are numerous customizable reports and fields built into the program from the start, however. The only disadvantage--and a minor one--is that running a non-compiled code increases the demand on system resources and therefore slows the program's operating speed. The limitations of this program are primarily the limitations of Access. It is not scalable for very large groups. MeetingTrak's closest competitor is MeetingPro by Peopleware.
MeetingPro, by Peopleware Peopleware's MeetingPro shares much of the functionality and many of the features of MeetingTrak. Its accounting functions are particularly strong, and include the ability to handle complex registration, split revenues, account for refunds, and perform other functions useful for association or corporate meetings with exhibitions. MeetingPro gets high marks for its toll-free help desk, customer support, and strong commitment to training. Its database engine is FoxPro, which is still faster than Microsoft Access in some instances, because it is compiled and somewhat more efficient, and can handle more simultaneous users. Watch for the release of new product Peopleware Pro.
Event Planner Plus, by Certain Software For the cost ($495), Event Planner Plus provides features (such as room diagramming) that software costing 10 times more does not. It is easy to set up and use. It includes task scheduling, 25 different report formats, to-do lists, seating assignments, room diagramming, name tag and place card printing, accounting, vendor tracking, and budgeting. The product has three limitations: It is intended for a single user only; it is designed for a single-day, single-event meeting; and it is built on 16-bit Windows 3.1 and Access database architecture, which are well on the way to obsolescence. Plans to roll out a 32-bit, network-ready, multi-day, multi-event version are in the works. Certain Software is off to a good start--the upgrade will allow larger groups to take advantage of the many well-designed features.
Realplanner EN, Realplanner Pro, Realplanner LT, by Star-Cite! Solutions, LLC These products are the offspring of CORE Discovery, a proprietary software package developed by McGettigan Partners, based in Philadelphia, to help large corporations consolidate their meeting and travel arrangements. These new spinoffs of the original are for the most part being marketed to Fortune 1000 companies, however Realplanner Pro is priced within the reach of nonprofit organizations, and a single-user version of the product is due out this summer.
The product has significant strengths in travel management, vendor tracking, budgeting, and documenting negotiated savings. It tracks meeting activity and spending, helping to construct budgets and forecasts.
Moreover, the database will track meeting attendee preferences (shirt size, for example) from meeting to meeting. It is one of the few software products designed to link with airline reservations systems (Apollo, Galileo, and Sabre), and it also allows meeting planners to feed group room blocks directly into hotel property management systems.
Room Diagramming Software Meeting Matrix V 5.0, by SCLM I have used this product since the days when it was written only for DOS. As one who believes that only by diagramming meeting space can planners know exactly what they will get in terms of capacities and layout, I cannot imagine running a large meeting without it. The Windows95 version is much easier to use than earlier releases. To get new users up to speed quickly, however, I recommend the training package.
I especially like the ability to download floor plans from hotel Web sites (generating floor plans is the most time-consuming part of using any room diagramming product). More than 250 properties are online, and the dimensions are guaranteed accurate to a quarter of an inch! The basic Silver edition (usable only with participating hotels) is free, but if you are doing lots of meetings, the Platinum version is worth the price. Meeting Matrix is used by Marriott, Sheraton, Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton, and Renaissance hotels, and interfaces with Delphi, one of the major hotel meeting-space management programs. This product is also an Alliance partner with Meeting Professionals International and PlanSoft. Major competitors include Optimum Settings (www.optimumsettings.com) and Room Viewer (www.timesaver.com). An advantage of Meeting Matrix is that its vector-based graphics make the diagrams easy to zoom in on.
Web-Based Meeting Planning Solutions Event Wizard, by Neology, a division of Smith Bucklin & Assoc. Neology fills a unique niche in the meeting planning software field--a Web-based product that focuses on educational content. It is aimed at associations, user groups, or corporations where programs with multi-track, multi-day educational meetings are the norm. This set of Web tools includes program committee coordination and communication, collection of abstracts, speaker information collection, and event grid scheduling. There is also a significant e-mail management system. Once the conference is built in the password-protected area, the full program with all of the event details can automatically be downloaded live to the public Web site.
Ajenis, by PlanSoft Ajenis has been the focus of a great deal of attention and controversy because of what it proposes to provide--the communication of meeting specifications between the meeting planner and the hotel convention services department in a standardized format over the Internet.
In the past, this has been an inefficient process at best. Today, Ajenis can save translation, inputting, and proofing time, reduce the opportunity for errors, and save on paper and mailing costs. It does not, however, provide the registration database, accounting, badge creation, and other features of most general meeting software.
Ajenis is robust, with lots of options and features, and can be intimidating when first viewed. A training program is strongly recommended. This product is the result of efforts by a consortium of partners, including the American Society of Association Executives, Meeting Professionals International, Hyatt Hotels, Marriott Hotels, Starwood Lodging, and GES Exposition Services. The partners hope to achieve the critical mass necessary to bring this product into wide use. Once there, Ajenis has the potential to greatly streamline this crucial communication link. It is designed to integrate into the PlanSoft Network, which is, by my estimation, the most comprehensive source of information about meeting facilities on the Web (www.plansoft.com). [Editor's note: Since this story was written, PlanSoft has entered into a partnership with Adams Business Media, the parent company of . See news story, page 16.]
RegWeb, by Cardinal Communications Cardinal Communications was an early player in the meetings industry Web site field, with the Meetings Industry Mall (www.mim.com). Its RegWeb application allows planners to add secure, customizable meeting registration forms to their Web sites with ease. A template format means even HTML-illiterate event managers with no Web design experience can create their own forms quickly. With a template built, all the event organizer has to do is go to the password-protected administrative area of the site, fill in the template's boxes, hit the "update" button, and the new event with description, links, pictures, and customized registration form appears instantly at the site. This can be designed for multiple events with registration forms of almost unlimited complexity. Once someone has registered online, the registration data can then be imported into an existing registration database without re-keying. A sophisticated e-mail management system is optional. A demo of this product can be found at www.regweb.com.
BlueDot Event Tools, by BlueDot.com BlueDot offers a variety of Web-based event and exhibition management tools. The heart of its product line is vMap 1.3, a program that allows exhibition organizers to post floor plans to the Web showing reserved and available space for exhibitors and allowing attendees to search for exhibitors and products. It includes graphical and data editing tools, allowing changes to be made to the Web floor plan.
By the time you read this, vMap 2.0 is scheduled to have been released, with an accounting and contact management system as well as floor planning functions. Other BlueDot products include:
* Online Exhibit Hall--an online product directory with virtual booths including exhibitor links and product descriptions,
* Seminar Planner--an online conference calendar, fully searchable by the attendee
* Kiosk Systems--brings a Web-based exhibit hall planner, seminar planner, messaging system, e-mail system, and people locator to the show site
* Direct E-mail--an e-mail tool including listserv functions with the ability to segment, target, and personalize e-mail messages to event participants. Competitors are Expocad and Expoventure (www.expoventure.com) for the exhibition floor management tools and Neology for seminar planning.
Association Management Association Plus (A+), by MEI Software Systems Association Plus is full-featured meeting planning software for large associations' meetings, conferences, exhibits, and special events. The A+ product's feature list is comprehensive. Think of a registration, membership, continuing education, meeting management, exhibition management, housing, or accounting function that an association would normally encounter, and MEI's programmers have probably written code for it. Major modules include Exhibitors, Accommodations, Continuing Education, Speakers, Meetings, Membership, and Accounting. Competitors (in roughly declining order of functionality and price tag) include TMA Resources, Ablaze Systems, iMIS, Aztec, Smith & Abbot, and Medallion Systems. With the acquisition of Phoenix Solutions and its MeetingTrak software, MEI now has a product for small associations, corporations, and independent planners.
iMIS, by Advance Solutions International iMIS offers a full range of association management software products. For large associations, there is iMIS Enterprise, an SQL database using UNIX; for midsize associations, the company offers iMIS Millennium, an SQL database for up to 30 users; and for small associations, there is iMIS LAN, the first Windows-based association management software.
Features include membership management, committee management, dues and subscription billing, meetings management, accounts receivable, exhibits management, hotel room-block management, as well as chapter reporting, general ledger interface, CEU certification, speaker evaluation, legislative bill tracking, and accounts payable, just to name a few. Competitors of iMIS products include TMA Resources; MEI Software Systems; and Smith Abbott .