A longtime advocate of technological ROI and educational solutions, Hugh Lee has built his career at the helm of Fusion Productions in Webster, N.Y., which handles both traditional production for events as well as consulting and design on technology issues. Addressing the challenges of associations in a digital age, Fusion and the Disney Institute launched the digitalNow conference with the support of the American Society of Association Executives. The fourth annual event convenes February 27 to March 1 at the Disney Institute in Orlando.

Medical Meetings spoke with Lee to get his take on the prospects for continuing technological innovation in 2003 and beyond.

What is the role of technology at associations in the year ahead?

Lee: Making the meeting process easier, better, and cheaper for the attendee or the association. We're past “Gee, I'm panicking because everyone else it doing it.” Now people are asking “How is technology going to help our brand? How is it going to help us leverage our content and communities?” And guess what, understanding these questions takes time, good planning, and resources.

So where is the most critical need for tech development?

Lee: The heart of the next technology boom for associations will be to improve their ability to leverage their brand and content, and then personalize and customize brand and content to the different member segments. On the tactical side, you'll see greater integration of technology and of individual data and knowledge bases throughout organizations.

Once they get there, there's going to be much better use of data-mining because there will be much better data to mine. Then they will look at technology to deliver better information to people when and how they want it.

Relative to meetings, you're going to hear a lot about master online databases, various ASP models and software packages for registering online, online surveys, and webcasting. All of those are just tactical point solutions. Do I see a growth in PDAs? Absolutely. Do I see a growth in measurement surveys online? Absolutely. But all of these independently are tactical issues. What I'm saying is they'll be integrated.

Can you give an example?

Lee: Associations will be able use the Internet to do better preplanning and lower their costs by using private and secured sites that track their stakeholder objectives, track their timelines and budgets, allow them to survey and track their survey measurements, and actually produce reports that demonstrate their ROI.

They'll be able to do surveys upfront to get input on what they should be talking about and what they should be measuring during and after the meeting.

Describe the benefits of integration.

Lee: On a strategic level, once you begin to integrate, you begin to collect data that help you develop better products, that help you understand what members care about and why.

The structural level is where the changing role of the association meeting professional is going to be. If we understand that our meetings are about leveraging our brand, content, and community, and using technology to do that, meeting professionals have to break through their traditional silos. They have to interact with the education people more and with all levels of their organization.

On a tactical level, integration means that we have to understand the options available. For example, we need to understand that e-learning a year and a half ago meant big, expensive customized systems. E-learning today is cheaper and easier to implement.

So the new, new thing will be …

Lee: Probably not a new killer app. The new, new thing is that people are going to understand that they have to look at the entire value chain of their meeting, figure out where best to use technologies, and figure out how best to integrate them.