One size does not fit all, says meeting industry tech guru Corbin Ball, CMP. “Sometimes you need to ask hundreds of questions to get a good fit.” Here are a few to consider.
(Find his entire guide, plus a directory of software and technology products, at www.corbinball.com.)

1. Where is the paper?
“A piece of paper is a white flag of inefficiency,” says Ball. If you send RFPs via fax, schedule your rooms manually, distribute paper surveys, or accept faxed registrations, those should be your first targets for technology upgrades, and that means attendee management software. These tools can automate registration, housing and room-block management, travel, surveys, e-marketing, credit-card processing, and confirmations.

2. What works and what doesn’t?
What software, database, and network do you use now? Are they user-friendly? Where are the inefficiencies or trouble spots?

3. What is your budget and time frame?

4. Are you open to cloud computing?
Software distribution is moving to the “cloud,” a model that can be more efficient, less expensive, and more secure than managing data locally. Server farms store and manage data, and routinely have a higher level of security than even large corporations can provide. Software providers typically choose their cloud provider, but you should ask about data backup and disaster recovery procedures.

5. How will IT need to be involved?
Are they supportive? Qualified? Do they have the resources and the willingness to help?

6. What are your must-have features?
Have meeting stakeholders brainstorm features for your “ideal” system (for example, multiple registration categories, a customizable reg form with the look and feel of the corporate Web site, ability for attendees to make changes via an individual access link). Label features “must have,” “good to have,” or “nice but not necessary.” Match your must-have features with software companies’ products.