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What will bring The Internet of Things for the event industry?

London, United Kingdom – November 24, 2013: A cyberman is posing for people who are visiting the Excel in London during the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the TV series Doctor Who

Around five years ago I was involved in a discussion about whether a conference focused on the “Internet of Things” (IoT) would make sense and who the main delegates, speakers and sponsors for such a conference would be. The topic was so new that at that time even some friends from the big telecoms had never heard about that “strange trend” called IoT.

Whilst the possibilities of IoT are fascinating it can also be strange to imagine what life could look like in 10 years’ time. Devices that develop a certain form of intelligence and an ability to talk to other devices and that take over the control of one-dimensional processes freeing up time for us humans so that we can concentrate on more important things… wow – welcome to the future!

My fridge for example could be so intelligent that it would recognise when the milk has run out and would order a new milk delivery automatically when I need it. All I would have to do is to tell my super intelligent fridge my credit card number and everything else would be done by some devices talking to each other. In fact that would add a new level to my life as too often I find myself walking to the local shop at 7am in the rain when I’ve forgotten to buy milk the day before.

Perhaps another more important example (for human kind) would be cars that recognise their failure functions and alert a local garage so that the engine failure can be fixed before an accident happens. Such an IoT function could save lives, would generate revenue for the car industry and doesn’t seem to be too far away as we already have some cars that are intelligent enough to cheat on their Diesel pollution tests results.
One thing is for sure: the IoT is coming, in fact it has already partly arrived. It will make our lives easier by making buying decisions for us and make our lives more comfortable. But does this also come with a certain degree of risk? What if my car schedules a repair appointment that is not necessary or my fridge always buys the most expensive products? The IoT things will open a world in which our devices can easily cheat us and we should always review the products we buy.

So what does the IoT means for the event industry? Will Microsoft pre-prioritise our entries in Outlook based on a personal algorithm and some trade-shows appear more important than others in our diary? Will a booth communicate with our visitor badges and pre-arrange meetings with the right person even before I have stepped on the booth or explained my business need? Will an exhibitor be recommended to give me a pint of milk instead of a lovely pen as a little gift after a meeting as the exhibitor’s booth got a hint from my intelligent fridge that I tend to forget buying that product? Seriously though what does IoT really mean for the exhibition industry?
I think the first effect will be a wave of product launches and innovations which can be perfectly used for show marketing as content for panel discussions or for awards. Dependent on the industry, IoT will flood our show marketing teams with opportunities to make their shows more interesting.

Secondly I indeed think our booths and our badges will become more intelligent and the IoT technology will be able to enhance the show experience of the visitor and exhibitor by providing the right match making information at the right time to the right show participants. It is inevitable that the onsite data transfer will grow enormously and all venues who think they have done enough to equip their onsite mobile data capacity should start thinking again.
Finally we will become “connected” visitors and exhibitors. Our smart phones will learn how to spot business opportunities or solutions on the fly or they will be able to identify a trade show peer group based just on an ad hoc business problem at that time. The IoT will be able to automatically identify opportunities, products, people and solutions that are extremely important to our business life purely due to that fact that we are attending a trade show.

I think “face to face” will remain important if not increase as trust will be the main driver for doing business. However, “face to face” will be heavily supported by “device to device”.
For me, I look forward to reading my own article in 10 years’ time to see what became true and what did not. However, the work of how to use the IoT in our shows needs to start today. That means organisers should be putting a date in the diary to discuss what the IoT could mean for your show. Just don’t forget to prioritise that meeting. Outlook is not yet so clever that it can prioritise the meeting for you!

Matthias Baur

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