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Eight Meetings Tech Trends to Watch for 2018

These are exciting times. The rate of technology change is accelerating with thousands of ideas, apps and innovations bubbling up to help meeting planners, exhibitors, venues and other meeting participants to do their jobs better and improve the attendee experience.

This annual review covers many of the major events technology trends to watch for this coming year.

1. Direct meeting space booking goes online with lots of options.
Of the 1.8 million meetings held annually in the U.S. each year, small meetings (50 people or under) make a large percentage of them. These are often simple 1-day events in a single room with basic AV and catering. However, hotels have often managed these meetings in the same way as with larger events – assigning a sales person and negotiating a contract. This costs time, labor and money for the hotel and the event planner. This is about to change with many streamlined options becoming available.
     Ivvy, a robust event and venue management software company, serves this market by creating a new online booking sector, catering for many types and sizes of meetings with venues including hotels, restaurants, function centers and even boats. Headquartered in Australia, they have offices in the U.S., the UK and New Zealand. Their venue management site provides information for hotels and the direct booking site gives an idea of the booking capabilities. Currently, most of the properties listed in the direct booking site are Australian-based, but I expect to see this grow elsewhere rapidly.
      As AirBNB (now the world’s largest lodging company) has changed the landscape for lodging, there are a number of similarly designed sites for meeting space, often in non-traditional venues:
  • Peerspace provides non-traditional meeting space for corporate events, meetings, film shoots, parties and workshop in San Francisco, Silicon Valley, L.A., New York, Seattle, Austin, Chicago, Berlin, London and Paris (with more cities to come). Notice the almost identical layout from AirBNB, with the map view, meeting space thumbnails, user ratings, and the ability to list your own space.
  • Spacer provides a very similar services and site layout for New York, San Francisco, LA, Miami and Chicago
  • EventUp: Another alternative meetings space booking engine with an AirBNB look. This database of U.S. meeting facilities is quite extensive and includes hotels as well. Planners can sort by budget, number of attendees, neighborhood within a city, amenities (AV, pets, street parking), venue type, and look/feel (i.e. corporate, cozy, loft space). Most venues are not "express book venues," however. 
  • Spacebase also has an appearance very similar to AirBNB, but more international than Peerspace or Spacer, offering venues in 10 countries with website options in three languages and offices in seven countries.
  • Meetingsbooker provides direct small group meetings space booking (up to 40 people) with listings in 70,000 venues on a global basis. Some of the destinations highlighted are London, New York, Dublin, and Syndney.
  • eVenues is a non-traditional meeting space booking tool for the “everyday planner.” It offers a broad selection of North American venues and provides filtering capabilities on capacity, price, city neighborhoods, and map view. Site visitors can either book directly or use a “full-service” meeting space booking and planning service.
  • Bizly is another small meetings direct booking site, just out of beta testing. It also has a look similar to AirBNB and is targeting large corporations About 2,000 meeting venues are listed in about 50 U.S. metropolitan areas. There is a free package any planner can use as well as pricing for corporate and enterprise clients with additional capabilities.
  • Groupize provides a small group meeting booking tool for corporations. This system allows clients to book 1-9 guest rooms with meeting space from a database of 150,000 hotels. It is also integrated with Concur, the travel, expense and invoice management tool. This simple meetings sourcing system claims savings of 10-25% by centralizing small meetings bookings and managing “rogue spend” within the company.
  • Kapow provides direct “corporate events in non-traditional venues” booking tool in 21 U.S. cities. Group activities include team building, in-store retail events, entertainment tickets, interactive F&B, cocktail receptions and dining experiences.

These are among the newer sites that provide direct, online booking of meeting space and experiences. More are in the pipeline! These streamlined processes promise to save planners time and effort from traditional RFP booking engines and is a key event tech trend to watch for 2018.

2. Event wayfinding will advance with the help of augmented reality (AR)

Global positioning system (GPS), using signals from satellites, does not work indoors. Over the years, there have been many attempts at indoor positioning systems (IPS) to help attendees navigate through meeting spaces and exhibit halls.

     Google Indoor Maps has been around for several years and is already available in thousands of buildings. Simply open up the Google Maps app within these building, such as the Las Vegas Convention Center, to navigate the various halls, meeting rooms and levels. Additionally, there are indoor mapping content management systems, such as MapsPeople, that make it easy for facilities to manage their Google Indoor Map. However, Google Indoor Maps primarily uses Wi-Fi triangulation with a position accuracy of about 15-45 feet (5-15 meters). While this accuracy is fine to give general directions inside a large facility, this is not accurate enough for booth-to-booth navigation in an exhibit hall – a key goal for many tradeshows and exhibitions.

     Much better positioning accuracy (down to six feet/two meters) is possible using beacon technology (aka BLI - Bluetooth Low Energy). Sherpa Solutions, EventBase, DoubleDutch and ITM Mobile are among the several mobile event app companies using BLE combined with a mobile event app to determine indoor positioning applicable for tradeshows and events.

      But now, augmented reality (AR), a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user's view of the real world, thus providing a composite view, will soon be added to the arsenal of indoor positioning methods. Typically, this is done via your mobile phone camera (think Pokémon) but eventually will become available in updated versions of AR glasses (less intrusive versions of Google Glass or Hololens).

    Google recently announced at the most recent Google I/O developers conference its Tango Visual Positioning Service, a AR GPS for indoors. Working with Google Indoor Maps and visual data from the camera, Tango will see features in the environment to give users hyper-local directions guidance.

     Not to be outdone, Apple's iOS11, and the iPhone X, will have substantial advances in AR, and eventually could be used to help people navigate through and interact with indoor space.

     The benefits to event attendees could be significant, including step-by-step navigation of a venue or an exhibition hall. AR technology will also open the door to gamification options (a Pokémon-like event scavenger hunt?) as well as interactive booths, signs, banners and displays.

    What remains to be seen is: will the ease of AR set up and accuracy of positioning be suitable for the precise indoor positioning requirements of exhibitions? Exhibitions require a quick turnaround/set up with a different floorplan each time. This will likely require a separate AR setup and mapping each time. As AR enters into mainstream general mobile use, it will be interesting to see if it will be tuned to meet the precise needs of exhibitions and events.

3. Chatbots, with the help of artificial intelligence, will provide on-demand attendee info in a ubiquitous and simple text-based format

     Chatbots are computer programs that conduct conversations via auditory or text methods. With the help of artificial intelligence (AI), these systems will become increasingly accurate in determining the sense and context of voice/text requests and responding in a human-like way. The explosion of voice-activated systems such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home attest to the rapidly increasing capabilities of these systems.

     However, the voice interface does not work well in crowded environments such as a meeting room or a tradeshow. External phone conversations in a meeting room are generally not well accepted as is yelling orders into your phone on a noisy exhibit floor.

     Therefore, text-based systems are starting to emerge as an excellent chatbot alternative to answer questions, to gather feedback and to engage attendees at events. Here are a few of them:
    Morph.ai is a chatbot building suite for a variety of B2B situations including events. They offer a freemium version and these bots can be deployed over messaging channels like Facebook Messenger, Twitter, SMS, website, live chat and Skype.
     Event2Mobile’s Eva claims to be the industry-first chatbot for event apps. With offices in the USA, UK and Singapore, they provide a full range of text services including polling, surveys, live Q&A, meeting scheduling, directions, feedback, in-app messaging, gamification, photo walls and searches for speakers/attendees/exhibitors.
     Sciensio’s Concierge Eventbot offers a range of text services including the event agenda/schedule, directions, floor plans, FAQs, surveys, polls, crowd sourced questions, and event info about sessions/materials/speakers/sponsors/exhibitors.
     ConfBot text services offers event information on the agenda, personalized schedules, attendee messaging, feedback, surveys and more.
     The Cosmopolitan Hotel, offers Rose, an AI text-based chatbot concierge with somewhat of an attitude. Upon check in, guests are given a card that reads: “I am the answer to the question that you never asked.” and “Know my secrets. Text me,” The card contains Rose’s phone number which you can text for a variety of services. Towels? Pizza? Restaurant recommendations? Rosie will text you back and provide the services. The video below gives an example of an AI-powered hotel assistant and chatbot:.

     Artificial intelligence (AI) should make the development process much faster, easier and cheaper. With the advance in machine intelligence, it will be possible for an event planner to simply upload the event website and other details such a link to a center’s exhibitor requirement or details of the surrounding area. AI will allow a computer to read, absorb, catalog and make sense of the details with little or no human intervention – and provide it back in text or voice as desired.

4. Newer, cloud-based companies will make an “event tech deck” and integration easier.

     Data management systems are maturing to where integration is a much simpler task. With state-of-the-art cloud-based event technology systems and advanced APIs (application programming interfaces), it is now possible to collect and analyze onsite data and connect them with CRM tools such as SalesForce.com – closing the loop from a marketing standpoint. Interoperability is at the center with much of the change that is happening.

     One example is Eventbrite, a basic consumer-oriented event invitation, registration and ticketing system. This San Francisco based company has been built from the start to be interoperable with others and lists hundreds of software products that it integrates with in its Eventbrite Spectrum page.

     Consortiums of newer cloud-based event technology companies are working together to share data and work as one. For example, the Event Tech Tribe is a consortium of Swoogo (event registration), Hubb (abstract collection/exhibitor management/scheduling/task management), Glisser (audience polling/engagement), TRC (onsite event technology), EventOPS (event logistics), and InsightXM (data analytics and marketing). They work together integrating data as if they were a single platform providing rich data and marketing capabilities among them.
     Other options for planners are integration platform-as-a-service products such as Built.io, providing solutions to more easily integrate a wide range of software systems into CRM and marketing automation tools. Features include workflow maps, ties to enterprise collaboration tools such as Cisco Spark or Slack, data mapping, activity triggers for complex workflows, mobile app integration, API builders, API debugging and testing tools and more. In essence, they make the process of integrating modern software products much simpler.
     The benefit for meeting planners is that they can choose an assortment of specialized event software products and figuratively bolt together to work together seamlessly – an event tech deck. Meeting planners will be able to find highly customized solutions using multiple technology products with the ability to extract valuable marketing data is if they were a single platform.
    This rich interoperability makes it much easier to analyze the data and bring it back to CRM systems. Customer behavior and interests expressed at meetings can, therefore, be tied to customer profiles allowing for much better marketing intelligence and more customized sales communication.

5. Hacking attacks on events, venues and individuals will increase and privacy protection standard will increase.

     The recent data breaches of Equifax, Sony, the DMC and international ransomware attacks point to increased and more sophisticated hacking activity. Sabre’s data breach is causing headaches for Four Season, Trump, Kimpton and Red Lion Hotels. The WannaCry Ransomware attack on the Romantic Seehotel Jaegerwirtz locked guests out of their hotel rooms. With the Shadow Brokers hacker group leaked National Security Agency exploit in April, cybercriminals have a much more dangerous weapon giving the ability to spread encryption files across an entire network. We will likely see this increase!

     Hackers will almost inevitably target some events via an online registration system and/or a mobile event-related app (likely an Android version) in the near future.
A few suggestions to limit exposure:

     As a planner, make sure your registration company is PCI compliant and take other steps to guard attendee information captured.

    As an individual, the standard precautions:

  • Use strong passwords.

  • Become aware of phishing scams.

  • Keep your virus protection up-to-date.

  • Consider the use of identity theft protection services.

  • Use multi-factor authentication services when available.

In a partial bid to meet this threat, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will explode across the meetings technology landscape this coming year. GDPR is  a sweeping set of privacy regulations that will affect any event with European attendees or members regardless of where the event takes place. Non-compliance penalties are stiff so it will be imperative that the planners work with their IT departments and technology providers to ensure that the new regulations are met.

6. New methods for friction-free event check-in are developing.

     Technology, when used properly, is not an end. It should be a means to an end – for example, to make the process of checking in at event registration easier and faster. Automated check-in terminals such as Cvent OnArrival and other similar products are becoming standard at many events. For smaller events, guest list check-in apps, such as Check In Easy can eliminate cumbersome paper check-in spreadsheets replaced with mobile devices with many extras such as QR codes confirmation pass scanning, and VIP notification when special guest arrive.

    Other companies, such as Boomset, have focused specifically on the onsite registration process with a range of tools including self-service kiosks, NFC tracking, lead exchange, access control management, on-demand badge printing and more.

    Beacon technology is also working to streamline event check-in. A Cisco case study used beacons and a Digivents event app to yielded at 65% increase in efficiency “slicing waiting times down to just a few seconds. By simply downloading the Digivents event app and activating the bluetooth system on their mobile devices, our attendees were able to take part in the automated check-in registration.”
     Facial recognition technologies are also moving into event registration. Zenus Biometrics uses facial recognition in to make event check-in up to five times faster:

     These are just a few ways that technology is improving the event registration process. More innovation is likely to come in this space.

7. Events become central to an overall marketing effort.

     Events and tradeshows have posed a significant challenge to marketers. Although events are proven promotional tools, they have lacked detailed data collection and analytics capabilities found with other marketing vehicles such as email campaigns and websites. Much of what happened at the event or tradeshow, stayed at the event or tradeshow!
     However, this is changing.
     With the recent explosion of onsite data collection and analytics tools, meetings will no longer be the “black hole” of marketing analytics. Events and tradeshows are beginning to provide a goldmine of data detailing attendee preferences, interests, movements and interactions. These data can help meeting planners make mid-course corrections on existing events and improve future ones; they can provide significantly more value for exhibitors; they can provide attendees with a much richer and more personalized experience.
     With the integration of sales automation tools and CRM systems, customer behavior at events can now be tracked in precise detail. Event analytics are moving to a central position in the marketing mix and can help planners using these tools take a seat a C-Level table with sales and marketing executives. New corporate positions such as VP of Sales Analytics and SVP of Sales Effectives point to this shifting trend towards the importance of analytics. Event planners and marketers can work together to improve the event and provide a much more detailed profile of the attendee (customer) interests and desires while elevating the importance of events within the organization.
8. Virtual meetings will not replace face-to-face meetings (a repeat from previous years’ predictions):
     Despite the increased use of virtual meetings technology, face-to-face meetings and tradeshows will remain viable.

     Webinars and other virtual meetings are great for short information exchange. However, in today’s multi- tasking and often distracting work environment, attention spans are short. Thirty to forty-five minutes is usually the maximum you can expect someone to pay attention to a webinar while sitting in front of a monitor.

     Meetings, on the other hand, take people to a more focused environment with fewer distractions. As long as attendees are informed, entertained and fed, event hosts can keep them engaged for days. At the minimum, we share a social contract to at least look like we are paying attention at an event. The opportunities for networking, brainstorming, and relationship building are usually far greater at face-to-face events than online. For an exhibitor, it is often the best way to meet so many qualified buyers in such a short time. For buyers, it is a great chance to meet vendors of interest – all together in one location, categorized and mapped for your choosing.

     Meetings provide a vastly richer, more targeted, and more focused learning experience than nearly any virtual meeting.

     These are just a few of whirlwind of changes coming. Do you agree with them? Do you have others? Please let me know your thoughts.

Corbin Ball, CMP, CSP, DES, MS is a speaker and independent third-party consultant focusing on meetings technology. With 20 years of experience running international citywide technology meetings, he now helps clients worldwide use technology to save time and improve productivity He can be contacted at his extensive web site Corbin Ball & Co. - Meetings Technology Headquarters (www.corbinball.com) and followed at www.twitter.com/corbinball.

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