Cool Tools - Meeting Planning
Technology is reinventing the way you plan meetings and incentive programs. But do you have the right tools for the job? My new book The Ultimate Meeting Professional's Software Guide, published by MPI (www.mpiweb.org) catalogs more than 170 software products in 14 categories -- the most comprehensive guide ever written. Retail price through the MPI Bookstore (1-972-702-3044) is $25 for MPI members or $35 for non-members.
Listed below is a sample in a similar format as written for Adams Business Media Press this last spring.
Software Name: MeetingTrak
Company Name: Phoenix Solution Inc.
Type of Software: Full-featured conference management software with integrated database for medium to small associations, corporations, and travel departments
Sales Contact: Sharon Swan, Sales and Marketing Associate
Address: 39560 Stevenson Place, Suite 112, Freemont, CA 94539
Phone: 800-779-7430, 510-739-5100, fax:510-713-7559
Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Web address: www.psitrak.com
Year established: 1987
Number of Employees: 20
Platforms supported: Windows 95/NT (Database engine is Access)
Min. system rqmts.: PC with 486+ processor or better, 8 megabytes of RAM , 40 MB of free hard disk space, plus an additional 1 MB per 500 records, 28.8 BPS or faster modem, plus PC Anywhere for support, Simultaneous users: recommended maximum users: 15-20 (this is highly dependent on hardware resources -- a fast processor, more RAM, and an fast Ethernet, and a properly designed network will improve performance significantly)
Support: 30-day unlimited support, $100/hour sold in 4 hour blocks (phone, on-line, customization);
Cost: $2,995 single user, 2 users: 3,995, additional: $495 each. Continuing education tracking version: Single User $ 3,990.00, Multi-user - 2 users $ 4,990.00, Additional Multi-user Workstations $ 495.00 Additional modules: Housing $995.00, On-site Registration: $995.00, VendorTrak (budgeting) $995.00
MeetingTrak is a comprehensive meeting and conference management package for small to medium corporations, travel departments and associations The system tracks speakers, exhibitors, events, and provides name badges, confirmation notices and rosters. Additionally it allows for multiple payments and on-site meeting registrations. Optional modules track continuing education credits, members and exhibitors. MeetingTrak is a shell built upon Microsoft's Access database and, therefore, takes advantage of the development and regular upgrades of this widely used of-the-shelf software. Unlike other meeting planning software, MeetingTrak includes the source code with your purchase. This allows you or your database consultants to modify the system to your custom need. There are numerous customizable reports and fields built-in as the program from the start, however. The slight downside is that running a non-compiled code increases the demand on system resources and can cause system slowness. The limitations of this program are primarily the limitations of Access. It is not scalable for very large groups. MeetingTrak's closest competitor is Meeting Pro by Peopleware also included in this article.
Software Name: PeoplewarePro
Company Name: Peopleware
Type of Software: Full service meeting management with integrated database including registration, accounting, reporting, multiple events, CE credit tracking
Address: 1621 114th SE, Suite 120, Bellevue, WA 98004
Phone: 800-869-7166, (425) 454-6444, fax: (425) 454-7634
Contact Email: email@example.com
Web address: www.peopleware.com
Year established: 1981
Number of Employees: 21
Platforms supported: Windows 3.1, 3.11,Windows 95, Windows 98 or Windows NT
Min. system rqmts.: 486-33Mhz PC or greater, 16 MB Ram, Minimum 20 MB hard drive disk space available
Simultaneous users: MeetingPro for Windows is available in a single and multi-user version of up to 50+ users Installed base: over 2,300 installations
Support: Annual support agreement (not required: $500/year standalone, 4 user $950/year) includes unlimited toll-free support, fax-back technical notes, web site
Cost: Single $3995 (software, support and training for 1 year),$1,000 per additional user up to 10 and then site license.
Peopleware is generally similar to MeetingTrak in terms of functionality and features. In examining the program it looks very strong in the accounting portion. This includes the ability to handle very complex registration and split revenues, refunds, etc. typical for many associations. Also, there are high marks for the help desk support (toll-free help desk), customer support, and a strong commitment to training.
The database engine is FoxPro which is faster than Access but is considered by some a "dead" database language and without regular upgrades compared to the market-dominating Microsoft Access. The plus side is that, as it is compiled and somewhat more efficient, it tends to be faster and can handle more simultaneous users.
Software Name: Event Planner Plus
Company Name: Certain Software
Type of Software: Meeting planning software for medium and small events primarily limited to one event and one day
Features: task list, badges, confirmation letters, attendee lists, room diagramming, accounting, budgets, 25 customizable reports
Sales Contact: Ted Arbuckle, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer
Address: One Daniel Burnham Court, Suite 330C, San Francisco, CA 94109-5460
Phone: 888-237-8246, 415.353.5330, Fax: 415.353.5335
Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Web address: www.certain.com
Year established: 1994 -- Introduced Event Planner Plus in 1998
Number of Employees: 5 employees
Platforms supported: PC, Windows 3.1+
Min. system rqmts.: 486 PC, 8MB Ram, 25 MB disk space
Simultaneous users: 1
Support: toll-free line, 1-888- CERTAIN, from 6 AM to 6 PM Pacific Time, seven days a week, major U.S. holidays excluded, web: www.certain.com/techsupport.htm, email: email@example.com
For the cost, Event Planner Plus has amazing functionality and provides features (such as room diagramming) that software packages costing 10 times more do not. It is easy to set-up and use. It includes task scheduling, 25 different report formats, to-do lists, seating assignment, room diagramming, nametag and place card printing, accounting, vendor tracking and budgeting.
There are three limitations: 1. It is intended for a single user only, 2. It is designed for a single day, single event meeting, and 3. It is built on the almost obsolete 16-bit Windows 3.1 and Access database architecture Future plans are to roll out a 32-bit, network-ready, multi-day, multi-event version. Certain Software is off to a good start with this product -- the upgrade will allow larger groups to take advantage of the many well designed features.
Software Name: Complete Event Manager 5.5
Company Name: EKEBA International
Type of Software: Meeting planning software suite
Sales Contact: Jackie (ordering department)
Address: POB 15131, Columbus OH 43215-0131
Phone/Fax: 800-847-4561, (Questions and Inquiries: 614-459-7178), 614-459-7178, fax: 614-457-1301
Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Web address: www.ekeba.com
Year established: 1990
Number of Employees: 6
Platforms supported: Windows 95/98/NT, and Novell NetWare
Min. system rqmts.: Window 95/98; NT, 8+MB; 16+; 32+ MB highly suggested), 15MB storage
Support: Free email tech support
Cost: $195.95 for single user, $495.95 for a Web-enabled version.
This software is and interesting low-budget entry into the market-- one that would be in the price range of many independent planners. The web site lists many clients including the U.S. Olympic Committee and Cisco Systems. The program has numerous features, but will take some practice in learning it (some of the key strokes and layout are not the most intuitive). That being said, the data fields are customizable -- be sure to do this at the start. The software has many features such as: event tracking, concurrent sessions, certificates, CEU management, exposition/table assignments, lodging/room mate preferences, speaker travel, invoice/budget tracking, financial reports, cancellation fees, menu planner, mail merge, labels, name badges, tents, batch reports, 300 built-in reports, attendee history, task list and volunteer/speaker/staff coordination. The major support is via on-line tutorials and email --- there is no help desk where you can readily talk to someone. I did find the email support desk responsive, however, usually receiving replies within 4 to 8 hours. I had difficulty with the set-up the program -- it took several email messages and a phone call to get it fixed, but, once running, is performs in a stable manner.
It can import registration data to and from Access and other databases. The staff at EKEBA will perform database conversion for free, but, once done, this voids the money-back guarantee.
Software Name: Gold 2.0
Company Name: ISIS Corporation
Type of Software: Full service meeting planning and travel management software for large corporations
Sales Contact: Jay Reilly, Director of Marketing
Address: 169 Ramapo Valley Road, Oakland NJ 07436
Phone: (201) 337-8115 and (800) 474-7099
Contact Email: email@example.com
Web address: www.isisgold.com
Year established: 1988
Number of Employees: 80
Platforms supported: Win98/NT/98, Novel or NT Severs
Min. system rqmts.: Pentium 90 16megs RAM, (P-120/32 preferred)
Simultaneous users: 12
Largest group handled: 5,000 person meetings, 500 events per year
Support: 800 toll free support (Monday through Friday 7:30-6:30 Eastern Time)
Cost: $12,000 site license (with 1 year warranty), Travel module: $8,000
ISIS Corporation's Gold 2.0 handles corporate meetings and is especially strong in travel management. It is one of the few programs on the market that offers full integration with airline CRS systems. Other travel features include full hotel departure/arrival management and multiple hotel inventory management. It contains 200 built-in reports including net change lists for travel, hotels, registration, and badges and the ability to create your own. The online registration module is robust automatically checking for duplicates in name and company before downloading into the database. The program also tracks ROI with budgeting features for list prices, discount and negotiated rates. Finally, ISIS offers meeting management support for your larger meetings -- you use the software in-house for your smaller meetings and have a ISIS staff using the same software help with data entry for your larger ones.
Software Name: Meeting Matrix V 5.0
Company Name: SCLM Software
Type of Software: Room Diagramming Software
Sales Contact: Toni Stroud - Technical Sales Director
Address: 6 Main Street, Stewartstown PA 17363
Phone/Fax: (410)451-1107 fax: (717)993-5395
Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Web address: www.meetingmatrix.com
Year established: 1988
Number of Employees: 25
Installed based: 3,400 sites in 50 countries
Platforms supported: Windows 95 or higher
Min. system rqmts.: IBM Compatible, Meeting Matrix requires 16 MB RAM -- at least 4 megabytes of hard disk space should be available.
Simultaneous users: Network version available for 10 concurrent users or more, Will work on a network
Annual maintenance package that includes help desk support ($200-350 including unlimited calls and all version upgrades during that period) Updates available at web site. 8:30-6:30 Eastern Time, Monday through Friday Training: show up onsite with laptop with installation, and do 8 hours training
Cost: Silver: free (can be used with existing floor plans from about from the Web).
Silver Plus: $295 simple length and width plus diagrams from the web
Platinum Plus: $2,225 full package and installation single version (with 8 hours of training - plus travel expenses)
Software only: $1395 (does not include annual maintenance -- $350)
Additional users -- full package: $1075 per user for the software
Software only: $795 (not including maintenance)
I have used this product from its early DOS days, and cannot imagine running a large meeting without it. Only by diagramming the space do you know exactly what you will get in terms of capacities and layout. The new Win95 version is a significant improvement in ease of use. However, to get new users up to speed quickly, the training package is recommended. I especially like the option of being able to download floor plans from the hotel sites -- generating the floor plans is the most time consuming part of using any room diagramming product. More than 250 properties are online and 3 are added each week -- the dimensions guaranteed accurate to 1/4 of an inch! This basic Silver edition (usable only with participating hotels) is free, but if you are doing lots of meetings, the Platinum version is very worth while. This product is used by Marriott, Sheraton, Hyatt, Ritz Carlton, and Renaissance hotel corporations and interfaces with Delphi, one of the major hotel meeting space management software programs. This product is also an Alliance partner with MPI and PlanSoft.
Major competitors are: Optimum Settings (www.optimumsettings.com) and Room Viewer (www.timesaver.com). An advantage of Meeting Matrix is that it uses vector-based graphics rather than being bitmapped, which makes the diagrams more easily scalable (zoomable).
Software Name: Expocad Version 6.8
Company Name: ACT (Applied Computer Technology) Inc.
Type of Software: Exhibit floor plan and exhibit management software
Sales Contact: Susie Dierzen
Address: 69 S. LaSalle Street Aurora, Illinois 60505
Phone/Fax: 630-896-2281 Phone - (630) 896-2281 Fax - (630) 859-7576
Contact Email: Sales@expocad.com
Web address: www.expocad.com
Year established: 1986
Number of Employees: 14
Installed base: 750 trade and consumer show -- 1/2 billion dollars in floor space being managed annually
Platforms supported: Win 95 and up
Min. system rqmts.: Pentium or better, 8mb RAM, 8mb disk space
Simultaneous users: up to 10 users
Largest group handled: unlimited data fields
Support: Tech@expocad.com, Help desk, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Central Time, non-toll free number, Monthly training classes in Aurora, IL
Cost: Sold as single user license, First license $2,995 single user (2 days of training and year of phone support -- on site training and travel reimbursement), Multiple licenses: starting at a 30% discount and increasing with more licenses
This tool will allow you to automate your exhibitor management and exhibition floor plan drawing tasks. It is compatible with AutoCAD -- the standard tool for facility blueprints and decorators, so that the intricate existing floor plan of many large halls and convention centers can be used to start to layout the space. However, it is easier to use than AutoCAD and the booth layout portion is remarkably easy and configurable. The end result is camera-ready artwork for the exhibition guide, for faxing from your desktop or, using another Expocad product, Expocad VR, to post to your Web page.
This program also automates the exhibitor space assignment with options to assign by hall category, product line, point systems, or other priority system. The new version (a free upgrade for current 6.7 users) will expand the contact management section and can be imported/exported to other databases or accounting systems. 200 built-in reports are included including space availability, payments status, potential competitors, to name a few.
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