Meeting Planning Software -
Making Your Job Easier
Meeting planning software provides specific solutions to a variety of planning tasks. From site selection to post meeting analysis, these products can automate repetitive tasks, provide analysis of data, and streamline nearly every job that faces the meeting professional.
They can help make our jobs easier. However, with more than 200 products available, the challenge is to sort out what are the right products and how to apply them to existing systems. This article will outline eight major categories of meeting planning software and point out some of the hot trends along the way.
Once planners needed to rely on volumes of hotel brochures and catalogs to keep track of the thousands of hotels with meeting space – no longer. Current options include receiving the information on CD-ROM with yearly updates. These discs are searchable and full of information. The trend, however, it toward free, web-based databases such as www.plansoft.com and www.eventsource.com. They contain extensive, searchable site information that is accessible 24 hours each day and is regularly updated.
Budgeting software allows you to track expenditures, compare them to a budget, and, analyze vendor records and management. These features are included in many of the full-featured meeting planning packages mentioned later. However, there are a few stand-alone packages, such as Meeting Ware Budget (www.meetingware.com/html/meetingware_budget.html) that handle these tasks specifically.
Scheduling and calendar functions are a common part of the meeting planning process, especially with large meetings where multiple rooms are being used over a several day period. There are off-the-shelf calendar products that can assist with this. However, there are a few solutions that are specifically designed for meeting planning such as: Scheduler Plus (www.optimumsettings.com).
The only way you are really going to know what a room set up will be is to diagram it to scale. Room diagramming software will allow you to create floor plans and place chairs, tables, risers, AV equipment, etc. to see exactly how things will fit. These include Meeting Matrix (www.meetingmatrix.com), Optimum Settings Meeting (www.optimumsettings.com) and Room Viewer (www.roomviewer.com).
A particularly complicated meeting room diagram is the layout of a large exhibit hall with hundred of booths. Exhibition management software allows you not only to create these diagrams, but allows total management of exhibitors, including space assignment, point tracking and more. There are a few products in this area with Expocad (www.expocad.com) being one of the leaders.
The way that planners and hotels currently communicate specifications is paper-based and antiquated. Typically, planners enter specifications, mail them to the convention services manger who re-enters into the hotel system. The paper chase continues with the planner reduced to proofreading the banquet event orders for errors in the rewrite. A new product, Ajenis (www.plansoft.com) hopes to change all of this with standardized specifications that both sides can use and reuse.
Badging and Registration
Name badges and tracking registrants are a mainstay of nearly every meeting. Although badging and registration programs are included in the full meeting management suites, there are stand-alone products as well including PCNameTag (www.pcnametag.com) providing an inexpensive way to make badges. The new version is built on Microsoft Access and can be imported to other databases.
Full Meeting Management Suites
These programs integrate many of the above applications and more. They can range in price from $350 to more than a million dollars. Features typically include registration, budgeting, scheduling, vendor tracking, speaker management, travel management, and much more. Often they are built upon relational databases and at the upper end involve wide-area networks involving hundreds or thousands of workstations and full-enterprise solutions for corporations or associations.
These programs offer many features but are limited in some applications but applicable in some situations. Event Manager Plus (www.certain.com) costs $495 has many features, but is limited to a single user for a single day event. Complete Event Manager (www.ekeba.com) is the lowest cost, starting at $195.95 ($495.95 for a Web-enabled model), but is built on a full relational database and is worth checking out.
These programs provide a wide range of features and are built on relational databases. They range in cost from just under $3,000 to $5,000. Two of the major players in the general category are MeetingTrak (www.psitrak.com) and MeetingPro (www.meetingpro.com).
Corporate software often costs more, and includes full travel management and vendor tracking features. Two examples are ISIS Gold (www.isisgold.com) and Travel Technologies Group (www.ttgsoftware.com).
Association software is the most complicated and expensive of all the meeting planning software. More accurately, they are association-wide solutions with pages of features. These products can easily costs tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars. Among the field of players here are: TIMMS (www.tmaresources.com), Association Plus (www.meisoft.com). Ablaze Enterprise Manager (www.ablaze-inc.com), iMIS (www.advsol.com), AZTEC Ware (www.azt.com) and AMS (www.saco.com).
The product mentioned here are just a sample of the 200+ products available. Additionally, there are many products for surveying, meeting content management, incentive management, telephone management, legislation tracking, mass mailing, and more that space constraints do not allow including here. Also, a major trend is toward web-based solutions to many of the above applications.
A definitive guide and directory, to be published this Summer, will include this the latest information on more than 200 meeting industry software products. The Ultimate Meeting Professionals Software Guide and Directory, written by this author, will be published by Meeting Professionals International (www.mpiweb.org) with and expected release date in July.
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