Embracing data and digital is critical for “transforming” the events industry

On 1 December 2016, senior leaders from the events industry attended the inaugural AMR Data and Digital Strategy Events Symposium at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London. It was a day of thought-provoking discussions with senior leaders focusing on how the events industry must embrace data and digital or risk an uncertain future.

The recurring themes were:

  • The lack of collaboration between organisers, exhibitors, and vendors which was considered a major weakness. By working together, integrated digital offerings could be accelerated to increase the event experience.
  • An increased investment in capability and people is needed to advance innovation at a faster rate, while also providing organisers with the ability to combine outsourced innovation with their vision of the future of events
  • Creating more personalisation through data and digital is needed to help ensure ‘the customer comes first’. It will also significantly improve event quality by offering insights, which benefit organisers through an enhanced contextual experience for exhibitors and attendees.

What is happening now?

Growth in the events industry is now converging with GDP. More technology is being adopted at a faster rate with the onset of more smart devices. At the same time, there is an understanding and acceptance of supplying personal data (demographic, firmographic, search history, etc.), which is leading to a more contextual experience.

Trade shows have been slow to respond because profits and cash flow remain strong and there is trepidation to disrupt a cash cow with no “burning platform”.  As a result, the events industry is facing a dilemma in how they respond to the demand for 21st century digital and data services. Organisers are behind in innovation, technology adoption (and implementation) and lack the organisational knowledge to build digital and data capabilities.

Technology providers – ready to fill the gap

A wide swath of startups (~1500) are attempting to drive the market by targeting a range of capabilities within the events landscape; many are well-funded by venture capital.  Most of the focus has been on various point solutions that are building increasingly sophisticated functionality; there is also a limited number of suite service providers attempting end-to-end solutions.

The need for a centralised approach

The consequence of this innovation, that is essentially outsourced, is that organisations are starting to test new solutions primarily at the individual event level and not centrally.  For many organisers, it is the internal users (event managers) who are pushing to increase technology adoption starting with limited solutions and customer expectations. However, some organisers are taking a more centralised and standardised approach. Many medium and larger players are hampered by immature enterprise systems and everyone is hampered by a lack of common standards and or a common integration platform.

Steps for moving forward

To respond more effectively, organisers need to develop coherent data and digital strategies that will support their customers and their businesses. In doing so they should consider three themes.

1) Increased collaboration – Within the events ecosystem, organisers are facing similar technology challenges independent of one another.  Much of the industry is addressing building block technology requirements with limited experimentation of more innovative technology solutions.  There is also an uncertainty about the role of the venue and how venues can contribute to building technology capabilities at events.  Lastly, there is poor communication between vendors and organisers about the requirements for technology solutions.  By sharing experiences between organisers, discussing technology requirements with vendors and infrastructure requirements with venues, organisers can accelerate innovation and capability development by clarifying what is needed and who would be responsible for which requirement.

2) Greater investment in capabiiity and talent – Organisers are starting to build digital organisations yet have no formal R&D or investment budget.  While hiring talent is a first step, innovation is happening within the startup and venture capital community.  The risk here is that vendors could one day build enough insight, customer and workflow profiling, and capability that they could become digital companies, eating into the profit pool and act as a disrupter.  There are very few organisers that are centrally allocating budget, time and resources to innovate, test and build technology capabilities.  Add to this the general uncertainty of what will work and the requirement from organisers to immediately monetise, creating even further reluctance to allocate budget.  All of this creates an investment vacuum and the need to overcome the inertia.  Organisers need to consider refocusing on customer needs rather than organiser needs; through that they will remain competitive and most probably monetise

3) Personalisation and contextualisation – As consumers are becoming more accustomed to personalised experiences through online, mobile and commerce, they have higher expectations of face to face experiences. Younger generations are familiar with and are demanding contextual experiences, which is reducing hesitation from older generations to adopt technology.  Whilst the events industry is exploring a more data driven approach, it is playing catch-up with many of the industries that events serve, which already have strong data driven cultures.  Organisations (exhibitors) are becoming more data savvy and are being asked by corporate for quantifiable justification of spend and metrics.  This leads to a requirement for increased data collection, analysis and transparency.  Through data, organisers can create a more contextualised experience because they understand attendee requirements and can provide services for them as well as for exhibitors. Organisers can then, use the data themselves to tailor offerings and the experience.

It’s clear the events industry is on a path of evolution that is exciting, yet increasing complex. With unparralelled experience in the events industry, AMR’s mission is to act as a guide for organisations seeking to navigate this change.

For further information please contact: