1.On-premises or On-demand? On-premises software is installed and run on servers on the premises of the company that has purchased the software. On-demand software (also called SaaS or “software as a service”) is housed on the software provider’s servers and accessed on demand by users. Find out if your company prefers one model over the other.

2. Software or Services? Some technology providers also offer consulting—or even actual staff members. “Some tools are sold as do-it-yourself applications, but the reality is that it’s difficult for the average meeting planner to do it themselves—and I’m not even sure they should,” says Mark Jordan, president, Practical Communications Group, a Media, Pa.–based Web design firm and a longtime industry observer. (He was among those who launched StarCite.) “Building a registration site, for example, takes time that planners don’t have.” The cautionary tale, he points out, is that outsourcing services may not have been covered in initial conversations about pricing—or planned for in your budget.

3. Know Your Overall Cost. Low price points may not tell the whole story. Investigate all fees involved in your purchase and use of the software. “Understand the revenue model of the provider as well,” says Kimberly Meyer, principal at consultancy Meetings Analytics in Chicago.

4. Do Real-World Training. Don’t make decisions based on a canned demo. Plan a session where you start from scratch so you know the time and complexity involved with the tools you need. “Take the time to define your processes and bottlenecks before you investigate technology solutions,” Jordan says. “The technology should have some compatibility with the way you work. Changing how you work to accommodate it is a recipe for unpleasant surprises and unplanned costs.” And look for the level of integrated functionality. Integration means you avoid double entry and establish an audit trail of approvals to demonstrate compliance with corporate policies.

5. Keep Your Data. If you choose an SaaS product, says Meyer, “own your data—legally, by contract with the software provider—and keep a backup copy on your servers. Also, ask how the SaaS company intends to use your data. This should be disclosed in the contract. Many corporations will not let their data be used—even aggregated—in any way for any purpose.”

6. Reevaluate. “You probably don’t have the same cell phone you had three years ago,” says Meyer. Think of your meeting software the same way. “There are new products hitting the market all the time. If you haven’t looked at your options in several years, you might find something that gives you bettter value, or great functionality, or both.”

For More Info:

Check out our 2009 SMMP Software Buying Guide

Betsy Bondurant on SMMP Technology 101

NBTA white paper on choosing SMMP Software