March 01, 1998
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio March 1998 Current Issue
March 1998 Net GainsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Net Gains


What Are We Waiting For?

Solutions to your technology troubles are coming soon

Jeff Rasco: As I was scurrying across an airport recently, with about 200 pounds of laptop dragging my right shoulder down to knee level, the idea for this column came to me in a flash. It may have been a flash of pain rather than genius, but it comes to this: If we could put the resources to it, what innovations in technology would we want for the meetings industry?

Let's fix my shoulder problem first. Hardware has certainly become smaller, cheaper and faster, but it could sure be a lot lighter. Putting batteries on a diet would help. While we're at it, batteries should fully charge in a few minutes, last all day and never go bad. Better yet: If airlines had power sources at every seat, we could just leave the batteries home.

Once we've lugged the computer case to the hotel room, a new set of problems arises. Hotels are taking some initiatives toward having dataports and electrical outlets handier, and some are even bringing direct connections to the Internet into their sleeping rooms. To log on and check messages, I have to find the local access number and figure out how to dial out from this particular hotel. Once in, chances are my connection is much slower than what my modem can handle. Imagine plugging in your computer and simply telling it, "I'm in Houston at the Hyatt Regency, connect at no less than 1 megabit per second, please."

This scenario is actually pretty close to becoming reality. Voice recognition tools are just waiting for more powerful computers to come along in order to become affordable for the road warrior. The current laptops are almost twice as fast as the top-of-the-line unit I purchased nine months ago, and predictions are for a 500 MHz chip soon. Connection speeds are sure to increase this year, as well. Compaq, Intel, Microsoft, GTE and a few of the regional Bells recently announced an alliance to bring DSL (digital subscriber lines) to the masses. This technology uses existing phone cable to provide connection speeds of 1.5 megabits per second, or about 30 times faster than today's best modems. Expectations are that we will be buying DSL modems before the end of the year, at prices comparable to a 56K modem today. Phone charges will be about $50 per month.

On the meetings software side, we need better data sharing. Over the past few weeks, I've been in discussions to find a way for CRS systems to converse with meeting management software -- just one database talking to another. The fix doesn't seem to exist. The need for it is a no-brainer.

How many times have you received a document attached to an e-mail, and if you could open it at all, the formatting had been destroyed? Your computer should recognize the incoming file and convert it instantly to your software. Also, as a former Macintosh user, I've been continuously frustrated by the incompatibility between that operating system and PCs'. I'm waiting for the first Web-based meeting management program offering not only online registration and communications, but also the demise of compatibility problems.

Great minds are working on the solutions to these problems, and much of the necessary technology is available if we know where to look (and have deep enough pockets).

Rod Marymor: Technology is useless unless it can be applied as a solution to a problem, and the more specific the problem, the better the solution can be. The first issue is to use our heads to identify what the problems are and what challenges need to be overcome. Jeff has done a good job of defining a few frustrations, but there are many more. Maybe you need more time to get the job done. Perhaps accuracy needs to improve. What if the site inspection budget has been deleted, but there was never enough time to do them anyway? Countless problems are inherent to the planning process. Identify them, then seek solutions.

A good place to start might be with your information technology (a.k.a. computer) department. Explain what you need to do and how it fits into your overall process. If you don't get much more than a blank stare, seek your solution elsewhere. Go to a specialist who can tweak your database, connect it to an online registration module that you can update yourself or provide whatever you need. Find a team member who understands your process and can come up with solutions that make sense for you, rather than cents for them.

You've already done the hard part -- you've identified the problem. Challenge yourself and the technology providers and gurus. The technology to give you a near-perfect solution probably already exists; it's really up to you to find it.

Rodman Marymor, CMP, and Jeffrey Rasco, CMP, are partners in San Francisco and Austin, Texas-based HMR Associates, providing technology solutions for the meetings industry.

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