The Digital Innovation Committee of UFI recently changed their name from ICT to Digital Innovation. As I have the pleasure and honour to be the chairman of this group I think it is time to feature the group in an article. The goal and mission of the D.I Committee is to push digital ideas and concepts in our industry forward that will help our target groups of exhibitors and visitors get more out of the shows they are participating in. We strive to be a platform for all UFI members to share, discuss, review and embrace new and thought provoking digital developments and projects. Furthermore we want to provide a good framework and guidance through our awards programme to help the industry adopt digital aspects to their business.
During the UFI Congress in November, we run an interactive discussion session in which the delegates could discuss their opinion regarding digital topics. We learned during the session that digital is a diverse and sometimes controversial topic that should be discussed in our industry. Below you will find some views from some of our D.I Committee members. What would be your view regrading each statement?
Statement: Our industry is lagging behind our attendee’s digital ability
I think it greatly depends on the industry. If we are looking at a B2C pop culture event for teenagers and millennials, of course we are far behind. But in the B2B world, especially in industrial sectors, the best of us are doing quite good. Nevertheless, we are not where we should be. I see Digital primarily as a means to improve our customers’ experience. They are all used to the speed and simplicity of Twitter, Google, Uber and the likes, and we still ask them to fill in five pages of questions to register! It has become much easier to open a bank account online than to get a badge to one of our events. And don’t get me started on everything that exhibitors have to deal with… It is not so much that we are lagging behind their own digital ability (so is probably their dentist and that’s not a problem) but they are now used to a level of digital simplicity and easiness that makes us look like an antiquated administrative nightmare.
The tradeshow industry admittedly is lagging behind the early-bird-attendees, but not behind the average attendee. The variety of skill levels that represents the degree of familiarity with new technologies and media is a challenge for all organisers. The challenge is to serve all attendees in their diversity, allowing for satisfaction without overburdening. Even if achieving this goal is hard to reach: feeding the early birds with some tech cookies may be advantageous.
This statement is – as many others when it comes to digital topics – controversially discussed. One side of the medal is, that so long as our exhibitors still continue to send their stand orders via a hand filled-out form and a fax machine instead of using our brand-new Webshops they obviously aren’t the digital challengers. Sadly enough, this is often generalised for all exhibitors and therefore taken as a welcomed excuse to not innovate in terms of the overall digital service portfolio.
But typically, its just about the bigger and/or more agile exhibitors who are heavily invested in their marketing organisation and tools who will miss the organiser’s service innovation in this field. These exhibitors are used to measuring all their marketing activities with proper KPIs and will compare the results with the cost benefit ratio of an exhibition. So, let’s serve them and convince all the others.
It is not my feeling that our Industry is lagging behind our attendee’s digital ability. The quality of our award submissions shows that our Industry, on the contrary, is very responsive to new digital tools, and to the digital revolution that we are experiencing.
Statement: Artificial Intelligence will be the event managers of the future
AI can already diagnose some illnesses as good or better than doctors. They can understand human speech better than humans. They can write prize-winning novels. They can beat us at any board game you can think of. Specialists predict AI will have an I.Q of 10.000 (!) by 2030. With so much processing power and access to a seemingly unlimited amount of data, it shouldn’t be too difficult for an AI to find interesting topics and locations, find the right speakers, organise marketing campaigns, matchmaking, etc. However, I don’t think they will replace us, or at least not within 10 to 20 years. They will act as powerful and intelligent assistants improving our understanding, reach and efficiency. They will allow us to concentrate on what we’re much better at than they are: human interaction.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are concepts which will impact the work of a modern event manager, but if we forecast the next 5-10 years they won’t probably replace them. But it’s strongly recommended that event managers are knowing and using the fast-growing possibilities to their full extent to optimise the results of their work, both in terms of effectiveness and efficiency. AI can show the event manager hidden coherencies, make smart suggestions for a floor-plan they would never have developed by their own and may propose a segment for spin-off which is promising fast growth.
Ridley Scott this year in his last Alien Covenant and Kubrick already 50 years ago understood the power and the danger of AI and we all followed the recent captivating debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. It is too soon to forecast what AI will bring to our Industry, but the challenge in the future will definitely be to use AI to serve us and not to replace us. One strong statement though is that the need for people to meet each other face-to-face, to see the reality, to touch and feel will always remain, and therefore our Industry should consider AI as an opportunity, and stay vigilant to avoid obvious threats.
Statement: Augmented Reality is a waste of money
Saying that Augmented Reality is a waste of money is like saying that tradeshow mobile apps are a waste of money. It is useful sometimes and a gadget at other times. This being said, I must admit I’ve seen maybe one interesting application of AR for 9 totally useless ones in our industry. It has been a very hyped trend in the past 4 to 5 years, and Pokemon Go brought it to the masses, but I already see it fading away a little bit. It will get back to being one of the tools in our arsenal of customer-experience improvement weapons. As with every new technology that is nice but not world-changing, it has had its peak of coolness and everybody wanted it but it is now a normal thing to use in some circumstances, but sparingly.
Apple pushes it with their new iPhoneX, IKEA and Nike and many other companies use the technology to create a better customer experience. It is unquestionable that although AR is still in a very early stage, there will be implications not only for marketing and product development but for many branches, e.g. gaming and entertainment, healthcare, education, retail, tourism, to name a few.
Considering this is true: How could the tradeshow industry stand beside? Solving the task to find the best AR applications and services for the tradeshow visitor and to join these with a business model will decide whether it’s a waste of money or a success. Like for all other services and business models.
Any new technology goes through levels of penetration in society before it can have any measurable effect on anything. As described by Simon Sinek, these are: Innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. Augmented Reality, until about two months ago when Apple announced a big reveal and put it on all of its phones going forward, was at the very early stages of penetration therefore not very relevant for the masses. But we’ve all seen this movie many times before, new tech spreads like wildfire… It’s not very hard to predict the event tech industry (which is growing much faster than the events industry itself) commoditising AR enabled event apps even before the organisers ask for it. The question is: When will the users ask for it?
It doesn’t make sense to judge the technology of AR but to see the solution built on that technology. There are solutions for exhibitors which can help them to showcase a specific product while saving money as they need less exhibition space. Of course, these kinds of benefits aren’t the ones organisers are liking to hear. There are also AR solutions for organisers which can gamify the visitor’s experience, boost a modern image and generate extra revenue.
But sometimes proven ways of solving a problem are switched to a AR app just by the sake of using modern technology. Why build an AR-enabled navigation app for finding your way in the halls where a normal floorplan can beat this when it comes to usability, cost and customer satisfaction. And in that case wasting money is only one negative aspect of this business solution, if you take your scarce IT resources into consideration.
A.I, Robots, Augmented Reality, 3D printing will change our world, our lifestyle and our businesses. Is it a waste of money today? Certainly not. AR adds more content, therefore it serves the exhibitors, will provide a richer experience to the attendees. What is good to exhibitors and attendees is good for our service Industry.