The underlying message from attendees at the first-ever METCON, the Meetings and Exhibitions Technology Conference, held in Rosemont, IL in April, was the desperate need for industry-wide technology standards. Attendees and panelists at the second general session expressed confusion over the proliferation of competing products that promise solutions to everything from site selection to housing.

"Associations such as ASAE [American Society of Association Executives], PCMA[Professional Convention Management Association], and MPI [Meeting Professionals International] have to provide leadership," said panelist Ed Paradine, former brand vice president, Marriott Convention & Resort Hotels and now general manager, market vice president of the Atlanta Marriott Marquis. "Those associations have to come in without a profit motive and decide on a common platform." METCON was, admittedly, a first step, as the first joint meeting of two of the three largest meeting industry organizations, PCMA and ASAE.

A fitting symbol of the frustration displayed at METCON was the announcement of further delays in the release of PlanSoft's Ajenis software, which will allow planners and suppliers to exchange meeting information and requirements electronically. Product modules of the software will become available this summer, said PlanSoft's Ed Tromczynski. Individual copies of the software for planners probably will be priced at under $500, with the network versions for hotels to cost substantially more.

On a bright note, MXI.NET (formerly known as Meetings Exchange), a Web site where meeting planners can "visit" cities, hotels, and other suppliers, has been launched at www.mxi.net. The site incorporates Optimum Settings, a combination computer-aided drawing and event scheduling/budgeting program that can be used to create banquet event orders; Hotel-View, which provides full-motion video of hotel properties; a custom meeting resume creation service; a site database; and a meeting industry news service called @MXI Tribune. The site's software works with standard Web browsers, standard communications protocols, and both PC and Mac platforms. Online full-motion video will be available only to those with cable modems or those who are able to download files via satellite; for everyone else, video will be supplied via CD-ROM.

For convention planning, the latest product is Passkey, an interactive, centralized database that will allow housing vendors, meeting organizers, and hotels access to a meeting's reservations information. The product will be marketed to convention and visitors bureaus, meeting organizers, and third-party vendors. At press time, Passkey was in beta testing.

METCON attracted 478 participants, including 206 meeting planners/association executives, 224 suppliers, and 48 guests. The conference is scheduled again next year, April 1 to 3, at the Sheraton Gateway Atlanta Airport and Georgia International Convention Center. *