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Until this year, the committee meeting to select the program for the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition could take up to two days to complete. Some committee members commuted two or three additional days, just to get to the meeting. Last year, the committee whittled the time down to a couple of hours, but there was still the extraordinary expense of time and money just to get to the meeting. That was then.
This year, the 20+ member program selection committee set a record of under one hour to finalize the program for the 2009 ATCE in New Orleans, 4-7 October. And no one went anywhere.
On Monday 9 March, ATCE Program Chairperson Ian Ball, Reliance Industries Inc., assembled his committee for the final decisions on the 300+ technical paper program for ATCE — the Society’s flagship conference and exhibition. Ball was in Mumbai, India; the rest of the committee members were at their desks or calling in from home in Europe, North and South America, the Middle East, and the Far East to the first-ever “virtual” program selection meeting.
“Things went very well,” according to Ball. “It was a very successful committee meeting. Given the global situation, meeting virtually was the perfect solution.”
The perfect solution started at the close of the 2008 ATCE in Denver when the committee met face-to-face for the first and only time to discuss issues and strategies for putting together an outstanding technical program. After that, conference calls and emails moved the process along from the solicitation and review of some 1,285 abstracts through to the selection and ordering of the presentations and sessions.
“We had a couple of dropped calls that we recovered quickly,” said Dena Freeman, SPE IT systems analyst, who monitored the phone lines and the online meeting site, which displayed the session grid and other vital information. “With 20 people calling in to one meeting on all kinds of land-line and satellite systems, we were very pleased that everyone could hear and speak.”
“Much of the credit goes to the SPE staff, particularly to the conference programming and IT departments,” said Ball. “They managed this whole process very well.”
Cindy Madding, SPE conference papers administrator, said the idea of a virtual selection meeting began with last years’ program chairperson Stuart Ferguson. “As we went along working with each of the subcommittees,” said Madding, “it became apparent that we really could accomplish everything through our online paper-management system, a couple of conference calls, and an Internet-based white board. Our investment in IT certainly has paid off.”
The meeting, which began about 13:15 GMT, ended at 14:00 GMT when everyone hung up. And no one rushed to the airport to catch a plane home.