Special Events

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: SOFTWARE AWARE

THERE'S NO ESCAPING IT: Business software has become a necessity for event industry professionals. And the good news is that new advancements and upgrades to existing products have made event software easier to use and more powerful than ever before.

TRY, THEN BUY

Software companies agree: Before investing in any event software, potential clients need to do some serious research.

“Evaluate your organization's needs, then research all the software vendors possible,” says Steve Milcik, business development manager for Montreal-based Orion Software (www.orion-soft.com). “Make sure you understand the impact — financially, operationally and in terms of time — on your business.”

His company goes out of its way to allow potential clients to try Sirius Rental Software, which has some 800 users — including those in the event planning and party rental markets — and is available in English, French and Spanish. “We want to make this part of the process as easy as possible, so a client may visit our Web site and download a demo, without any questions asked,” Milcik says. The company also offers an hour-long online demo that highlights key features of Sirius and allows potential clients to receive answers to questions specific to their business. Those with slower Internet connections can call and have a demo CD shipped to them the same day.

Jack Shea, president of Springfield, Mass.-based Solutions by Computer (www.solutionsbycomputer.com), notes, “It's important to have the vendor demonstrate the full capabilities of the system as it would be used in your business, including unusual situations.” He recommends that potential users “construct a complex transaction with all of the special requirements [they] can think of, and have the vendor demonstrate how each requirement would be met by the system.” His company does that by providing a turnkey system, including hardware and software, database creation, installation and thorough training, as well as on-going customer support and regional user meetings.

According to Shea, the company's popular CounterPro system sets itself apart through its speed and ease of use in handling customer transactions, requiring just a few keystrokes to access customer and inventory information. It is used by 2,300 rental companies in a number of industries including party rental, event planning and audiovisual; its functions include keeping track of inventory, calculating and printing invoices, and reporting profitability of resale inventory.

GET AHEAD

Customers who already use event software can still benefit from new advancements in the field.

Designed for small to medium businesses with a modest budget, Summit Event Manager Pro is the most popular product available from Port Melbourne, Australia-based MIE Software (www.miesoftware.com) and is used by some 1,500 customers — ranging from professional conference organizers to meeting managers to the special event departments of corporations and organizations — in 42 countries around the world. The software is simple to use, with fewer than 20 percent of clients requesting training as they find the software and documentation are all they need, notes company director John Clingeleffer. The software — which can be used to register event attendees and exhibitors, manage event budgets, create profit and loss statements, and interface with the Internet for online registration — also has a self-updating feature built in that allows the company to provide software fixes and updates to clients anywhere in the world within 12 hours.

At Naples, Fla.-based Caterease Software (www.caterease.com), the annual maintenance agreement for customers includes unlimited help desk and tech support, as well as no-cost product upgrades over the course of the year. Caterease is used by 2,600 clients, including independent caterers, restaurants and hotels, and is available in different versions based upon the size of the client's operation. The software boasts the ability to book new events and edit existing ones, quickly change items and pricing, and customize the professionally designed printed materials and reports, says sales manager Tom Jewell.

FUTURE COSTS

In the future, Jewell foresees “advancements in online storefronts,” as well as in vendor tracking and control. He adds that the company will debut a new version of Caterease this year.

Meanwhile, “I see an increasing use of Internet registrations,” says Clingeleffer. To accommodate this, his company will release new versions of its event management software later this year, “with tighter integration with our automated Web registration process.”

He also warns that potential users must always think ahead: “Make sure that you know up front what the lifetime cost of the software package will be — the need for additional hardware or software, the annual support costs, the costs involved in doing Internet registrations,” he says. “If you don't know the answers to [these questions] up front, or the vendor is unwilling to state them all in writing, you could be in for a very unpleasant surprise.”




RESOURCES

Caterease Software, 800/863-1616; MIE Software, +613 9645 1077; Orion Software, 877/755-2012; Solutions by Computer, 800/950-2221

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