Event technology plays a major role in the way we plan and organize our events today. According to the below infographic, which takes a close look at the impact of technology on the success of events in 2016, a huge 75% of event professionals are expected to buy apps to facilitate engagement with their audience. Many companies have also stepped up their live streaming activities to reach a larger audience and stand out from the competition. Social media, which offers companies powerful opportunities to promote event awareness or create a new information channel, remains another top favourite.

Of course all of this introduces potential complexity which requires detailed knowledge and planning across a broad spectrum of technology. With the summer season of events already ramping up fast it is critical that organisers plan well in advance and work with the right experienced people to ensure all the different aspects are integrated into a realistic and workable solution. Last minute panics on-site are not desirable and generally push up costs, a well planned, integrated approach is much better!

Source: http://www.losberger.co.uk/

Event Technology: Will This Define Success in 2016?

Having been around hotels and catering all my life it never ceases to amaze me how good they are at making delivery of massive functions in one room and dinner for hundreds of residents in another look so calm and collected. It’s what hotels are great at. Many have established suppliers who help with the details like laundry, additional staff who they trust to use their experience to bring a better customer experience. We are now reaching the point where a technology partner is just as important.

We asked for some research to be completed which helps highlight the challenge hotels are facing – over 81% of the hotels asked in the phone survey were unable to explain what kind of internet access they had for functions. Imagine that all-important agent exploring venues for their 3 year sales conference for whom high quality internet access for webcasting and the launch of the new cloud based platform are critically important, only to be frustrated at the first turn?

When asked further many of the venues which did know something about their connectivity listed it as ‘high speed’ or that ‘it’s been fast enough in the past’ both of which will cause any IT internal stakeholder to develop a look of panic when the production partner reports back.

Hotel Reception

Hotels dealing with technical enquiries need a partner they can rely on. Image courtesy of Google.

Demand for IT service has progressed from basic Wi-Fi in hotel rooms and conference facilities to specific needs which need to be addressed—if the customer is looking for their CEO to walk through the latest sales projections online with the board or video-conference with the MD of their European operations (who is reducing her carbon footprint by not flying as much and as a result also seeing her family more) the customer needs to be confident your systems can deliver.

None of these enquiries need be scary, but they do need to be engaged. The best way is to have a partner on hand who can educate the in house M&E team for the basics and then help when things get more complicated.

Our Preferred Partner Program is now starting to gain traction; forward thinking venues are looking at the best investment options to differentiate themselves from others and are prepared for the questions when they are asked from that prospective, tech dependent customer.

Since our last Gathering at Somerset House at the beginning of the year we have been keen to bring together a group of experts and corporate event organisers to discuss the latest experiences (good or bad) with technology at events.

This led to the Breakfast Event Technology Form which was held at the Guoman Cumberland Hotel with a group of 25 select attendees sitting discussing some key industry topics over a bacon role and cups of tea. We captured some brief notes from the discussions and links to the tools shown below. To keep the discussion about technology in events going we aim to keep the twitter hashtag #eventtechforum

Venue expectations:

  • A key element is appreciating the requirements from the customer. Why do they need the internet? Just basic email and web browsing? Cloud content sharing? Or streaming video? All these questions will drive the requirement with the venue.
  • A pre survey with relevant testing hardware (with the same laptops which will be used if possible) to see what the Wi-Fi signal is like and how fast the internet is.
  • Agree terms with the venue which specify what performance you need per device connected
  • Discuss what happens if something breaks, if it’s critical to your event would you want an engineer to attend?
  • Use cable drops for those who require service for demonstrations to reduce the risks. This should be part of the booking contract.
  • If required bring in an expert (in house IT teams or companies such as Etherlive) to give some advice on how to improve the onsite facilities if you need to. If budgets are tight look at the entire budget based on how important the internet services are

Etherlive Breakfast Event Technology Forum

Avoid getting bitten by IT

  • Many organisers get caught in the same trap – lack of understanding about what the event is trying to achieve, and thus fail to set appropriate expectations for services.
  • Ensure you have resource to hand should you need ‘IT’ type support. If budgets don’t allow perhaps one of the in house IT team may be able to support, or perhaps bring in an engineer just for the morning or during the critical presentation.
  • Spend time identifying key points of failure and plan for a redundancy. Just like any risk at an event this should be presented to the customer with options of what can be done to mitigate.
  • Be aware that some devices (laptops, smartphones) will work differently with Wi-Fi due to the quality of design and parts. Interference (such as human bodies and other radio based systems) may also impact Wi-Fi service.

Budgeting

  • Many events do not set a specific budget line item for technology services, however, many now think this should be a mandatory line item even if the Wi-Fi services are included within the day delegate rate
  • A good partner will be able to explain their pricing to organisers. If they can’t it may be overly complicated or at worse not considered. Technology can be complicated but the basic principles are simple to explain and present
  • Generally the elements that drive cost the most are connectivity and resource. Connectivity generally gets more expensive the later it is booked. Resource costs can often be optimised with setting up on the same day (perhaps avoiding accommodation etc.)

Innovation panel

  • Use social media to engage audiences and encourage those not in the room to join in furthering the events exposure and inclusiveness
  • Apps deliver content in a very set environment but other options, such as customised websites, can deliver similar content with reduced budgets. Consider what will happen to the content the delegate is looking at if connectivity is lost.
  • Free cloud services such as Google Documents can be used to share content including spread sheets, documents etc. allowing multiple editing, different rights and version tracking

Tools

 

In summary a fantastic day to network, meet new contacts and learn. We hope to run similar sessions again in the New Year for others who could not attend this time.

 

(l-r) WOMAD Festival Director Chris Smith discusses mobile coverage with O2’s Richard Owens, Etherlive’s Chris Green and Paul Pike from IVS

It’s been such a busy November that it’s only now that I have a had a chance to reflect on the Autumn Gathering. The day was split into two sessions with the morning focused on corporate events and conferences, and the afternoon structured around outdoor events and festivals. Below are some very brief notes covering a few of the topics discussed.

Connectivity & IT Support in Hotels & Venues

For conferences and product launches the IT needs are now typically a lot more than ‘a bit of Wi-Fi’. Quality Wi-Fi with appropriate capacity, dedicated streaming bandwidth, hook-ups for varying accreditation type systems and on-site technical support to deal with VPNs, bandwidth management and media support are all key aspects.

A concern raised by several attendees was the often inconsistent quality of connectivity in venues and their knowledge of how it works. This is an area we have been partnering with several venues on to deliver enhanced connectivity and the level of technical support that a conference or launch now needs. We have several case studies showing the cost of installing higher bandwidth and more robust infrastructure is rapidly recouped through increased revenue, this is particularly important for London venues hosting events in 2012. We are actively working with several groups to drive a better approach to conference & venue Wi-Fi, it is a more complex area though than it may look requiring extensive knowledge of how to deliver high density environments with the right equipment.

Information Security

Data security was a hot topic for corporate conferences, especially when people realised how insecure the often used short, simple passphrase approach is on Wi-Fi networks. The good news is that it’s an easy one to fix with a more complex passphrase or ideally a system which uses individual user names and passwords and enhanced encryption. Avoiding the use of the event or company name as the SSID/network name (or hiding it altogether) was also discussed as a way of avoiding unwanted attention.

It should now be the norm that networks are segregated into organiser, attendee, etc. and approaches such as client isolation are used to avoid unintentional sharing of information between connected users. A simple plain English guide to aspects such as the use of Https (secure websites), VPNs, encryption & authentication, solving typical problems with email when on a different network etc, was deemed a useful addition to the organisers toolkit and something that we are looking at producing.

Social Media

Social media split the room in two – those running internal conferences who were often frustrated that their IT department refused to sanction use of social media and those running product launches who used social media to the max. Lots was covered in this area, some of the key points were:

  • Social media like any channel requires a strategy
  • It takes time (1 hour per day was muted by several), you get out what you put in
  • Needs structure and tools (hash tags, TweetReach, Yazmo Live, Socialoomph, Thinkwall and hootsuite all came up)
  • Use live twitter feeds to ask questions to panel members and break down any barriers. Control and nurture back channels.
  • Schedule general content releases prior to the event so you can concentrate on the here and now tweets and comms during the live period. Have a calendar of teasers to pull people into the event.
  • Use of video is coming to the forefront and a general agreement that even low cost footage taken on a smart phone can achieve good results if it manages to capture a moment or a different angle.
  • It requires a working infrastructure at the event to be successful!

Smartphone Apps

This session started with a discussion on the hype around apps and comments that this was coming to an end with people now having to really question why they need an app and understand what the purpose is, with agreement that often a poor app can be more damaging than no app at all!

From there the discussion moved into ‘native apps’ versus ‘web apps’, like with many things there is no straight forward answer but there are some key differentiators:

  • Native apps can be designed to work without connectivity, with web apps this is nearly impossible
  • Web apps can be made cross-platform more easily and cost effectively
  • Web apps are on the whole easier to maintain
  • Native apps are more feature rich and can utilise more smartphone functionality (and hence look more slick)

Alongside this there were common operational aspects:

  • If you promote an app then the infrastructure needs to be able to support it
  • Content needs to be managed before and during the event. And afterwards if you want to maintain usage.
  • If the app is provided by someone else it will still be associated with your event so the quality is important

Mobile Phone Service

We’ve all been at events and got frustrated that the mobile phone service has collapsed under the sheer weight of users so not surprisingly this was a hotly discussed topic. Richard Owens from O2 did a great job in sharing examples of the scale of the challenges and explaining what O2 have been doing to try and address the problem. One great example came from the Royal Wedding where they actively moved capacity along the route of the Royal carriage to deal with the spike in photo uploads. Learnings from this are now being incorporated into a more automated approach across the O2 network.

For permanent venues additional capacity is a realistic option via adding more base stations around the venue, again an area O2 have already worked with several venues on. For temporary event sites the challenge is more complex due to the cost and complexity of temporary cell towers, however, options such as Wi-Fi offload and femtocells are becoming more practical.

The underlying message was one of the need for a partnership approach between events and mobile operators to deal with the issue as many events felt the bad experience of attendees did reflect to some degree on the event, and if nothing else made it difficult for organisers to run the event effectively.

Festival Comms & Public Wi-Fi

The change in expectations for festival comms over the last few years has been huge such that VoIP, internet, CCTV and Wi-Fi are the norm. The questions have moved onto how to deliver higher capacity connectivity and integrate services across a large site delivering coordinated gate scanning, real-time noise monitoring and PDQ ‘chip and pin’.

Public Wi-Fi access attracted a wide range of comment ranging from ‘festivals should be technology free’ to ‘how to monetise Wi-Fi’. Every event is different and it follows that approaches to public Wi-Fi will vary but it’s worth noting that the underlying thread is not really about public internet usage (although it is popular and has it’s uses for aspects such as travel, weather and news), it’s about the channel which is created between the event and the attendee providing an opportunity to deliver an extended festival experience. This may take the form of information updates, promotion of different events on site, access to exclusive content and the opportunity to enable social communities on site. It also provides a platform to deliver new services such as cashless payment, interactive apps and sponsor promotions.

As always the Gathering gave us a great opportunity to engage in discussion with those in the industry to really see what’s of interest and what the pain points are. The Gathering is a great focus point and hopefully leads to ongoing discussions to ensure the technology available meets the needs of organisers, promoters, production teams, suppliers and attendees.

Steve Birnage and I were fortunate enough to talk at the HBAA (The Hotel Booking Agents Association) 13th Annual Forum this week on their theme of Future Vision. We based our workshop on the concept of a ‘technology venue’ using each of the various ‘floors’ to represent a technology and how, for example, any service offering (near the top of the building) needs a good foundation at the bottom.

We went on to discuss the many other floors which are all critical for eventually delivering a great customer experience. Attendees where really keen to engage and we got some great questions especially as many are focused on winning business for the 2012 Olympics, opportunities which will have high expectations for connectivity on site. A quick summary of the main points below;

The foundation – High speed, dedicated uncontended internet access is a must. Many venues still attempt to share one connection between rooms, bars and conferencing facilities but this won’t meet many conference organiser requirements these days. We have recently upgraded a London customer with significant bandwidth for their conferencing facilities entirely separate from them having great connectivity for their bedrooms.

Ground floor – A good, reliable wired network which is managed by a third party or venue with appropriate support can make deploying services and performing upgrades later on quite straightforward. Here we were using examples about running fibre between key points in the building (either at design or re-fit) to ensure high speed services can be delivered without causing massive headaches. We used the term ‘managed’ a lot within this section but really the key is to ensure services can be changed quickly remotely.

The Technology Venue

First floor – Reliable Wi-Fi networking. Separate to the internet or network on site it is critical to ensure a wireless network is deployed to deal with the appropriate requirements in mind. For example a conference room which seats 500 needs to have the wireless infrastructure to handle that. New technologies can really help here – like 802.11n mesh wireless networks which can be extended by just plugging in access points which automatically extend coverage however this is dangerous to do unless your environment will automatically minimise interference or you have an appreciation of what channels other access points are using.

Second floor – Make sure you have the support lined up since there is nothing worse than investing and not realising value. Not only should venues have technical support, be it in house or outsourced but also staff should be familiar with the functions and features so they can represent it to customers and prospects who may ask.

Third floor – The critical revenue generation floor – here venues should be thinking past charging for the internet access and looking at sponsored hijack pages, content driven micro sites, support for live streaming and perhaps a strategy about how to re-use customer content in terms of video (perhaps for those who could not attend).

Those key areas got some great interaction from the audience. Many of whom have made significant investment in technology but continue to look for opportunities to maximise return. It was also great to have discussions with several of the larger hotel brands who are committed to contracts and are keen to ensure contracts continue to keep a focus on innovation.