Technology meets the meetings industry.
Whether you're the chief executive officer of a large association with meeting planners on staff or the do- it-all-yourself CEO of a small association, you can take advantage of a new set of planning tools for efficient meeting planning. PlanSoft, a meetings technology company located in Twinsburg, Ohio, and its industry partners have developed a two-part means of increasing the efficiency of the meeting planning process. The goal: Provide standardized, powerful, easy-to-use, technology-based solutions for the meetings industry. The realization: The PlanSoft Network and Ajenis meeting planning software - outcomes of an industry collaboration including ASAE, Meeting Professionals International, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, ITT Sheraton Hotels and Resorts, and Marriott International.
According to PlanSoft President Ed Tromczynski, the network and the software were created to help planners, facilities, and suppliers "streamline the sharing of information, reduce the amount of time devoted to managing event logistics, and increase productivity.
"The PlanSoft Network is used for searching for sites and suppliers and sending the first round of communication - such as the request for proposal," says Tromczynski. "However it's important to note that regardless of whether planners use the network for the initial site selection, they can use Ajenis to handle all details of the planning process."
The PlanSoft Network
Meeting planning can be a drawn-out, tedious process taking several years to complete. The paperwork associated with the process can bog down even the most organized meetings professional. The PlanSoft Network (www.plansoft.com), however, allows planners to complete the preliminary steps of the meeting planning process online. To take full advantage of the site's benefits, complete the simple membership form because parts of the site are only available to members. (Membership is free to meetings professionals.)
Following is a guide to what you can do online.
Conduct research. A robust search engine allows you to search for the destination or facility of your choice from PlanSoft's extensive database of 4,200 facilities. Enter search criteria such as the type of facility (hotel, convention center, etc.), the minimum number of guest rooms, or the minimum square footage you need for meeting rooms or dedicated exhibit space. based on your criteria, the database returns a list of appropriate sites. Too many sites to choose from? Narrow your search further by selecting a specific geographic region or facility chain.
Want to host a meeting at a destination with a specific average temperature during your selected month? Conduct a "Power Search." For example, a search for Southwestern facilities located where the average high temperature is less than 80 degrees in August returned 315 records.
Once your selection list is manageable, the database can provide additional information on your site choices. For example, a search for Northeastern resort hotels with a minimum of 400 guest rooms yielded 15 entries in a listing of the facility's name, location, number of guest rooms, and so forth. Need more information? Point and click to find out contact information, distance from area airports, and meeting room dimensions. You can also view local weather information.
Electronically submit a request for proposals. After you've completed your research and narrowed your choices to a handful of facilities, it's time to prepare an RFP. No need to log off the Internet and switch to your word processing program; the PlanSoft Network has an RFP form ready to accept your meeting specifications. The five-page document has space for information about your organization, including conference history reports; your meeting specifications, including dates, room blocks, and any additional requirements; and a link to the search engine to help you select the facilities you want to receive your RFP.
Locate vendors. Perhaps your needs lean more toward vendors than facilities. No problem - the network's organizations database may help. Searchable by key words, organization type, or location, the database can help you locate vendors such as audiovisual companies, cruise lines, or computer technology suppliers in the United States and internationally.
Other helpful network search engines include:
* Contacts. This is a database of the key contacts for the facilities, suppliers, and organizations listed on the network. Search on a person's name, title, organization, or facility, and get back their phone and fax numbers and their mail, e-mail, and Web addresses.
* Conferences. Locate upcoming meetings industry and technology events where you can keep current, hear about new developments, and meet with industry players. Search by conference name, organization, city, or date. If available, links to conference Web sites are provided for more information.
* Publications. Search for major industry publications by publication name or publisher. Records yield information on frequency, subscription costs, and sales and marketing contacts.
With your research complete and RFP answered through the PlanSoft Network, it's time for the second part of PlanSoft's meeting planning equation, Ajenis. Retailing for just under $500, Ajenis, a meeting planning software, aims to automate meeting planning by allowing planners and facilities, or other suppliers, to assemble and communicate meeting details electronically. For the best results, both the meeting planner and the facility or supplier should have Ajenis. However, meeting professionals can use the software to plan their conferences, print out the information, and send it to suppliers through traditional means such as mail or fax. Although the electronic sharing of information is missing from the latter option, meeting planners would still have an electronic version of their meeting details.
Ted Maringer, a recent addition to the PlanSoft team as a technology instructor, has experience on both the planner and hotel sides of the meetings business. He says Ajenis represents a systematic way to build a conference. "I came here to do the training because [as a former planner] I see Ajenis as being a very efficient way to create a conference," Maringer says. In addition, it's not a difficult software package to learn. "I learned it in about three days. It's like any other software; you have to use it to understand it." Users who are computer literate and used to a Windows environment should have no problem, Maringer adds.
Here's a glimpse at how the software can help you plan meetings more efficiently.
Send information. Through your RFP on the network, you've identified the facility that meets your needs. The contract has been signed and now you're ready to start the planning process. Stop. Don't open your word processing program, don't put a stamp on an envelope, don't turn on the fax machine. Instead open Ajenis. Through Ajenis you can send information to your facility electronically. A few clicks get you to a template where you can enter details about your organization including the names, phone numbers, and addresses of any people working on the meeting. A connect and exchange function sends the information to your facility via the Internet.
Receive information. Your facility can also forward information to you via the Internet. Instead of sending their sales kits or meeting planner kits through traditional means such as mail or fax, facilities can use Ajenis to relay the information you need to start planning your meeting, including food and beverage lists, audiovisual lists, and equipment lists.
Start planning. Different templates and pull-down menus allow you to "drag and drop" the specifics of your meeting. Add the basics - the name of your meeting, the dates, how many will be attending - to an updatable conference record. As more planning decisions are made, freely revise your conference record with such information as breakout rooms required, equipment needed, or additional items and instructions. But remember, periodically send your updates to your facility through the connect and exchange function.
Get confirmation. After reviewing updates to your conference, events, items, instructions, and so forth, the facility will be able to confirm each request electronically.
Retrieve event history. Each new entry, change, or deletion made to the conference record is easily traceable. An electronic trail shows who made changes or entries and when. In addition, the software tracks when the updated record was sent to the facility and who at the facility confirmed changes.
Generate reports. Need to find out who ordered the coffee for the morning session or who approved the room change for the afternoon breakout session? Print out a confirmation report. In addition, users can produce a total conference report specifying all event details, including contact information, breakout sessions, and equipment requested.
If you think this two-part solution may be the answer for an improved meeting planning process at your association, there is no need to dawdle. The PlanSoft Network and Ajenis are available now. Check out the sidebar "Getting Started" to find out what you need to move your meeting planning process into the 21st century. Also check out the "What's Coming Up" sidebar to discover what future improvements are planned for the PlanSoft Network and for the Ajenis software package.
All you need to get started on your way to more effective meeting planning is access to the Internet. To access the PlanSoft Network (www.plansoft.com), PlanSoft recommends Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0. However, Explorer 3.0 and Netscape 3.0 and 4.0 are also supported.
To run Ajenis, the hardware specifications are a little more explicit. You should have
* Microsoft Windows 95/NT 4.0;
* Pentium 133-Mhz processor;
* 32MB RAM;
* 200MB minimum of available hard drive space;
* SVGA video card with at least 1MB RAM;
* 28.8 kbps modem; and
* Internet access.
Of course, a faster processor and more RAM will lead to better performance.
For more information on what you need to get started or any other information on the PlanSoft Network or Ajenis, please contact PlanSoft at (330) 405-5555. Or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
What's Coming Up
PlanSoft Network. Look for improved search criteria, such as facility and supplier ratings, to be coming down the pike for the PlanSoft Network. In the future, for example, planners will be able to conduct a search for all facilities with at least 500 guest rooms, that have vacancies in September, and that have received the J. D. Power Customer Satisfaction Award.
Ajenis. Although Ajenis is in the final stages of development and the early stages of implementation, features are still being added. Future versions of the software will include a comprehensive budgeting module, user-definable reporting options, and a series of conference-building "Wizards."
To keep abreast of new developments, visit the PlanSoft Network online, www.plansoft.com.
LaRonda R. Miller is editorial assistant for Association Management.
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|Title Annotation:||includes related articles on how to use the planning software and its upcoming developments; PlanSoft's Plansoft Network and Ajenis meeting planning software|
|Author:||Miller, LaRonda R.|
|Date:||Aug 1, 1998|
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