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Caveat Emptor: Meeting Maker

The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) has been using Meeting Maker from On Technology <[email protected]> for the last three years as its agency-wide scheduling system. Although we have a love/hate relationship with this product, it has clearly changed the way ARPA does business. These days, if a meeting doesn’t exist on Meeting Maker, the meeting doesn’t exist.

Unfortunately, Meeting Maker has a small problem with its database. The product was designed using a fairly unreliable database technology, which tends to occasionally "lose" the database links between elements. When this happens, the only action that the customer can take is to delete the account that owns the bad information.

At the beginning of January, we attempted to do our quarterly purge of the database and discovered we had several accounts that contained bad records. One of these accounts is the Director of ARPA, and we really wanted to avoid deleting his account.

Now we would have gone ahead and deleted his account, getting a lot of egg on our faces, except that On Technology knows how to "reattach" the data record. Kelly Martin, their lead technical person, knows how to go into the database and remove the offending record, without requiring the deletion of the entire account. We found it interesting that she is the only person at On Technology who knows how to perform this delicate task (she didn’t respond to our inquiry of what happens to On Technology if she gets hit by a bus).

You would think, "Aha! There is a solution! We get the database fixed, and life goes on." No such luck. Since ARPA is a Department of Defense agency, and this service is used by everyone in the agency, the data in the database is sensitive information, and there are federal regulations governing it. The bottom line is that it can’t leave the building. However, On Technology "provides phone and electronic support for their package only." They offered to fix the error if we would send the database to them electronically.

This put us in a real dilemma. We don’t want to delete the Director’s account, but the only way to avoid it is to send the database to the vendor, which we are not allowed to do, due to federal regulations. We spent all of January trying to find a way to resolve this situation. We offered to pay to fly Kelly Martin down and fix the database. We offered to fly one of our people up to learn how to fix it. We even considered hiring her. After a month of telephone tag, requests, cajoling, and pleading, On Technology gave us their official position, that they "provide phone and electronic support for their package only." We continued to try and get them to stand behind their product. In the latest attempt, our Director of MIS tried to contact the President of On Technology, Chris Risley. He refused to take the call, or to return the call.

Finally, on February 13th (poetic, eh?), our Meeting Maker servers themselves resolved the situation for us. They crashed and refused to come back up. Our only option was to delete the accounts, and restart the system. Meeting Maker did come back online, and we have had the distinct pleasure of explaining to the ARPA front office why the Director’s account had to be deleted when it wasn’t necessary. Needless to say, the search has begun for a replacement for Meeting Maker, and products from On Technology will not be considered.

For those of you considering Meeting Maker XP, it is our understanding that this problem has not been fixed in the new release, and unfortunately, On Technology’s support policies have remained equally unchanged.

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